Tag Archives: Véronique Gens

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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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. 
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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.
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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. 

Heavenly mélodies / Véronique Gens + Susan Manoff / Wigmore Hall – 10 May 2012

12 May

If you follow me on Twitter, you know how much I like Veronique Gens…have been hooked since her magnetic performance in Niobe Regina di Tebe at the Royal Opera and loved her debut lunchtime recital at Wigmore Hall  in December. When I saw her return for an evening recital I had to have tickets and believe me it was a spectacular evening.

Seeing the Wigmore Hall sold out for her was an encouraging  sign. She sang a beautiful selection of songs by Fauré, Duparc, Debussy, Chausson and Hahn. Some of them I had listened to recently by Marina Rebeka and Ailyn Pérez, both of them truly wonderful singers, but with the unbeatable accompaniment of Susan Manoff’s playing and the exquisite Gens the songs take a new life.

The two of them worked through the evening as a great team, bouncing off each other and also allowing enough space for individual expression and actually having fun. Manoff played her part as an equal and made a huge impression. But I will not tire you with harping on how extraordinary a  singer Gens is. But it has to be said that every word matters and the very way she expresses the feeling of every song is just amazing to watch. In turn she will be mindless and frivolous and the next moment taken over by melancholy and in a state of reverie. She has a unique gift to not only sing gloriously but to also express the music through her body and the reflection of each mood with simple flicks and fluttering of her fingers and her intense stare. She was acting through the whole recital with those magical final notes held and feeling her body letting go the character between songs and release her focus and breath. She is as far removed from cheap histrionics and typical singing diva ticks imaginable. Her whole behaviour on stage is demure (despite the change to a rather revealing gown for the second half of the recital), confident and winning. Judging from the reaction of the crowd (some of the loudest applause I’ve ever heard at the venue) she captivated the audience.

They were both gracious enough to offer us three encores (Gounod, Poulenc and Fauré)  which were truly amazing and even had the stamina for a meet and greet afterwards. I stumbled in front of them and told them how exquisite they were…but one can really say very little in front of such total majestic command of repertoire and form. If she is singing  mélodies anywhere near to where you happen to be, you owe it to yourselves to see them both live. It was an intoxicatingly French evening to remember.

Some Tweets from the evening

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 😉

Damsel in Red / Véronique Gens + Susan Manoff / Wigmore Hall – 12 December 2011

13 Dec

Véronique Gens left a huge imprint in my mind and heart after her performance of Niobe Regina di Tebe at Covent Garden last year. She was the beating heart of a truly accomplished, odd ball piece by Steffani. Her voice was silken and alluring, her stage presence involving and I really don’t know what is the management of the Hall thinking booking such a great artist for just a one hour long recital of French songs. But we’ll gratefully accept what we can get!

This recital was a walk through in French chanson by three highlighted composers (Massenet, Gounod, Hahn); setting mainly 19th century literary grandees (Victor Hugo, Theophile Gaultier) guided expediently by the sympathetic and rounded playing of Susan Manoff (a great favourite of French opera divas on the concert platform).

The songs by Massenet sang were delivered with lightness of touch and panache. Almost as softly as Gens’ hand was lying against her side. Despite her blazing red/orange dress her approach to singing was about the understatement. She clearly inhabited the material but was not being predictable. Her silences and fading notes seemed as important as her crescendos. She transported us to fields and the side of the sleeping beauty, with such a simplicity of means that was unforced and relatable. When she asked O grands bois, pouvez vous me dire Que devient l’âme des oiseaux?/O forests, can you tell me what becomes of the birds’ soul? ,one doesn’t discount it as the absurd questioning by a mad lady, it’s more verging on a forest psychodrama.

Her La mort de la cigale was the first moment of reflective singing, up to that point everything was breezy and more sweet. The reflections on mortality by referring to the lifecycle  of the cricket and how its end coincides with the end of the harvest. She allows the silences and the pacing that Manoff dictates to create a notional space where the meaning ferments. Sounds maybe pretentious to suggest that, but looking her straight in the eye while delivering the lines, there was a look of certainty and wisdom that was convincing. This section closed with a Spanish flavoured fantasy with a certain amount of sexiness. Her hands almost describing the touching of the loved one,  helping to create the atmosphere of lust, the song closing in a triumphal loudly exhaled amour!

Her Gounod and de Polignac section was focusing on female characters again, from a rebellious belle, to the gorgeously sang Prenda garde/Beware! almost in a similar vein to some 15th century chant by Stile Antico she described a femme fatale that lies to have her own way and asked all listeners not to believe her and to beware. Just the turn of phrase every time she emphasises every warning is both amusing and faintly serious. The Lamento/Lament by de Polignac is a quiet, almost morbid tableaux giving respite and stillness to the recital and altering the faster rhythm up to that point.  The fantasy of the young maid that wants to be taken to the land of love in Où voulez-vous aller?/Where is it you would go? was animated by the vocalise representing the billowing sails in the wind, a wonderful sound suggesting images with the smallest amount of detail, a shorthand weather forecast if ever there was one. The upcoming Sérénade/Serenade was a pulsating, almost danceable tune with her vocal hovering over it, so very simple but still a most beautiful lullaby imaginable. Voluptuous harmonies and expressive colouring added intimacy and flow.

The final section by Hahn was a more reflective set of songs as a whole. The outstanding highlight is Trois jours de vendange/Three days of vintaging describes the meeting with a beautiful girl at harvest and within 5 mins we are transported to her death three days later. The way she delivers the two crucial lines Le cercueil était couvert en velours, Le drap noir portait une double frange/The coffin draped in velvet, the black shroud had a double fringe under a heavy sounding piano is just exquisite. A certain Gallic melancholy feels the air, she was retelling this story with empathy and true sadness. This is the unique winning quality her singing conveys, it does feel genuine and just leads us up the path hand in hand.

As you can tell from the above I am totally in love with Véronique Gens and it’s a good thing to admit it too. She is truly an original, engaging artist that does not resort to easy histrionics but is a thoughtful, mature and complete singer. The velvety beauty of her voice, her lithe appearance and her gift for communication is an intoxicating mix. While I was being Wigmored (a great term to describe how the older members of the audience block all exists from the auditorium, thanks Twitter!) on the way out all you could hear were joyful expressions of appreciation and love. She surely acquired many more fans today (including my other half) with such a wonderfully radiant performance (despite a minor cold that she was nursing).

You can hear it all live within the UK on the iPlayer. It will also be repeated this coming Saturday at 14.00 on BBC Radio 3, so tune in or record it and keep it to listen again and again. There’s hoping that Wigmore Hall Live will release it in the near future, I’ll be first in line to get a copy! I’ll close this with a different rendition of the encore she sang by Poulenc.

Some tweets from the concert

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