Tag Archives: Sarah Connolly

Top 5 most read posts of 2013

31 Dec

Most read of 2013The end of the year makes us all look back at statistics and moments of the previous twelve months.

Here is the top 5 blog posts of the year

1 Why I don’t like Sinfini

The quasi free-spirited website, that is meant to be run by passionate music lovers, but is indeed a property of Universal Music, who owns over 70% of the classical recording labels output

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/why-i-dont-like-sinfini/

2 Kicking the Prommers to the ground is poor form

The rather unnecessary attack on prommers by Christopher Gillett…a blatant attempt at click baiting by Sinfini?

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/ah-mr-gillett/

3 Gergiev gets a London welcome

A post on the rather blasé  approach by maestro Gergiev on the goings on back in Russia. It seems the campaigning has had limited success as he still seems to be largely unwilling to make any definitive statements. We will be happy to see his departure from the LSO by the end of 2015.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/gergiev-gets-a-london-welcome/

4 The shine of the blade / English National Opera’s Medea

The post on a glorious dress rehearsal that blew my socks off. Sarah Connolly in blazing form taking on and conquering one of the gems of the French baroque repertoire. I was floored by the intensity and would count it among the most memorable performances of my opera going life to date.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/eno-medea/

5 Wimsy and gorgeousness / Sophie Bevan and Sebastian Wybrew recital at Wigmore Hall

A gorgeous recital by two very accomplished young stars that was instantly charming and affecting. The rendition of Barber’s Hermit Songs was so fresh and beautifully realised it put a spring on my step.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/sophie-bevan-sebastian-wybrew-recital-wigmore-hall-17-march-2013/

A mixed bag but shows how topical subjects tend to be read more.

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Munich via Paris and Vienna / Fantasio / Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment + Mark Elder / RFH – 15 December 2013

17 Dec

OAE Fantasio

This was an important occasion to rediscover Jacques Offenbach’s much troubled Fantasio. Being the UK premiere of the reconstructed Parisian version of the score which was not that straightforward a task, worth reading the piece by Jean-Christophe Keck to get an idea of the complexities of putting this new critical edition together. The work had an indifferent reception when performed in 1872 and judging after having heard it live I can relate to the reactions of the Parisians. Offenbach is as always a master of creating moods and atmosphere, especially when the darkness of  the palace’s gardens in Act Two or the grieving crowd in a city square is called for but in Fantasio the amalgam of witty spoken dialogue and standalone ariosos and ballades can appear disjointed if in the wrong hands. The OAE and a very perky Mark Elder on the podium managed to bring the work to life  and the sheer dedication, enthusiasm and comic timing of the top rank cast made it an extremely funny evening. We even have to thank the French censorship office for saving the only extant copy of the spoken dialogue!

The soundworld of the piece is mainly a nocturnal romantic one and Offenbach’s skill at orchestrating delicious harmonies to carve vivid characters and situations is well and present. His skill at writing for voices made obvious in the numerous duets and the judicious use of the chorus, which frequently reacted to the main protagonists as the comical backdrop. Most deliciously at the finale of the Third Act when they are convinced by Fantasio that war is pointless and that wine, home and family is more important as pursuits. The quintet of Act Two exposing the motives of the characters and the piquant duet of Prince and Marinoni adds a typical flash of camp humour to the proceedings.

Sarah Connolly as the eponymous hero strutted her stuff across the stage en travesti in a maroon velvet smoking jacket, white dandyish shirt and high leather boots. His property has been impounded due to debts and arriving to court and falling in love with the about to be married princess. The court jester has just died and he gets the idea to impersonate him in order to be admitted to the Palace without being detected. He then approaches the dead jester’s taylor, here sang by Mark Elder looking every inch the harassed tailor when quizzed by Fantasio on the size of the hump he should adopt. It is not frequently when one wishes the conductor held a cameo in a production but this was absolutely spot on and made the whole auditorium laugh with abandon. Connolly donned a more decorated red jacket to infiltrate the court. Her ballad in Act One was as unassuming as it was dreamy. Her interpretation never showy or forced. And we have to be thankful for the near last minute casting of Brenda Rae as the replacement Princess who blended vocally with Connolly in marvellous and gorgeous ways, leaving very little doubt on how love stricken they both were.

The Princess of Brenda Rae was a character with all the arrogance of her privileged upbringing but also a woman living in a golden cage of responsibility that she cannot shake off. This tortured side of hers made it for a much more interesting dynamic with Fantasio, who in essence manages to free her from her empty marriage and shows her the joy of love. Very much in the mould used many times by Richard Strauss in his later career operas. Rae brought a glistening top and a very firm core to her voice, accompanied by a remarkably natural trill. Her ballad in Act One explaining her sadness for the loss of the much loved jester and her impending marriage was so rendition so sweet and soulful that we were as enamoured with her as much as Fantasio that overhears her and the abundant applause made it all too clear.

The persistent chorus of the three students that permeates all three acts is the mechanism that Offenbach uses to bring the audience in the story and to throw about cheap gags to lighten the atmosphere further. The three singers behaved as the drunken, ironic louts one would expect and infused the performance with a  lot of fun.

The gorgeously deep bass of Brindley Sherratt was a delicious match for the gravitas of the King and his acceptance of the chant by his subjects on his appearance in Act One one of the sly comic moments of the evening.

The Prince of Russell Braun was the sly and calculating type but with an all too clear sense of how he will never be loved for who he really is. His performance was vivid and comically attuned especially in his interactions with his aide Marinoni.

The courtiers were also acted with passion and dedication by Victoria Simmonds and Robert Murray. The fiendishly camp and fioritura heavy part of Marinoni was a great achievement and a suitable contrast to the stolid nature of the part of the Prince of Mantua with whom he gets in a complicated impersonation game that makes both of them the laughing stock of this farce. Flamel on the other hand is the stoic support to the confused and tormented Princess.

The wonderful performance by all on stage made for a very funny evening that truly did honour the intentions of the composer and the recording will hopefully allow a new generation discover this beautiful and at times inspired work. A really funny staging would probably give it a chance at joining the operatic repertoire a century and a half after its troubled inception. This great cast and orchestra offered an insight into the innovative and ambitious nature of Offenbach’s score. The recording is released by Opera Rara in September 2014, watch out for it and take the chance to discover this neglected work.

OAE Fantasio list

Some tweets from the evening

The pre performance talk by Mark Elder

The shine of the blade / Medea / English National Opera – 13 February 2013 (dress rehearsal)

15 Feb

ENO MedeaSeeing David McVicar slowly metamorphosing into the new Zeffirelli at the Met Opera in the last couple of years, I was a little bit weary about how idea rich his take on Charpentier’s Medea could be.  French Baroque thrives on dance and spectacle and a director that comes up short can sink a production. I was hoping for some of  the verve and invention from his Glyndebourne production of Giulio Cesare in Egitto than the stale Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda of late. But one thing I was sure about was the excellent fit of Sarah Connolly for the title role, last November she gave a captivating rendition of Quel Prix in concert but nothing could have prepared me for the outstanding quality of this production.

I know a lot of people don’t like reports based on the dress rehearsal but as I am seeing it twice more later in the run I promise to update if any other observations creep in that make revision imperative.

The performance lasts near 3 hours and 20 minutes, as McVicar and Curnyn decided (wisely in my view) to cut the half hour prelude in praise of the Sun King. After the short and punchy overture we are thrown straight into the torments of (the newly arrived in Corinth) Medea. The setting is a wartime 1940s panelled interior, the set slightly angled at 70 degrees with a raked mirrored floor. Three tall grazed French doors (oh the English terminology comes handy in context) are leading into a peripheral corridor that is used for myriad entries and exits throughout the evening. A simple unfussy but sophisticated backdrop, its faded neoclassicism a subtle allusion to the original period of the work. Straight from the start the smooth changeover from waiting room to an officer’s mess room (complete with uniformed cocktail waiter) is handled with great care, with stage hands dressed in tuxedos befitting the stately setting of the work. With the restrictions that an Edwardian theatre like the Coliseum imposes on each director McVicar showed his class as a world renowned specialist in the field. The set even though static till the last few minutes of this production, constantly changes with subtle cues, the spotlights in the corners of the room move in to make a more intimate atmosphere or to spotlight the King while lying on the floor beaten by Medea’s magical powers in Act Four. The large glazed doors acquire opaque panes and the wall sconces acquire lit candles in the last Act. By extinguishing them before the final scene the smell of wax travels across the auditorium adding an olfactory element to this production.

The costumes are exquisite with great attention to detail. The 1940s atmosphere staying strong with the tailored nature of all the womenswear and the officers’ uniforms. The glamour of the robe (here changing into a rather eye-catching gold lamé evening dress) as Connolly reveals it in her travelling trunk in the first few minutes on stage, also closes the opera three hours later having been poisoned by her and worn by Creuse who dies a painful (if beautifully sung) death. This being baroque opera, amongst all the tragedy we get a lot of dancing. And I am delighted to report that McVicar’s mix of romp and camp works so well it truly adds interest and makes the dances feel more integrated than during ENO’s last foray with Castor and Pollux where the dances seemed disconnected and throwaway. As originally planned for the French court the dances add amusement and atmosphere and slight relief from the tragedy at the centre of the work. The very first example is with the dancers donning RAF uniforms in a dark blue colour, their vibrant routine surely caused a raucous applause and added some light relief to a very sombre beginning. The six male and six female dancers appear in many guises, zombie-like denizens of the underworld (following the cross dressing personifications of Vengeance and Jealousy) to spirits of beautiful women. The biggest tableaux using the dancers is the “party scene” with the appearance of Aoife O’Sullivan as Cupid with black glittery wings aboard a Spitfire covered in pink glitter (standing in for Cupid’s chariot), surely the campest prop to grace a stage for some time! On the side of the pink plane there’s  a large stylised fan on a podium with a period microphone awaiting in a jazz siren style for an Italian captive of love (Sophie Junker) to sing Chi teme d’amore Il grato martire (left in the original Italian here).

It would be impossible to overstate how towering Sarah Connolly’s performance was. She dispatched this difficult role with such elegance and stamina. I was totally blown away. Her unwavering intensity while singing in the original soprano key was spectacular. A few times she sacrificed the beauty of the line for the sake of expression, especially when addressing Creon and Jason but it added such variety and pathos I don’t think even the most narrow-minded critic will find fault. When William Christie gave her the CD set of his recording and told Connolly this was the role for her, he was absolutely right. Once she hits the floor in Act Three and sings her pivotal aria Quel Prix de mon Amour the transformation from wronged wife to a woman driven by pain looking for revenge  is unavoidable. Soon after she discards both her jacket and skirt to continue the scene in a black negligee and evoke the spirits of hades to help her. McVicar uses the stage lift as the pit where smoke and her demonic assistants come through. It was a huge relief that he chose such a standard way to introduce them instead of trying to reinvent the wheel needlessly. At this point she is armed with a large kitchen knife that is her companion for the rest of the production as she closes in to her final act of vengeance against Jason. Fittingly the last coup de théâtre belongs to Medea, when the corner of the set comes apart and she sings her final words to Jason and then she is elevated and flies away. This was another example of the Director not trying to re-invent the action but followed on the steps of both Charpentier and Euripides in the Greek original. Also another telling approach that looks back at the performance practises of ancient Greek drama, was how the dead bodies of Creon and Orontes are presented. They appear on trolleys under the cover of blood splattered sheets. A very similar device to how the dead would be wheeled on an Ekkyklema a practise maybe not that familiar to British audiences but anyone with any background in the Classics would instantly recognise it.

As you can tell by now, I am very happy with the staging and it all came together so beautifully to make up one of the best opera evenings I’ve ever attended. Connolly gives a definitive interpretation, surely a highlight of her illustrious career so far. The rest of the cast get somewhat overshadowed by her presence but some great singing comes from Katherine Manley especially in her duets with Jason and Medea revealing a voice of great flexibility and a characterful actress. Jeffrey Francis give a very potent performance with voice to spare. The slightly goofy personenregie for Orontes does benefit by the lightness of touch that Roderick Williams brings to it. Brindley Sherratt brought gravitas and made for a great opponent to Medea, but crucially relaxed when left with Creusa away from his public function. Aoife O’Sullivan, Oliver Dunn and Rhian Lois give performances full of gusto and promise.

The orchestra gave a vibrant reading of the score with a few raw edges that will disappear before the first night. Like with Castor and Pollux Christian Curnyn manages to coax some idiomatic playing from the players while taking them out of their comfort zone.  The chorus sings beautifully through the evening, sometimes in military uniform and others in evening dress from stage and pit. Navigates Charpentier’s deceptively subtle but fiendishly difficult melodies with skill and obvious affection.

If you’ve read this far, I congratulate you and also implore you to go and see this truly wonderful production, do not be put off by the translation or the lack of “period instruments” this is an occasion to treasure and an all too rare chance to see this masterpiece of the French Baroque in London. This is one of those performances you will be telling friends about twenty years from now…GO!

ENO Medea list

Some Tweets from the evening

Twitter - OperaCreep- Woa McVicar #ENOmedea

Twitter - OperaCreep- Oh dress rehearsal audience ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- If this is not a career highlight ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- To the people that don't get ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- It was lovely having the chance ...

Hold on tight Medea is coming

16 Jan

Sarah Connolly sings ‘Such is the price of love’ / Quel prix de mon amour

You all know with how much excitement I’ve been waiting for this production to finally arrive. Since the launch of the season last April I have been intrigued what David McVicar will do with Charpentier’s glorious baroque confection.
With Covent Garden pretty much ignoring baroque, relegating it downstairs, claiming audiences would not be interested in sufficient numbers and without a period instrument orchestra. It is the turn of opera loving audiences to prove them wrong.

According to the press release: ENO’s new production of Medea relocates the famous Greek tragedy to the 1940s, setting it against a decadent, hyper-stylised 1940s backdrop which McVicar describes as “styled to within an inch of its life”

If you have the slightest interest in baroque opera or want to see one of the greatest British singers, don’t miss this opportunity.  The last foray into this era by ENO with Castor and Pollux was a sparkling triumph of young talent.

———————Ticket Offer alert

50% off certain seats for the following dates: 
Friday 15  + Wednesday 20  + Friday 22  + Thursday 28 February + Wednesday 6 + Friday 8 March

Promo code: GUARDEXMED

More details here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/extra/members/2013/jan/23/extra-medea-offer

My Top 12 of 2012

20 Dec

2012 graphicThe end of the year and we all give in to the convention of going through the draws of our minds and paying tribute to the most entertaining and uplifting events of the year. I published a top 11 list last year and thought I’d avoid innovation and go for a top 12 for this year. I am only hoping I will not be blogging in the year 2040 as the list will become too long.

Mittwoch aus Licht

Was a cross-disciplinary spectacular. Thought as unstagable but somehow Graham Vick managed to take us all on a journey. It was cooky, it was extravagant and above all a memory to last a lifetime. Cue in helicopters, cosmic camels and a trombonist in a paddling pool. Here’s my post on the experience.
Click here to read the post.

Alice Coote

Her interpretation of Winterreise was one of the most moving performances of the year. Her programme in honour of  Kathleen Ferrier was a joy to listen to. Her concentrated deeply tragic version of Britten’s cantata Phaedra was also wonderful. We are very lucky to have her and delighted the Wigmore Hall thinks so too.
The CD and download of her Wigmore Hall Winterreise is available to buy from 8 April 2013, here’s the link to the Amazon UK page.

Click here to read the post.

Calixto Bieito’s Carmen

English National Opera were so right to bring to London this extraordinary directorial tour de force. One of the few times when a very strong directorial concept marries with an opera so deeply they become one. The production was an earthy manifestation of Bizet’s masterpiece with such assurance and self-containment that enthralled.
Click here to read the post.

Anja Harteros in Otello

That was a night of wonderment and astounding depth. Even the creaky fusty old production didn’t matter. It was impossible to avert one’s eyes from the purposeful, intense Desdemona underpinned by a complexity so inspiring. Harteros may have a lot of detractors and her record at showing up for shows may not be the most consistent. This performance left me tingling and wanting to see her again soon.
Click here to read the post.

McVicar’s Rosenkavalier at ENO

What a beautiful, non-fussy production with a great cast that understood what Strauss is all about. John Tomlison, Sarah Connolly, Sophie Bevan and Amanda Roocroft had a wonderful chemistry on stage with Edward Gardner creating a most dense gold coloured sound from the pit that made it a very special evening.
Click here to read the post.

Scottish Opera’s Magic Flute

A beautiful steam punk inspired production by Thomas Allen made by a singer for the singers. Showed Scottish Opera in a great light despite the recent financial and organisational ups and downs. It was well cast and the sure-fire hit they need to help them stay relevant and afloat.
Click here to read the post.

Opera North’s Giulio Cesare

With the great sets of Leslie Travers and pacey direction of Tim Albery. The performance was built around the radiant and alert performance of Sarah Tynan who was an ideal Cleopatra and Pamela Helen Stephen’s earthy Caesar was the compete opposite all battlefield mud and conflict. The production was tightly knit and beautifully sung throughout. The Royal Opera may stay away from any baroque opera but thank heavens that regional companies are not as apathetic towards the interpretation possibilities of it. And are willing to tour it across the country to thousands of people in the regions.

Ailyn Pérez

I still remember the buzz before her unexpected recital in March (she took over for an indisposed Giuseppe Filianoti) rushed to grab some tickets to see her and was not disappointed. Her creamy delivery and melting honesty was such a potent blend. She is an artist to watch and can’t wait to see her return to London very soon.
Click here to read the post.

Véronique Gens

She is  firm favourite of mine and had the chance to see her in action twice in the last few months at the Wigmore Hall. Her delivery of mélodies was exemplary, fusing a breezy natural style with a warm stage presence. Her singing manages to look effortless and yet is full of innate good taste and finesse. 
Click here to read the post.

Royal Opera’s Les Troyens

The production was overall hit and miss, but the incredibly vibrant,  Cassandre of a real tragedienne like Anna Caterina Antonacci the butch Enee of Bryan Hymel,  the variable but very regal Eva-Maria Westbroek and the sparkling tenor of  Ed Lyon made for a very memorable musical evening. So much so, that I snapped up another ticket and made my way to the very gods of the lower slips of the Amphitheatre not phased by the uncomfortable sitting arrangements over the over five hours duration. 
Click here to read the post.

Magical Ravel double bill at Glyndebourne

It was my first visit to Glyndebourne and it was everything I hope for and even more. Both productions were simply magical. Especially the brand new L’enfant et les sortilèges was as joyful to watch as it was to listen. The London Philharmonic played with such distinction and style that left us buzzing. Also the long interval was very welcome and our restaurant meal was expensive but also utterly delicious. Laurent Pelly was clearly at home in the whimsical and magical worlds of the two jewel like operas.
Click here to read the post.

Sarah Connolly

Another firm favourite and one singer I can not have enough of. Saw her sing Elgar, French baroque and Strauss. All of them distinctive all of them spectacular in their own right. Her upcoming Charpentier Medea with McVicar directing for ENO will be a great start for 2013 and her appearance as Phèdre in Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne will have me booking for a return trip to East Sussex in August. 
Click here to read the posts.

So many more entries could have made it here but the above are a quick distillation of some great evenings out and being present for some music making of great quality and variety. 2013 will hopefully be as full and interesting, maybe even bringing with it some surprises and new discoveries. A big thanks is owed to all my readers for putting up with my meandering blog posts. Have written this blog based on my belief that opera is alive and constantly changing and as a way to inspire others to give it a go. If just a single reader was inspired or intrigued to go to an opera or classical performance in the last year, it would make writing this blog all the more enjoyable and purposeful. 

Queenly Connolly / Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers: French Exchange / Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Queen Elizabeth Hall – 8 November 2012

11 Nov

The programme read as the most mouthwatering baroque vehicle for a mezzo, and a condensation of Sarah Connolly’s 2013 engagements at ENO and Glyndebourne. She is surely at the top of her game and when she walked on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall almost lost in a trance, we were all pinned back to our seats by the magisterial presence and her elaborate weaving of the complex persona of Medea. Her Quel prix de mon amour was concentrated and sharp with a great sense of dramatic finality. The change of mood half way was definite and chilling setting the stage for a terrifying Noires filles du Styx which was again incredibly vivid and communicated with the utter simplicity only a great artist can deliver. Connolly has a very rare quality, of being a vivid stage actress but not one to give in to pedestrian sentimentality. Instead opting for a more concentrated, sophisticated approach. In this repertoire that pulling back from paroxysms and overacting has to be treasured. It was unfortunate that the orchestral playing under Jonathan Cohen was not as tightly controlled and shaped as one would like to hear but it was not too distracting.

The short dances by Lalande were utterly charming and totally worth listening to this splendid late 17th century lift muzak. Can obviously picture dignitaries tucking into their roast dinner while this playful jollity envelops the ether.

The arrival of the excerpts from Purcell’s Dioclesian and Dido & Aeneas found the orchestra in a much more vivid mood and it also paved the way for the arrival of our tenor, Fernando Guimarães (since the programme was changed and he did not sing the advertised duet from Médée) his voice showed an exceptional clarity in its upper register an attribute much cherished in Baroque music making. I found his stage presence lacking in comparison but his delivery of the aria from Dioclesian was warm and convincing. His timbre and its exceptional brightness may not be to everyone’s taste but surely it’s a very distinctive sound that demands attention.
Connolly’s delivery of Dido’s lament was as haunting as anyone can expect, with the tortured last Remember me, remember me ringing hushed to the very back of the auditorium. Again a triumph of restraint and taste. It was musical and deeply emotional. The reaction of the audience was extraordinary and echoed in our ears for a few good minutes into the interval.

The second half was an all Rameau affair. The orchestra played with great propulsion and gusto the stirring, almost galloping overture of Hippolyte et Aricie. Being at the second row of the stalls we could observe the extraordinary add ons to the valveless brass in order to make the grandiose grande marche sounds that Rameau had in mind for both instrumental pieces. One of the perennially strange aspects of watching a period instrument orchestra play is seeing the amount of “plumbing” taking place in order to alter the sound of the horns.
Her Phèdre was a creature full of life and tragic power. Clearly her recent stage experience at the Paris Opera and their lavish production gave her even more confidence to fully inhabit the character. She hints at fragility in the first two arias under the surface of steel. Cruelle mère des amours has to be one of the most beautiful and emotionally complex arias in the whole of baroque opera. Her heart wrenching sincerity and vibrating pathos was stunning.
And still she held back her most vibrant interaction of the evening with how she at first recoils at the sight of Hippolyte to then turn and hiss her words at him full of venom and disdain. That was such a fantastic acted through performance, far and beyond what one could expect from a concert. The last words she uttered (immoler ma rivale!) were scrunched up and tossed across the concert platform at such close proximity to the tenor it seemed akin to physical abuse. Guimarães acquitted himself admirably well opposite this fiery Phèdre and contributed his own bitter-sweet monologue delivered with great delicacy and poise.

The suite from Les Paladins was played with exuberance and humour, concluding with a virtuoso coloratura display by Guimarães in Lance, Lance amour he displayed incredible breath control and a flawless upper register, bringing a sense of excitement that made this evening feel like it was closing with a firework display.

It was an extraordinary evening celebrating one of the greatest singers to grace operatic stages across the globe. And it was deeply joyous to see the Hall sold out and making some noise for such a wonderful artist. I can barely wait for her Medea at ENO in early 2013…my favourite seats are already booked.

Almost all change / The Dream of Gerontius / CBSO Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 14 April 2012

21 Apr

It’s an unusual situation when both the conductor and the tenor have pulled out of a performance of The Dream of Gerontius but when one trades Andris Nelsons for Edward Gardner and Toby Spence for Robert Murray the issue can be overcome.

Haven’t heard the CBSO for some time and was impressed with the dark sound of their playing. For anyone used to the luminous string playing of the LSO or the New York Philharmonic, this orchestra is a different beast. It has almost a Germanic depth but with a much more earthy feel. A sound very appropriate for what is for English music the equivalent to an oratorio.

The orchestra played with vibrancy and concentration under a very energetic Gardner. All three soloists gave a convincing portrayal and I must single out Sarah Connolly who despite the onset of bronchitis she did not cancel. Seemingly we are always happy to bash artists for not showing but very rarely we applaud the majority of hard working musicians that show up for work despite health problems. She had a bit of a raw edge to her delivery to start off with, but soon settled to the creamy full throated sound we know too well. Her Alleluia rang across the auditorium, the Angel that Elgar wanted had arrived. Robert Murray offered some very sensitive singing that was very touching. His dying Gerontius was a terrified mortal awaiting judgement, the liberated soul turned into a different beast altogether a much lighter, searching personage showed through. His final descent into the purgatory was portrayed as a devastating blow. James Rutherford added the much needed gravitas and darkness and offered solid grounding to the ethereal music. The choir was exceptional in their tonal variety from the heavenly sounds of the opening to the terrifying chorus of the demons flanking the descriptions of the Angel guiding the soul of Gerontius.

The slightly bizarre god fearing tendencies of the text are not maybe the greatest poetry to set to music, but Elgar’s treatment is an interesting solution to a very old problem. The vitality of the some of the music is unlike a lot of his more routine work and when performed with as much panache as from the forces of the CBSO it becomes much easier to ignore any textual failings.

PS Sarah Connolly is scheduled to perform in another Gerontius on 26  January 2013 with the London Philharmonic, conducted by  Sir Mark Elder at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Delicious Sachertorte in Westminster / Der Rosenkavalier / English National Opera – 27 February 2012

7 Mar

Ah Rosenkavalier, the most delicious torte of the lot! The usual upturned noses in the circuit will have scoffed at the idea of having it performed in English. But they shouldn’t have worried too much, this was an evening of pure decadence and pleasure.

McVicar’s set all cream walls, decorative pipped on plaster work, painted ceilings, mirrored screens and swathes of gold lamé fabric and parquet flooring. The detailing was rich enough (despite a few complaints about the use of the same set for all three locations) and the direction was fluid with attention to the action and the glorious music. After the dud Don Giovanni at Covent Garden this was a moment of musical catharsis. Add to that a cast that summed up some of the greatest British singing talent of the last 30 years and you get an idea how fantastic it was. Not bad for what is meant to be London’s second opera house that apparently can’t afford big stars.

Amanda Roocroft’s voice may have lost some of its sheen, but her stage presence is the very essence of old-fashioned glamour. Her Marschallin is charismatic and sang with so much heart, its instantly winning. Her fragility and lack of comprehension of the vanishing world she inhabits is brought out by the staging, her boudoir lavish in small details but overall it seems in need of a fresh lick of paint. Her cavorting in bed with Octavian is fun and warm, her refuge from the pretentious Viennese high society. The role fits her like a glove. Her knowing glances after she lets Octavian go and straight into the arms of Sophie was beautifully acted, as the woman who gives in to young love with an air of a lifetime’s experience.

John Tomlinson is one of the greatest names of British operatic singing. His horny Baron Ochs was fun-filled and showing off his apparent lack of sophistication. His red cheeks with the exaggerated make up added another goofy touch. His energy and enthusiasm never waned  and his particularly lecherous approach to the young Sophie on the wedding day was perfectly judged, slimy in its upper class snobbery but yet pathetic in his disregard for her feelings. Also the way he addressed the Marschallin in the first act was the look of a man who knew his place despite his bone headed arrogance.

Sophie Bevan was a deeply elegant Sophie who waded through her high notes like a fish in water. Her charm and beauty propelled her stage persona. Her falling in love with Octavian during the presentation of the rose was perfection. The wide eyed expression she sported as Connolly showed up in her splendid gleaming suit of armour was that of a woman falling in love for the first time, blinded by the magnificent sight. Awkward and overwhelmed she grew in confidence while trying to see if Octavian was feeling the same way. After her splendid turn in Castor and Pollux last winter she proved herself to be a bona fide star soprano in the making.

Sarah Connolly in her latest and maybe one of her last assumptions of the role of Octavian (she’s moving slowly into different repertoire leaving trouser roles behind) was a joy to watch and to listen to. Her acting from young louche young aristocrat to a cross dressing country maid was every bit as entertaining as it was sublime. She was radiant and in very good voice. She was the glue that held this show together. Her presentation of the rose was poised and a perfect foil for the youthful blonde charms of Sophie Bevan. A moment so perfect that the world seems to stop for a millisecond and observe the beauty. One of those performances that look effortless but yet are truly intelligent. The journey from the Marschallin’s bed chamber to the final trio was the journey to maturity through the course of true love and it’s many (sometimes hilarious) obstacles.

The production was verging on the unapologetically traditional. It’s the shock of the traditional, you may say. Thankfully an abundance of physical comedy touches added whimsy. Also the fun translation and crisp enunciation by the cast made a good ambassador for opera in English. A particular joy was in the final act when Connolly in the guise of the maid Mariandel sounded like a Victorian street urchin, all mangled consonants and flowery slang. The orchestral playing under Edward Gardner was truly spectacular, with focus and softness at perfect balance. After all, this neoclassicising confection has always had a  hint of irony under its expensive veneer. Gardner brought out the incidental humour, cheekiness and all the bitter-sweet harmonies that Strauss endowed this most self-consciously rich score of his operatic career. We left ENO with a sense of deep satisfaction and were glad to be surrounded by a much more attentive audience than in most London venues. That kept silent throughout and generously applauded in the end. I only wish I had seen it once more.

My top 11 discoveries / realisations of 2011

19 Dec

This was a pretty intense year and thought it would be good to make a list of inspirational mainly operatic highs of 2011

1 Twitter

It was the first full year that I’ve used the network as a great resource for news and also as direct communication on matters operatic and not. Met some great people through it and started some very interesting conversations.

2 Beverly Sills

This year I immersed myself in the recorded output of the diva from Brooklyn. A great artist with an intriguing personality to boot. Surely one of the finest coloratura sopranos of the 20th century and worth going back to her for renewal and inspiration.

3 Veronique Gens

The year (almost) started with her magisterial Niobe at Covent Garden and finished with her fantastic  recital at Wigmore Hall. A diva cut off the old cloth of greatness.

4 Allan Clayton

First noticed him this year in a small part in Britten’s Dream, then I saw him triumph in Castor and Pollux and L’Enfance du Christ. A loud voice for the future, hope ENO and RO will give him more substantial roles to sink his teeth into.

5 Iestyn Davis

Never one for countertenors, but his performance in Britten’s Dream was magnetic and his Niobe contribution very substantial. A young British voice to shake up the world of opera and early music.

6 LSO

Have always loved the London Symphony Orchestra but this year they have been stunning. Also one of the most adept to Twitter orchestras on the planet. A band all Londoners should be proud of and should patronise with frequency.

7 Anne Sophie von Otter

Like a well aged Claret, ASvO is a European treasure. Her captivating Wigmore Hall recital was intoxicating to the max. Greatness without the hollow diva attitude. Looking forward to her LSO collaboration early in  February 2012.

8 Alice Coote

Listened to her sing Les nuits d’été years ago at the Proms and was terribly impressed, her triumphantly sulky Prince Charmant in Cendrillon was breathtaking. Her upcoming Winterreise  at Wigmore Hall will be an early highlight of 2012 (there are still a few tickets left, grab them quickly!)

9 Joyce DiDonato

The Yankeediva is a charismatic performer that elevated Cendrillon to stratospheric heights, her Ariodante was to die for, despite the awful orchestra and still a fun Twitter person to have disagreements and banter with.

10 Mark-Anthony Turnage

He gave us Anna Nicole, which was plethoric in its gay abandon and a great showcase for the considerable gifts of Eva Maria Westbroek, the darkness of Twice Through the Heart with the excellent Sarah Connolly and his remarkable music for Undance.

11 Sylvie Guillem

Managed to see her new mixed bill evening at Sadler’s Wells in its two outings back in early July and late September. She was absolutely wonderful both times. A rare dance treat. She continues to be the measure of all dancers, a standard for excellence.

If you had an epiphany of an artistic nature in 2011, feel free to add your top whatever in the comment section and Merry Xmas 😉

The holy conversion of George / Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ / Britten Sinfonia / Sir Mark Elder / Brighton Dome – 10 December 2011

17 Dec

Dear reader, this has been a long time coming, but it has been a very busy week! I almost managed not to see this Enfance due to my stupidity at copying the wrong details in my cloud residing diary. So instead of the front row of the Queen Elizabeth Hall I daytripped down to Brighton for the third and last performance by this distinguished ensemble.

The singers were hand picked and Mark Elder has a unique gift and insight with Berlioz, I was expecting to be impressed but what I experienced was nearing to a cheesy holy conversion. No denying the fact this was one of the most glorious evenings of live music making of 2011.

Having Alan Clayton as the narrator was a brilliant move. He has such an extraordinary instrument (that truly shone in the recent Castor & Pollux at English National Opera) a beautiful sweet middle tone with a ringing Italian sounding bright top. A wonderful combination that elevates what he sings into another level. His narration was full of empathy and wonderfully subtle French, with true chemistry with the orchestra and the exemplary direction by Mark Elder.

Neal Davis, offered an impassioned Herod in the first half and a much more dramatically attuned Ishmaelite in the second. He surely had the power and expressive detailing right, but somehow his instrument does not possess the required darkness to add a more sinister tone to Herod’s outpouring of despair and resolve to order the death of the newborn Jesus. In Scene 4: Chaque nuit, Le même songe m’épouvante/Every night,The same dream terrifies me; where he retells his dream was beautifully realised but lacked the edge a darker timbre could bring. He is a wonderful singer but I can’t stop thinking he was miscast as Herod, his Ishmaelite was full of empathy and kindness.

Sarah Connolly was frankly a luxury in the small part of the Virgin Mary. She was excellent, as usual, giving a very simple but heartfelt portrayal and surely making a beautiful partner to Roderick Williams’ warm and softly sang Joseph.

Britten Sinfonia produced a very even, forward sound, with a rich tone, very appropriate to the piece. When it had to sound more saccharine in the end of part one for the Virgin Mary’s first appearance : Ô mon cher fils/O my dear son, they lived up to it, creating a velvety carpet for the sweet delivery by Sarah Connolly and the first duet with Roderick Williams. That was the first chance to hear the choir of angels which was off stage, sounding weightless and all round pure.

The recently founded Britten Sinfonia Voices first made a strong impression on the second intervention as the Soothsayers: La voix dit vrai, seigneur/The voice is right, Sire with their unwavering keeping up with Elder’s vivid tempo and alertness.

The opening of the second half was where the most rich demonstration of how amazing this ensemble was, came through. The opening Overture was a delight, a rich oriental clarinet infused eastern fantasy. Elder shaping the music into a voluptuous romantic essay in orientalism. The confident delivery by the male choristers representing the shepherds was a great intro to the most turbulent section of the piece, Allan Clayton’s narration of the flight from Egypt was full of colour and dramatic tension. Especially when he was quoting the Virgin Mary in the desert, against a rich carpet of violins underlying every word, he reached for his ringing upper register and then plunged to his chest voice for the finale, at that dramatic point a fly flew itself straight into the face of our tenor, which lightened ever so slightly the scene 😉 With the fly attack successfully averted the choir of angels exalted hallelujah!

With the fly still buzzing in the air, Clayton continued into part three, The arrival at Saïs. Where with great tenderness he described the hardships of the Holy Family in the desert and their arrival in Saïs. His tone was wonderfully soft and the emphasis on every word brought the story to life. The concluding:  Pleine de gens cruels, au visage hautain. Oyez combien dura la navrante agonie Des pélerins cherchant un asile et du pain! / Full of cruel, haughty-looking people.Hear how the distressing agony was to continue. For these pilgrims seeking shelter and bread! was possibly some of the most accomplished singing I’ve heard all year. The upcoming section by Connolly was equally dreamy, almost a mirage of a Virgin Mary at the edge of death. A desperate plea for Joseph to knock on a door was more dramatic than the text would suggest. Williams gave an impassioned good boy impression of Joseph that made the aggressive chorus sound even more hostile. The interwoven texture of the music with the two suffering characters and a forceful chorus, reminded me of a lot of French baroque opera with a begging scene where the hero and heroine ask for mercy. Here the balance between orchestra chorus and soloists was perfect, it was alive, dynamically propelled but unified. A great moment of the evening where the luxury casting bore unexpected fruit.

The next section was a triumph for Davies, who found a resonant bass sound for the Ishmaelite father showing compassion and understanding for the plight of the Holy Family. The culmination came with a brief trio, where Connolly gave a perfect example of a more introverted, classy dramatic power befitting the character. Plus d’alarmes/And my worries was sang out with conviction and true relief, a finale that is dramatic and a wonderful conclusion to the story.

The trio for two flutes and harp made Elder move to stage left to conduct at arms length the soloists, with a delicacy and luscious sound that brought to mind early music. Another great idea by Berlioz that was brought to life in the most captivating fashion. This part of L’Enfance is possibly where the dramatic arc can seriously sag but not under the baton of Sir Mark, this was truly lovely and got a very loud applause by the audience.

The Epilogue with its long string intro reminding me oddly of boats gliding in the night to port, created the perfect opening for an imposing closing section. Clayton clearly relishing every minute of it, singing in a light and reflective timbre, laced with soft vibrato. Even Neal Davies was enjoying the concluding moments, listening with his eyes shut, who can really blame him! The verve of the conducting and the attention to detail introduced once more the choir with breathtaking results, I can vouch at feeling my heart racing through the last ten minutes, reaching the culmination of such an extraordinary ride was both cathartic and truly glorious. Berlioz’s genius shone through. Britten Sinfonia put its heart into the music and the soloists added the splendid final flourish to an unforgettable evening. For me possibly one of the best live performances this year. As the gentleman in the front row (that disrupted Sir Mark’s long pause after the finale) with his enthusiastic applause and jump from his seat, felt too!

Some tweets from the night

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