Barefoot Opera: Ecco Monteverdi

St John, Pevensey Road, Hastings, 17 June 2017

A charming conceit to recreate the music that may have been heard at Monteverdi’s baptism four hundred and fifty years ago. This formed the first half of Barefoot Opera’s concert at St John’s last weekend, with Cantemus, under the direction of Christopher Arnold, singing liturgical settings by Josquin des Prez and Marc’Antonio Ingegneri.  Of these, Ingegneri’s mass setting was particularly impressive with its gently enfolding lines and reflective harmonies. Between these a cappella items Nigel Howard played three pieces by Andrea Gabrieli, with a bright Canzona Ariosa at the heart of the performance.

After the interval the soloists of Barefoot Opera, under the direction of Jenny Miller, brought us a narrative worked around six of Monteverdi’s Madrigals. The texts nearly all refer to the anguish of the lover, often coming close to death because of the pangs of love, but by the end the song of the Nightingale leaves us all on a happier note. The use of movement was very telling and often voices came across with more precision because of their place within the nave. This was especially true of the final moments when they were singing from the centre of the nave, with the voices gently ringing all around us. It was a bold undertaking which certainly paid off.

The evening closed with the two groups coming together to sing Monteverdi’s Adoramus Te, and leaving us wanting more.

Garsington Opera: Semele

Garsington Opera at Wormsley, 15 June 2017

 

Charles Jennens dismissed Semele as a Bawdatorio and, despite the ravishing beauty of so much of the score, it has never quite entered the repertoire in the same way as Caesar or Ariondante. A surprise really when it so easily lends itself to a wide range of visual interpretations while the characters have an emotional depth which is equal to any of Handel’s other operas – but then of course the argument rises as to whether this is opera or oratorio. Opera may be allowed to be morally dubious, but oratorio is expected to be far more straight-laced. The key seems to lie with the organ. Oratorios are led from the organ; operas from the harpsichord. Semele has both and they were used with admirable tact under Jonathan Cohen’s light touch from the pit. This was Handel at his most entertaining. The relationships may be serious but Annilese Miskimmon’s production treads a fine line between fantasy and reality. The opening wedding scene could be any country house celebration, until the gods literally intervene and Semele is whisked off to a heavenly palace.

There are many telling details. Juno’s trail of small girls is a constant delight and never overused. The tiny golden Bacchus at the any is charming, all the more so as the children were clearly related to the adult cast. The chorus are a great strength throughout and their movement was tellingly choreographed by Sarah Fahie.

There were no weak points in the casting and Heidi Stober radiated as Semele, her rendition of Endless pleasure and Myself I shall adore becoming genuine showstoppers. Robert Murray gave us an old rue as Jupiter, pulling out all the stops for Where’er you walk and handling the many pyrotechnics with aplomb. Jurgita Adamonyte’s Ino was able to turn the humour on herself without any sense of humiliation, and David Soar’s Somnus had the gravely bass the part requires while hinting at the sort of lustful reserves Jennens found so objectionable.

Of all Handel’s stage works – and this surely demands to be staged – this can seem the most contemporary and certainly Garsington have highlighted its very many strengths.

 

 

CDs June 2017 (1)

JUDITH BINGHAM – ORGAN WORKS
Stephen Farr, organs of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, St Albans Cathedral & Trinity College, Cambridge
RESONUS RES10191 (2 CDs) 69’13 & 53’49
This bumper collection of recent works by Judith Bingham is a very welcome addition to Resonus’ catalogue and should help to make these works more widely known and appreciated. The composer uses a range of starting points and influences to construct music on a variety of themes – from the liturgical (Missa brevis ‘Vidantes Stellam’) to precious stones (The Everlasting Crown– the longest work here) and botany (The Linnaeus Garden) – an organ duet. The final work included here is Tableaux Vivants for harpsichord. The scope of these works as well as the fine playing from Stephen Farr on a variety of instruments makes this a very useful and enjoyable collection.

 

POLYPHONIA IN EXCELSIS – Sacred music by CLAUDIO DALL’ALBERO
Choir of Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge, David Skinner (director)
Jim Cooper, Laurence Carden & Stephen Farr, organists
RESONUS RES10190  72’39

This very enjoyable CD brings together a number of works by the contemporary composer Claudio Dall’ Albero in excellent performances. Two pieces were written specifically for the Sydney Sussex Choir. The organ solo Trittico di Cantabrigia was composed for this recording with each movement performed by a different organist. These works link the generations who have sung of their faith, drawing on earlier forms of music, such as the Missa ‘De Angelis’. A very good introduction the sound world of this composer.

HAYDN – PIANO SONATAS, Vol 6
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano
CHANDOS CHAN 10942 83’26

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet gives excellent accounts of these sonatas in this latest volume in the series from Chandos. The works are Sonatas No 11, 34-36 & 43 in B flat, D, A flat, C & E flat.

Conradin Kreutzer: Septet Op62; Trio Op43
Himmelpfortgrund, Tobias Koch, fortepiano
CPO 555067-2

Not a composer who comes immediately to mind for the early part of the nineteenth century but for lovers of chamber music of the period this is a delight. Himmelpfortgrund are an original instruments group who manage to combine an authenticity of musical line to an immediacy which makes the score truly alive. There is a real sense of domestic panache to the Septet and a compelling intimacy to the Trio.

CPE Bach: Complete works for keyboard and violin
Duo Belder Kimura
RESONUS RES 10192

The two CDs cover seven sonatas plus a Fantasia and an Arioso with Variations. If the works are all rather similar in nature, there is enough variation to keep one listening throughout, and the quality of the playing is never in doubt.

JS Bach; The Art of Fugue
Ensemble L’Arte della Fuga
OEHMS OC 1854

I am among those who regard The Art of Fugue as one of the pinnacles of artistic creativity. Unfortunately this new recording does little to help convince the un-enlightened. The extensive notes argue that the work can never be considered for the organ (for which it has always seemed to me eminently suited) and harpsichord presentation is too limited. They argue that the combination here – violin, viola, cello, double-bass and bassoon – is the ideal ensemble to fully do justice to the composition. I beg to differ. The solo bassoon simply sounds out of place and while the strings are adequate the sudden introduction of the bassoon upsets the balance. As such the ear is drawn to the unexpected balance rather than absorbing the work itself.

Das Wohltemperierte Akkordeon
Mie Miki
BIS 2217

I have heard Bach on almost any combination of instruments (see above!) but had not previously heard him on the solo accordion. This cd draws on both books and, while convincingly played, still does not somehow quite ring true. Occasionally the sound is close to a harmonium, which I have sometimes heard in the past, but, much as I would like to encourage experimentation, this really does not convince.

Yardbird

Hackney Empire, 9 June 2017

If this was not quite ENO on the road again, it was good to see them working away from the Coliseum. A joint venture with Opera Philadelphia brought Daniel Schnyder’s recent work based on the life of Charlie Parker, Yardbird, to North London and an excellent choice of venue. The Hackney Empire is a Frank Matcham building and as such a more intimate version of the Coliseum itself – perfect acoustically and a more intimate size for an intimate opera.

Daniel Schnyder and his librettist, Bridgette A Wimberly present us with a series of scenes linked to individual musical structures, all in turn linked to the life of jazz composer and saxophonist, Charlie Parker.

The one act work starts and ends with the composer’s death, and is seen through the eyes of his ghost, who characters seem to accept without question, knowing he is dead but talking to him as if he is still alive.

The score is apparently based on Charlie Parker’s own compositions though I have to admit that for those of us with a background in classical music and opera there was little that was familiar. The scenes are essentially lyrical, some settling gently into song, while others have a Bergian edge to them which helps the dramatic impact. One of the largest problems with the work is the failure of the libretto to create characters with whom we can relate. Too often we are given generalised or two-dimensional situations which are then passed over as we move on. At one point Charlie – the excellent Lawrence Brownlee – begins to open up about this failing faith and the conflict between belief and his drug taking. The whole evening could easily have focussed on and expanded just this, but it vanished all too soon and we had moved to another situation. One of the few exceptions, beside Charlie himself, was Angela Brown, as his mother Addie, who grew in stature as the evening progressed.

Another on-going problem was the relentless dynamic level of the score. The late scene in the mental hospital came as a real relief, with its gentle, reflective setting and the quiet keening of Elena Perroni. This was followed by an introspective quintet which proved to be the most memorable music of the evening.

The small ensemble, under Clark Rundell, is effective within the closer acoustic, and Ron Daniels’ production moved smoothly within Riccardo Hernandez and Scott Zielinski’s designs.

As the first of a number of planned collaborations this may not have quite hit the heights hoped for but was more than positive enough to look forward to the next.

 

 

Bizet’s Carmen in a new chamber adaptation

Dulwich Opera Company present a brand new production of Bizet’s Carmen

Dulwich Opera Company are bringing Bizet’s classic tale of love and revenge to the St Albans, Winchester, and Herne Hill this summer. This young and vibrant company have devised a brand new chamber adaptation of Bizet’s classic, which will be the company’s first touring production.

The performance will feature a cast of young professional singers making role debuts, and will besung in French with English surtitles, with international conductor, Jeremy Silver, directing the music from the piano.

The company is delighted to reunite the creative team behind their highly acclaimed production ofCosì fan tutte, which is headed by international opera director, Ptolemy Christie, and designer, Leah Sams. Between them, they bring a great deal of experience to the production, having worked for many of the major opera and theatre companies here in the UK and abroad.

Premièred in 1875, Bizet’s Carmen remains one of the most loved and performed of all operas around the world, and includes the famous Habanera, Toreador song, and Flower Song. Based on the novella by Prosper Mérimée, the opera tells the story of the fiery gypsy girl’s tragic love affair with the obsessive soldier, Don José.

Carmen – Phillipa Thomas
Don José – James Hutchings
Micaëla – Loretta Hopkins
Escamillo – David Fletcher
Frasquita – Claudia Haussmann
Mercedes – Urszula Bock
Zuniga – Caspar James
Le Remendado – Jeremy Vinogradov
Le Dancaïre – Caspar James

The Pilgrims’ School Chamber Choir
(Winchester performance only)

Tuesday 27th June – St Saviour’s Church, St Albans

Thursday 29th June – St Paul’s Church, Winchester

Tuesday 4th July – Herne Hill School, London

Tickets are available in advance from www.dulwichoperacompany.org.uk/box-office – £21 / £19 Concesssions / £10 Under 16’s when accompanied by an adult.

Brighton Festival Chorus

Summer Concert: Sunrise
 
Brighton Festival Chorus
Brighton Festival Youth Choir
Chamber Domaine
James Morgan: conductor

Saturday 8th July 2017 at 7.30pm
Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, University of Sussex
Tickets:  £18.50 or £12 concession for students and under 16s
Attenborough Centre Box Office: 01273 678822
www.attenboroughcentre.com

Brighton Festival Chorus (bfc) is looking forward to its 50th anniversary season with a summer concert at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. bfc has been rehearsing at the University of Sussex since 1968 when Laszlo Heltay, the University’s Director of Music, formed the Chorus. Heltay auditioned many of its founding members in the Attenborough Centre building, and so a return to this venue is a timely way to reflect on the birth of the Chorus.

The concert presents music for voices and strings. Chamber Domaine will play Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, one is his earliest and favourite works, and Barber’s well known Adagio for Strings, featured in many television shows and feature films.

Brighton Festival Youth Choir will perform Richard Rodney Bennett’s Letters to Lindbergh, featuring poems by Martin Hall that quote whimsically from letters supposedly received by Charles Lindbergh during his non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. His correspondents include Scott of the Antarctic, the rusting hulk of the Titanic, and Walt Disney cartoon dog Pluto!

bfc will join Chamber Domaine for a performance of Vaughan Williams’ An Oxford Elegy. This piece was written between 1947 and 1949 using portions of two poems by Matthew Arnold: The Scholar Gipsy and Thyrsis. The work has a pastoral character, and is a loving and ruminative evocation of Arnold’s time and place.

The concert concludes with bfc singing Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass, first performed in 2008. Explaining Sunrise Mass, Ola Gjeilo said that he “wanted the musical development of the work to evolve from the most transparent and spacey, to something completely earthy and grounded; from nebulous and pristine to more emotional and dramatic, and eventually warm and solid – as a metaphor for human development from child to adult, or as a spiritual journey”.

The bfc Summer Concert promises to be a fitting start to the fundraising drive for its 50th anniversary season, embracing both traditional choral repertoire and more contemporary composition, inspired and influenced by both classical and popular culture.

 

 

 

Hastings Philharmonic: Don Giovanni

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, 3 & 4 June 2017

The 2017 Opera Academy brought us two different casts of young singers to St Mary in the Castle last weekend for a concise and well-focused presentation of Mozart’s masterpiece. The small orchestral ensemble provided excellent support throughout, even at the end of act one where Mozart assumes there will be three orchestras available! The musicians were placed behind the action, which made timing more complex but it was much to Marcio da Silva’s credit that there were very few slips in either performance.

Two singers appeared on both evenings, which may have eased their rehearsal time, and they certainly provided some of the most polished performances. Wagner Moreira was an exemplary Ottavio, not only in the lyricism he provided, but also in his naturalistic approach to his stage presence. It was a pity he was not allowed Dalla sua pace in Act 1 though he gave us a fine Il mio Tesoro in Act 2. Similarly Vedat Dalgiran’s Commendatore made a strong impact given the limited time he is on stage.

On the first evening Camilla Jeppeson and Timothy Patrick were well paired as Zerlina and Masetto, creating a very credible relationship which allowed us to experience their shifting emotional patterns with ease. Her Batti, batti was a highlight of Act 1. The next day, Gislene Ramos and Will O’Brian made an equally positive impact with Vedrai carino gently seductive on a slow burn. We could see why this Zerlina was no push-over.

Gheorghe Palcu gave us a personable, wide-boy Leporello though his diction was often lost in the acoustic of the building. Of the nobility, Rosemary Carlton-Willis’ Elvira raged impressively and there was a subtle integrity to Eleni Komni’s Anna. Her handling of Non mi dir brought clarity to the complex relationship she has with Ottavio.

On the first night Neylson Crepalde conducted, stepping in to play guitar for the serenade, and doing both jobs with admirable skill. Marcio da Silva’s own precise conducting style kept the ensembles tightly together and gave us a convincing tableau at the end.

The main focus of the event was to give these singers a platform and, as noted above, many took it with fine demonstrations of the operatic art. Hopefully their careers will blossom.

 

 

Opera Holland Park: Don Giovanni

I must have seen a dozen Don Giovannis since I last saw one traditionally set in the eighteenth century. And they get ever more ingenious and imaginative. I suppose it says something for the timelessness of this story of hedonistic amorality, revenge and justice. Oliver Platt’s version for OHP is set on a luxurious 1930s cruise ship which provides a certain plausibility as the Don seeks further seductions to add to his list. And Neil Irish’s set gives us a long narrow deck with lots of doors, some of which open to provide mini rooms and most of it slides away to create a communal area for strolling, deck chairs, dancing, quoits and so on.

Ashley Riches is the most imposing looking Don I’ve ever seen. Taller than anyone else on stage, he brings a charismatic loucheness to the role which – unusually – means you can actually see why so many women fall for him, at least initially. He also sings beautifully of course. The seduction aria addressed to Zerlina (Ellie Laugharne – good) and accompanied by James Ellis on mandolin is utterly delightful, not least because it’s so simple and contrasts well with the more complex work, in duet with Leporello (John Savournin) for example. Savournin finds all the right chagrin, loyalty, wonder, distaste and jealousy to the role and the list number is fun with the numbers chalked up on the quoits score board as he goes.

Victoria Simmonds’s impassioned Donna Elvira ensures that the audience feels real sympathy for this woman who has been “ruined” and cast aside. There’s nice work from Lauren Fagan as Donna Anna especially in that nasty rape scene, played partly on stage in this version, at the beginning. It must be quite a challenge to sing when you’re sideways on the floor with your cheek pressing down and a very large actor on top of you. This production doesn’t pull many punches or invite much sympathy for this serial seducer/rapist. The murder of Il Commendatore ( Graeme Broadbent) is pretty graphic too.

Don Giovanni stands or falls on the strength and staging of its ending. Full marks for this one in which Broadbent’s basso profundo avenger is like Stephen Berkoff playing Banquo’s ghost and pretty damn terrifying.

Warm praise too for the costumes. Themed in amber, yellow, beige and dark red the passengers’ clothes are a visual feast, particularly the Chanel- style trousers and Fagan’s pink silk dressing gown. This is a show which looks as good as it sounds. Dane Lam draws huge amounts of finely drawn detail from his orchestra and it’s fascinating to watch the meticulous way he supports singers by mouthing almost every word.

Puccini: La Rondine

Investec Opera Holland Park

The opening performance in OHP’s 2017 – and in its lavishly refurbed premises – is energetic, enjoyable and colourful. Director Martin Lloyd-Evans makes interesting use of the very long (almost traverse), split level playing space and there’s a vibrant sound coming out of the pit under Matthew Kofi Waldren. The occasional acoustic awkwardness and time lag caused by having, for example, the horns a very long way from the percussion is more than compensated for by delightful attention to the detail in Puccini’s richly orchestrated score.

 

Puccini’s 1917 opera tells the story of Magda, a classy girl whose comforts have mostly been earned on her back, attracting and falling in love with a decent man who doesn’t realise what she is – cue for much angst, eventually on both sides and no chance of a happy ending. The title – the swallow in Italian – presumably refers to her flitting from man to man and disappearing at the end.

Design by takis places us firmly in the 1950s with candy coloured full skirted frocks, a rather beautiful pastel green drawing room and lots of suits and smoking place us firmly in the 1950s. And when we move to a bar/nightclub/salon of doubtful repute in Act 2, the all cast waltz is choreographed (movement director: Steve Elias) as a big jiving sequence which is good fun and very effective.

The night belongs, though to Elizabeth Llewellyn as Magda and Matteo Lippi as Ruggero. Llewellyn has a voice like best dark chocolate in the lower register and crystal clear water in the upper. She achieves an impressive variation of tone and packs in huge amounts of immaculately acted emotion. Her reading aloud of the letter from Ruggero’s mother in the third act is a good example of impassioned excitement mixed with horror. It is a very fine performance indeed.

Lippi blends with her well, also conveying well sung passion and, in the end distress. This may not be Madame Butterfly, Turandot or La Boheme but there are still some very melodious passages and Lippi and Llewellyn treat us to some magnificent duets.

A good start to the season, then, and I was one of hundreds of women who were openly impressed by the new lavatories. Thanks, Opera Holland Park and your sponsor Investec.

Susan Elkin

English National Opera’s award-winning Orchestra and Chorus present The Dream of Gerontius, conducted by Simone Young

Saturday 1 July at 7.30pm and Sunday 2 July at 3pm at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall

English National Opera is proud to present a unique and visually striking version of one of Britain’s most-loved pieces of music. Two performances of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius will take place as part of Southbank Centre’s Chorus festival.

With richly evocative design by the award-winning Lucy Carter, three of the UK’s most acclaimed singers will present an emotionally-charged rendition of John Henry Newman’s poem. Soloists Gwyn Hughes Jones, Patricia Bardon and Matthew Rose join ENO’s Olivier Award-winning Chorus and Orchestra, the BBC Singers, and Australian conductor Simone Young, who leads the ENO Chorus and Orchestra for the first time.

Elgar’s choral masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius tells the story of the passage of the soul of a dying man as he passes into the next world. One of the most popular choral pieces nationwide, this performance gives the rare opportunity to see it staged with design to match the sweeping power of the music.

Lucy Carter has been praised for her work in lighting design across theatre, ballet and opera, notably winning the 2015 Knight of Illumination Award for her work on the Royal Ballet’s Woolf Works. She received wide acclaim for her ‘beautifully nuanced’ (Time Out) lighting for 2016’s Oil at the Almeida Theatre and now brings her vision to Elgar’s oratorio. She comments:

‘The concept for the visual world of this performance is to create an immersive experience that heightens the emotional textures of the music with a light energy, creating visceral lighting environments that the audience feel and hear as well as see. It draws on religious imagery and symbolism connected to the themes of Elgar’s epic oratorio, and uses the idea of light as an elemental, evocative and ultimately cleansing force.’

The title role is taken by Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones. A singer frequently seen on the ENO stage, he was recently described as ‘everything you could want’ (The Times) for his Cavaradossi in 2016’s Tosca. His other performances for ENO include Walther in 2015’s Mastersingers of Nuremberg (a role he reprised earlier this year for the Royal Opera House) and Don Alvaro in 2015’s The Force of Destiny.

Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon sings the Angel. The youngest-ever prize-winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, she was much admired for her ‘magnificently sung’ (What’s On Stage) Arsace in 2017’s Partenope at ENO as well as her 2014 performances in The Gospel According to the Other Mary.

Bass Matthew Rose sings the dual role of Priest/Angel of Agony. Most recently seen with ENO as King Mark in Tristan and Isolde in an ‘impeccably sung’ (The Daily Telegraph) performance, he has sung this role on multiple occasions, including earlier this year at the Musikverein in Vienna.

Conducting the ENO Chorus and Orchestra will be Simone Young, former Intendant of the Hamburg State Opera and General Music Director of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and before that Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of Opera Australia. Multi-award winning, including the Goethe Medal and the Brahms Prize, she is known as ‘one of the world’s most in-demand conductors’ (Sydney Morning Herald). This marks her first time performing with the ENO Orchestra and Chorus.