Tag Archives: Sophie Bevan

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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Exceptional polish / Die Zauberflöte / Royal Opera House – 7 May 2013

13 May

ROH FluteIt has been a bit of a crazy week but really have to put down in writing how good the performance of the Magic Flute really was. McVicar’s decade old production may be very short on the crowd pleasing spectacle the work is calling for and is particularly cumbersome in its design sensibility. But all was forgotten because of some truly world class singing by the largely British cast.

Simon Keenlyside who originated the role of Pappageno on the first staging was a ball of silly antics and sung with great finesse. Andrew Staples gave us a very youthful Tamino with great evenness of tone and winning sensibility, Albina Shagimuratova was a very confident Queen of the Night, thundering in and nailing the treacherous coloratura with unexpected transparency and accuracy. Susana Gaspar acted with brio but her Pappagena never quite got off the ground as the direction and costuming created a character apart that doesn’t quite mingle harmoniously with the rest of the cast. But the night ultimately belonged to the marvellous Pamina of Sophie Bevan, singing a gleaming account of the part with radiant, plush sound and great charm. There is no greater acclaim for a singer singing this part than to radiate happiness and to make the auditorium fall in love with her. Bevan put a huge smile on our faces every time she was on stage, even adding to it by recovering rather nicely from a chair fall and incorporating it in her acting.

The conducting by Julia Jones may have been largely utilitarian and with little attempt at conjuring Mozart’s magical glow. All the largely humdrum playing from the pit  could not mask how truly beautiful the singing was, reminding us all how a really bouncy cast can transform even a clinical account into something memorable. It was a shame this second cast only had three performances to prove their worth but was very pleased to hear satisfied punters all the way down from the Amphitheatre. I hope that we will see more frequently casts of this quality that don’t seem to have been put together because they can number lots of international names just for the sake of it. The Brits in the cast acquitted themselves so well it makes some of the casting decision frequently made at Covent Garden seem a little bit strange. More please!

ROH Flute List

Curtain call video

Some Tweets from the evening

Wimsy and gorgeousness / Sophie Bevan + Sebastian Wybrew recital / Wigmore Hall – 17 March 2013

18 Mar

Sophie Bevan WH RecitalA short form hour-long Wigmore Hall recital is a great way to see new artists taking their first steps on the platform. Sophie Bevan has graced that very stage as a solo artist, soloist in a couple of operas and oratorios and with her vocal group The Myrthen Ensemble. She is currently touring with the Welsh National Opera’s absolutely fantastic Cunning Little Vixen and this recital was an absolute joy and seeing the Hall sold out was a very good signifier of her power to attract, retain and grow her audience. Her stage presence had a suavity and natural charm that was totally disarming. Little cheeky glances at Sebastian Wybrew, her pianist, were a clear indication of how much in cahoots they were in this programme.

The recital was centered around Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs the sparkly set of songs based on poetry by Irish monks and religious scholars from the 8th to the 13th century.  The cycle was famously written for Leontyne Price and was premiered and recorded in 1953. The ebb and flow of mood from the whimsical to the demonstrative is a reflection on Price’s personality and one way to deliver them in the most natural, unforced way is to share a fun loving personality and a natural ease on stage. Sophie Bevan showed true class, singing with riveting intensity and full throated staccato passages. The change of atmosphere between The Heavenly Banquet and The Crucifixion was negotiated with a charming little glint in the eye when the audience laughed at the end of the first song and a swift withdrawing into herself for the esoteric nature of the second. In Promiscuity her expressive use of gesture and sharp, playful sideways looks to the audience added to the menacing effect of her crisp delivery, but with her underlying charm adding a sweet addendum. In The Monk and his Cat she displayed plush phrasing and natural warmth. A song that can seem silly they managed to give it a heartwarming, deliciously wholesome colour on par with the recording by Price and Barber. The play on dynamics and a sense of wistfulness when coupled with such playful piano playing realises the full potential of the composition.

The rest of the programme was a great display of beautiful and amply powered singing. The opening Purcell was enchanting, full of colours and delivered with incredible assurance and self-contained melancholy. It felt like a private moment of reflection with the leisurely tempo allowing for this complete unfolding of this exquisite song. A fiendishly difficult opener but a towering achievement of honesty and inner life.

The following numbers by Schubert, Wolf and Berkeley were very powerfully sang despite the fact I wish they allowed for more temperamental variation in reflection of the variety of moods in Hermit Songs. Any singer that can pull off such a powerful, glistening Purcell and then move on to a dark and brooding Herr, was trägt der Boden hier is surely a very special artist.

I will not harp on any longer, but hopefully you get my drift that Sophie Bevan is the real thing. A very intelligent, versatile performer that brings beauty and theatricality to everything she does. I would urge everyone that can make her Vixen performances or her upcoming Royal Opera Pamina to not miss out. This is a special voice that is growing in both breadth of repertoire and flourishing in terms of technique and presentation. It gives me immense pleasure to get out there and support great talent of my own generation. Especially when the rest of the audience is as enthusiastic and loud in its approval as yesterday.

Sophie Bevan WH Recital list

From darkness to light / Lulu + The Cunning Little Vixen / Welsh National Opera, Cardiff – 23+24 February 2013

2 Mar

WNO Lulu+VixenLast weekend had my first live experience of Welsh National Opera and I am delighted to report back I was left with the impression that this may be the finest regional company in the UK. Their programming under the directorship of David Pountney has been inspired and was intrigued by the pairing of his brand new staging for Lulu and his 1980 production for the Cunning Little Vixen. His style has evolved over the years but there is the unmistakable stamp of his touch and the total focus on the singers.

On the Saturday night seeing my first live Lulu was all too exciting and being at front row and getting the full blast of this truly outstanding orchestra it was a treat for the senses. The conducting of Lothar Koenigs was confident and brought out the underlying lyricism of the score without losing the steely edge that Berg imparted on it. The staging has a paired down freshness that makes a problematic work like Lulu look effortless. The use of colour for each of the scenes was distinctive and very conspicuous adding a layer of warmth but also a sense of separation between scenes .

The set is made up of a central round enclosure in untreated, gleaming metal sections that opens up for Act Two to make space for the wonderfully fleshy bed that Lulu and Alwa make love before they flee to Paris. For the other two Acts the enclosure remains closed and flanked by movable platforms that add entrances for the singers and multiple levels. The central core of the enclosure remains initially empty till a spiral staircase descends creating a new stage dynamic. Possibly the most effective use of it, is when the frosted tube enclosing the lower part of the metal cylinder reaches the floor and becomes the room that Lulu’s final killing by Jack the Ripper takes place. With Marie Arnet screaming a haunted nein before her blood splattered naked body rests again the semi transparent wall. A finale chilling and gruesome enough to make one take notice. All of this is overseen by a disturbing Hans Bellmer inspired sculpture made out of just legs featuring as the stand in for Lulu’s portrait and contributed to the overall surreal look. The industrial look of the set makes overt reference to the aesthetic of Oskar Schlemmer and his designs for the Bauhaus, a contemporary of Berg and a hugely influential figure in the world of avant-garde theatre. If ever there was a production that felt that it evokes Berg’s own times this is the one.

The performances overall were excellent, with a towering interpretation by Marie Arnet who acted the sexy siren and downtrodden prostitute with equal conviction. Her singing remaining exemplary throughout, without any sign of stress or discomfort. There are not many singers that can make Lulu resonate with humanity and retain that demimonde edge like Arnet and this being her role debut (at fairly short notice since she replaced the previously advertised Olga Pasichnyk) it was a complete triumph. From the rest of the cast Patricia Orr, Alan Oke, Natascha Petrinsky and Peter Hoare were the stand outs. All vocally assured and totally inhabiting the characters the detailed direction bestowed upon them. Particularly Natascha Petrinsky’s Duchess Geschwitz nearly stole the show with her alluring lesbianism and dominating stage presence. Pountney’s direction created a deeply hedonistic staging making this Lulu of international importance. He added a carnivalesque atmosphere (with some extraordinary animal heads ) and also some dark theatricality (with each dead protagonist having a dummy double that gets hoisted up the set using meat hooks) but above all he stresses the interaction between characters making this a very well resolved example of this unfinished modernist masterpiece.

Pountney’s direction for the Cunning Little Vixen is equally compelling, with much bouncy fun to be had and a truly adorable set, shaped like rolling hills, allowing for much slapstick comedy to take place. The excellent use of the suspended tree branches and three secondary characters added a touch of dynamism that made it feel very fresh (considering it was premiered in 1980!). The costumes by Maria Bjørnson were good enough to allude to the different animals (the mosquito, chickens and cockerel being particularly fine examples) but without making the production look excessively cartoony and contrived. The projection of anthropomorphism by Janacek on the Vixen and the animals around her is usually undermined by overt mimicking of the animals’ appearance at the expense of the expression and the tension between singer and costume. The production is sang in a rather entertaining English translation making the jokes flow and the audience reaction more immediate. The Vixen of Sophie Bevan was the most enchantingly glorious creature on stage, beaming personality and displaying a great sense of comic timing. Julian Boyce’s scruffy, predatory dog was the funniest thing on stage. Sarah Castle’s Fox was perky and despite a couple of times sounding shrill, a great addition with her outgoing enthusiasm. From the “grown up roles” Alan Oke was a bravura schoolmaster with a deliciously sharp temper.
The orchestra played a majestic account of the score finding a mid-point between glorious romantic tutti and much more incisive and playful incidental material. The glistening strings added sunshine to a windswept day in Cardiff, which is no mean feat. After seeing this production I can now agree to the classic status of the staging, it both draws from all our childhoods and it also beguiles with its lightness and unapologetically fun outlook. Lets hope that it will continue to live on and to entertain many more people.

On the surface it may seem an odd accident of programming to have these two operas performed in the same themed season (with addition of Madama Butterfly) but it was very useful to read David Pountney’s essay in the programme and I am delighted that the WNO has shared it on their website, go on have a read. If the above is not too obvious already, I was thoroughly impressed by the WNO and already started making plans to visit in the winter for their three Donizetti queens which should be a supreme, unmissable, operatic over-indulgence. If you are in the route of their extensive tour do not hesitate to book, both Lulu and Vixen are two productions that any of the London Houses would be delighted to claim as their own. They are imaginative, intelligent and above all serve the work they present with respect and have something to say.

The performance of Lulu from the 23rd of February I’m waxing lyrical about will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 25th of May at 6pm, tune in!

Curtain Call Video

WNO’s Guide to Lulu

WNO Lulu+Vixen list

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.

Fight Club at the Opera / Castor and Pollux / English National Opera – 28 October 2011

31 Oct

It comes one of those nights where you really expect to hate the performance as on paper all odds are against it. On Friday I was expecting to hate the translation, the staging, the very idea of having baroque opera at the Coliseum. That was not a very promising start to it!

The performance was of the revised version of the opera from 1754 with some additions from the earlier 1737 version. The orchestra was made up of modern instruments with baroque bows and wooden flutes. conducted by Christian Curnyn (quite frequently aided by a black pencil in place of a baton) raised above the deep orchestra pit and almost meeting the front of the stage.

The set can only be described as a cross of a Finnish sauna with a garage made out of birch panelling from Ikea. As you can see from the photo above, a large box with a number of full length screens that create compartments in three different zones. For the final act the back panel disappears for Jupiter to arrive. Having a box containing the action and also helping to amplify the voices in the large space has become a convention for modern directed early operas. A similar construction was used at the Royal Opera House last year for Niobe Regina di Tebe. The set design is by Katrin Lea Tag.

Barrie Kosky made his London directorial debut with this production and from the very first minutes it became clear his direction was very physical. There are a number of macho fighting scenes between the two brothers and the eventual murderer of the mortal Castor. With blooded fists and abundant kicking and bashes against the side of the box. After the killing of Castor, Pollux in turn avenges the death by killing the perpetrator, with the choir dragging the bloodied body around the stage reminiscent of the recent footage of the capture and execution of  Gadaffi in Libya. A truly chilling image not expected in the quaint world of the baroque.

Due to that hardcore ultra violent base framework it will not come as a surprise to mention that the dances provided by Rameau are not interpreted on stage by ballet dancers. The first couple become almost party pieces for the choir and later on the singers are acting and even running around the stage to fill the emptiness. In some cases is more successful than others and since the ballets contain some of his most beautiful melodies I am grateful that so many of them have been included.

The main feature of the stage for a large part of the evening is a humongous mount of slate coloured sand. Creating a hill for the singers to run up to and a portal between hell and earth. On first appearance the screen lifts and the mount shows up shrouded in smoke, not sure if they were going for a Mount Olympus like look, but in reality it looked more like a steaming compost head (a rather unfortunate image to have in one’s head for the duration of the evening). Knowing how tight the budgets are at ENO I can understand how this solution was chosen for its flexibility and visual impact. The first proper use for the heap of sand is the mourning by Telaire (Sophie Bevan) of the bloodied body of Castor (Allan Clayton), who she buries during her powerful aria that expresses her love and sadness. The very burial of the body in such an exposed fashion does have an overtly emotional impact on the proceedings and for me gave added depth and humanity. Much has been written about the nudity and the two maidens of the many panties that accost Pollux. They were not really necessary to the action but added a wry interest in a couple of pretty innocuous moments in the score. Watching a programme with Katie Price is bound to be more shocking than some of those unclothed moments. Most notoriously the mount becomes the site for a masturbation scene with Phebe lying with legs spread and a disembodied arm projecting from the sand, pleasuring her. A slightly puzzling moment before she meets her maker!

The performance of the orchestra was very satisfying and the conducting was clearly supportive of the singers. The three out of the four protagonists were absolutely excellent. Roderick Williams and his velvety baritonal timbre gave us a humble, selfless but grand Pollux who managed to look great singing for 20 minutes in his underwear 😉 Allan Clayton’s Castor was tragic and brave with raw physicality and a voice full of emotional charge and ebullient spark. Sophie Bevan gave us two spectacular arias that truly embraced the rawness of the material and was not scared to show total commitment and fluency. For me the character of Phebe (Laura Tatulescu) was not fleshed appropriately for us to care. The singing was good enough (with the odd sharp vowel) but she seemed to have to reach the end of her range to hit a few of the high notes, looking a touch uncomfortable. Entrusting the central characters to an excellent young team was a fantastic move. The stage is buzzing with energy the total opposite of the static stagings of old.

The translation was much better flowing than expected but sometimes did create obstacles e.g. when Bevan was trying to trill while uttering the word weeping…it just looked unnecessarily difficult. But the performances by the cast made any translation issues fade into insignificance.

Despite a few flow glitches and some oddities with the direction. This presentation of Castor and Pollux is a wonderful night out, filled with excellent singing and a plethora of quirky little details, like the finale where the two brothers depart after they become stars by Jupiter, leaving behind their shoes. Which they get covered in silver dust that falls from the ceiling in two infinite streams sparkling like thousands of stars. A coup de théâtre that closes the evening with a hint of magic.

It is running till 1 December, if you are in London and have a passing interest or curiosity for French baroque opera, give it a try, surely you are bound to be impressed by the singing if not the production as a whole. We should be celebrating and supporting new singers of this calibre, it’s all good and well to pop in to see the swan song of Placido Domingo at Covent Garden but the young artists that are getting their big break with great repertoire are at the ENO, indeed they create the future of opera as their PR suggests.

If you can’t make it, there will be a broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 26 November, tune in. (Edit: It was only actually broadcast on 14 January 2012)

Tweets from the night:

Comment on The Observer website: 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/comment-permalink/13068075

Castor and Pollux in Rehearsal video

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