ENO: Salome

London Coliseum, Friday 28th September 2018

Salome should be a visceral assault regardless of whether it is the play or the opera. When Richard Strauss’ opera is given in English with much of Tom Hammond’s translation mirroring Wilde’s text it should be doubly effective. That Adena Jacobs’ production for ENO manages to drain most of the emotion out of it is quite a feat in itself. It is not so much that the production misfires – there are many telling moments and much of the score is well sung and presented – as that the temperature never rises above cool and the final scene is distinctly underwhelming.

Billed as a boldly feminine interpretation it was difficult to see how this claim was justified in terms of the production itself. That Salome is objectified by all around her is certainly a valid approach but the lack of eye contact, or more importantly the sense of the gaze, kills any sense of lust or passion.

Marg Horwell’s sets are equally unhelpful here. The vast open spaces make the singers look lost and rather that the claustrophobic world of both text and score, we have little sense of a community constantly inward-looking and cut off from the outside world. Of the many productions I have seen, WNO’s most recent was by far the most effective with its pierced Islamic screens and constant prying eyes. For ENO, all too often the stage is empty apart from the protagonist.

Needless to say there is no dance for Herod, and after a few listless poses Salome gives up and hands the dance over to four professional dancers, though there is little point as Herod is not watching anyway.

If there is supposed to be a close relationship with Herodias it is not obvious until the end which comes about as a double suicide. This hardly seems to be a feminist outcome as the men have all too obviously won yet again.

The singing is mostly strong, particularly in the smaller parts where Stuart Jackson’s Narraboth is particularly effective, and Susan Bickley a commanding Herodias. In any other production Michael Colvin’s Herod might be very persuasive as he is vocally on top of the part but his near insanity for much of the evening – ending up with his Father Christmas sack – cuts against any impact he might have made.

The five Jews are impressive – though they would never have agreed to mop up spilt blood! – as are the two Nazarenes.

This leaves us with the two protagonists. David Soar has previously impressed and is always a positive presence on stage but here Jokanaan seems to lie out of his reach. Too often the voice sounded strained and uncomfortable rather than the noble centre it requires. As Salome Allison Cook looked and acted exactly as Adena Jacobs obviously intended, the Barbie doll / My Little Pony overtones neatly focused and the lack of emotion throughout carefully controlled. All would have been well but her voice never carries the authority the part needs, particularly in the final scenes. There was no sense of development or a gaining of control. Even from front centre of the Coliseum stage her voice could not soar over the orchestra. Having heard Jessye Norman almost drown out the orchestra in this final scene I know it is possible!

The orchestra played with considerable finesse but Martyn Brabbins did not seem to be able to find the raw power and dangerous, heady enthusiasm Strauss calls for.

It is difficult to see how this production could be better focussed if it were to return. Meanwhile we have Porgy and Bess to look forward to.

Brighton Philharmonic 2018-19 Season

The Brighton Phil at Brighton Dome

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra is pleased to present their exciting new season of Sunday afternoon concerts at Brighton Dome, when they will be joined by an array of talented musicians including Freddy Kempf & Steven Osborne (piano), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Thomas Carroll (cello) and Ben Gernon (conductor), to name but a few.

To open the season on Sunday 14 October, Conductor Laureate Barry Wordsworth and Brighton Festival Chorus present a feast of glorious music by Elgar, Parry, Handel & Shostakovich. Brighton Festival Chorus celebrate their 50th anniversary this year and they recently recorded a number of Elgar’s works for choir and orchestra with and Barry Wordsworth, including some of those to be performed at this concert.

The concert opens in celebratory style with Shostakovich’s lively Festive Overture and Handel’s choral masterpiece Zadok the Priest.

Parry’s From Death to Life – a symphonic poem for orchestra in two connected movements – was a 1914 Brighton Festival commission and portrays the composer’s personal reaction to World War One and the spiritual triumph of life over death.

Elgar’s concert overture Cockaigne is a musical evocation of the streets of London in Edwardian times, whilst Great is the Lord is a beautiful setting of Psalm 48 and O Hearken Thou was written in 1911 for the Coronation of King George V. Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands was inspired by a family holiday and Elgar’s wife Alice adapted local songs for the choral text, giving them sub-titles in recollection of favourite places visited during the holiday.

Full details of all eight concerts, including the extremely popular New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala, can be found at: www.brightonphil.org.uk

Tickets (£12.50-£39.50 – 50% student/U18 discount) are available from Brighton Dome Ticket Office (01273) 709709 www.brightondome.org

International Composers Festival

Opus Theatre/De La Warr Pavilion, 21-23 September 2018

The Fourth International Composers Festival presented six events over three days, featuring the work of more than 40 living composers and over two hundred performers. Moreover, it brought together a wide range of musicians and styles but with one specific focus in mind – the importance of melody to enhance the listener’s experience and enjoyment. Polo Piatti had set this as the goal of the festival and regularly across the weekend extolled the strength and ongoing importance of melody as the key to broadening the involvement of an ever widening public.

With so many new works performed a brief review like this can only give a glimpse of what was achieved, highlighting just a few of the many outstanding compositions.

The Grand Opening Concert on Friday evening at the Opus Theatre was given by the International Festival Orchestra under John Andrews who proved to be a tower of strength across the three days, his indefatigable good humour and enthusiasm never allowed to flag.

Two of the most engaging works came either side of the interval with Thomas Hewitt-Jones’ That’s it, I’m off to Cuba whisking us away to the exotic before Louise Denny’ Mulberry Harbours – a march written for Civil Engineers – bring us comfortably back to a very English Waltonesque reality.

Efimero by Noelia Escalzo brought us the first of a number of fine solos from violinist Jane Gordon, who led the orchestra as well as providing many individual items across the weekend. Great musicianship and a calm head at all times.

Pollo Piatti is a fine composer in his own right and it was more than acceptable that he should include some of his own works. On Friday we heard Goodbye with Katie Molloy providing the guitar solo and the concert ended with The Impossible Pieces for orchestra with trumpet, clarinet and violin solos. The richly rolling orchestration – somewhere between Rheingold and Vltava ­– was immensely pleasing and brought the first day to a fine climax.

Saturday morning, in the De La Warr Pavilion, we heard a wide range of chamber music. Some the most impressive was performed by violinist, Daniel Rainey and pianist Simon Proctor. Daydream by Kevin Riley and Romance by Peter Thorogood both demonstrated a sensitive understanding of form and a keen awareness of the development of ideas. Lament by Ash Madni was one of the few pieces of genuinely reflective writing, its soulful reworking of a brief motif being very moving.

The morning ended with Romance in C by Fiona Bennett with a horn solo finely played Simon Morgan.

Saturday afternoon brought a change of approach with the Brighton Film Quartet playing works by Penny Loosemore set against film clips. The composer stressed that the music had come first and appropriate clips added subsequently. The outcome was often effective and atmospheric with the starling murmuration particularly pleasing.

Camera – Sound – Play! on Saturday evening brought us to a more popular and probably more familiar set of scores, including music from La La Land, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter.

However it also included an improvised piece from Oliver Poole – Altitude – which involved not only the pianist improvising but the whole orchestra as well – a fascinating and most impressive undertaking as well as one which proved musically stimulating.

Perhaps the most innovative idea came on Sunday at the concluding event which was given over to dance. Six new works from around the world were choreographed by the Eastbourne Academy of Dancing and the Diana Freedman School of Dance, ranging from a lively Barro Negro from Mexico by Carlos Salomon, Pollo Piatti’s own Tango Solitaire and a stunning Hornpipe from Simon Proctor. After the interval there was one work, the world premiere of The Crane’s Wife choreographed by Mayu Uesugi – who also danced the principle roll – and scored by Nobuya Monta. The company had travelled from Osaka specifically to give this premiere and it proved a fitting climax to the weekend. The simple folktale unfolded with grace and emotional truth, the score highlighting the nuances of mood and deeper mythical layers of the narrative.

Only a few years ago the idea of so many international musicians coming to Hastings for an event of this breadth and quality would have been unthinkable. We have much to be thankful for in the creative talents and sheer hard work which Pollo Piatti has put in to making this possible. Long may it last!


Hastings Philharmonic at Rye Festival

St Mary, Rye, Thursday 20th September 2018

Hastings Philharmonic’s new season does not officially open until 12 October but they had been invited to take part in this year’s Rye Festival and a very successful visit it proved to be. The acoustic in St Mary’s suits a baroque orchestra well and placing it essentially within the nave rather than wholly under the tower enhanced its impact.

The evening was founded not just on Mozart but on his lifetime relationship with G minor. Though the Piano Concerto No17 is in the major it regularly dips into the minor and formed a formidable pair with the great G minor symphony.

Kenny Broberg, winner of the 2017 Hastings International Piano Competition, was the soloist, opening with a hard-edged almost aggressive approach in the first movement. In the second he brought out the introspective, searching quality of the score to fine effect, before cheering up considerably for the rustic dances of the finale.

The rest of the programme was familiar to those of us who are regular supporters of Hastings Philharmonic. Philip O’Meara’s Flacubal was first heard in March this year and was being given in a revised form. Much as I enjoyed its original outing this performance seemed crisper, with a light, bright opening – at times almost playful in its rapid melody making. The deep romanticism of the slow movement gives way to the as fast as possible of the finale and creates a virtual concerto part for the lead violin – splendidly played on this occasion.

This led into Mozart’s Symphony No40 – the great G minor – with all the tension and passion the score requires. The great benefit of small forces is that the balance can be finely honed while the tempi need not drop. Bassoons were particularly impressive on this occasion and the rasp of the horns brought excitement to the concluding bars. Marcio da Silva handles his forces with great skill, shaping musical lines to beautiful effect and splendid impact within the warm and sympathetic acoustic.

The Autumn-Winter season brochure is now available and on line at www.hastingsphilharmonic.com

English National Opera presents the first ever staging of Porgy and Bess in the company’s history

One of the great landmarks of twentieth century music theatre, featuring some of the most iconic genre-straddling music ever written, Porgy and Bess will in October be presented in a new production for the first time in English National Opera’s history. Rarely seen in a full operatic staging, this is the first such major new production of George Gershwin’s masterpiece seen in London since the 1980s.

James Robinson, Artistic Director at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, will direct this, a co-production by ENO, Dutch National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York. The 1935 “folk opera” will be presented anew in a realistic and hard-hitting account of life in the African-American communities of the 20th century Deep South. Baritone Eric Greene and Soprano Nicole Cabell take the title roles with one of the most popular conductors at work in the UK today, John Wilson, making his house debut.

Porgy and Bess tells the story of disabled beggar Porgy and his love for Bess as he tries to rescue her from the influence of her abusive lover Crown. With songs including “Summertime” and “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin” and “I Loves You Porgy”, material from the opera has been reinterpreted by jazz and popular singers for decades.

The ensemble of 40 singers, portraying the residents of Catfish Row, were specially brought together for the project, and will also appear with Dutch National Opera for the performances in 2019. This ensemble will join ENO’s own Chorus for the performances of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem later in the season.

Celebrating the company’s ongoing work with young people and the community, young people from the ENO Baylis youth programme will sing on stage of the London Coliseum on 27 October at 6.15pm before the performance of Porgy and Bess. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Murphy comments:

“As ENO continues to grow and more clearly demonstrate our public value, ENO Baylis will become an ever more significant part of what we do. I am delighted that, for the first time, an ENO Baylis performance will take place just before a performance on main stage. We need ENO to continue to be daring and try new things. It’s why we are here and is what makes us different.”

American baritone Eric Greene sings Porgy, in his second performance at ENO after his ‘truly inspiring’ (Bachtrack) Janitor in Between Worlds in 2015. Other performances in London include his ‘genuine tour de force’ (The Guardian) as Martin Carter in the premiere of The Knife of Dawn at the Roundhouse in 2016.

Bess is sung by soprano Nicole Cabell, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2005, who makes her ENO debut. Much in demand around the world: ‘hers is among the most alluring voices around’ (Opera Magazine), she last sang Bess with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

Soprano Latonia Moore, who makes a very welcome return to ENO after her much-lauded debut in the title role of 2017’s Aida (‘a glorious performance’ – The Arts Desk), sings the bereaved Serena. Crown is sung by Grammy Award-winning baritone Nmon Ford in his ENO debut.

Brixton-born soprano Nadine Benjamin makes her ENO debut as Clara, also marking her debut as an ENO Harewood Artist. A fast-rising operatic star, she sang the Countess in ETO’s The Marriage of Figaro earlier in 2018. She will return to sing Musetta in La bohème later in the season.

American tenor Frederick Ballentine sings the dope peddler Sportin’ Life in his UK debut. In his native US he is a Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist. Donovan Singletary sings Jake, formerly praised as ‘excellent’ (Opera News) in the role when he performed it for Seattle Opera in 2011.

Chaz’men Williams-Ali sings Robbins and Tichina Vaughan sings Maria in their ENO debuts. Peter is sung by Ronald Samm, known for singing the title role inOtello for Birmingham Opera Company and Opera North, also in his ENO debut.

James Robinson is Artistic Director at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, known in the US for his much-praised productions of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer (2011) and Nixon in China (2004), the latter of which has toured across the country. His prolific output in the US has led to his being called ‘one of the busiest men in opera’ by Opera News. We are delighted that James is making his UK debut with English National Opera.

English conductor John Wilson takes to the pit for his house debut with the ENO Orchestra. Best known at the head of the John Wilson Orchestra, his performances of Gershwin have been called ‘the greatest show on earth’ by The Spectator. The JWO has been a fixture of the Proms for years, garnering numerous five-star reviews.

The set design is by double Tony Award-winner Michael Yeargan, whose recent London credits include Oslo, The King and I and ENO’s Two Boys. Lighting design is by Donald Holder, also a double Tony Award-winner for his lighting designs for The Lion King (1998) and South Pacific (2008).

Choreography is by Dianne McIntyre, a legend of American dance whose career spans 50 years of Broadway, West End, and dance productions across the US. Winner of numerous awards and fellowships, she is known for her pioneering of African-American theatre alongside Ntozake Shange in for colored girls…. in which she helped develop the choreopoem form.

Porgy and Bess opens on Thursday 11 October at 7.30pm at the London Coliseum for 14 performances: 11, 17, 19, 24, 26, 29, 31 October and 08, 14 November at 7.30pm, 13 and 27 October and 10 November at 6.30pm, and 03 and 17 November at 3pm

500 tickets for £20 or less are available for each performance. Tickets start from £12*.

WNO: War and Peace

Wales Millennium Centre, Saturday 15th September 2018

Some works seem ideally suited to WNO and Prokofiev’s War and Peace is surely high on the list. If nothing else the marvellous WNO Chorus is called upon to give of its all, which it does in stunning fashion from the very first note. If the work itself occasionally slows the pace, then the choral scenes are never less that thrilling and often overwhelming.


David Pountney’s production draws of the strengths of his earlier staging of In Parenthesis to bring the action close to the audience and maintain the sense of a narrative unfolding before the participants as well as those seated in the auditorium. For this, Robert Innes Hopkins’ steeply curving set with its two doors is effective for the numerous changes of place and scale, aided splendidly by the projections created by David Haneke, which in turn draw on the 1966 film version of War & Peace. It is all remarkably effective in creating a sense of the epic scale of events as well as the intimacy of the opening scenes in the various noble households.

Singing the score in English is a mixed blessing. For the solo scenes it is helpful in maintaining the narrative but the large choruses lack the edge that sung Russian would bring.

The other great benefit of the ensemble which WNO can draw upon is the strength of the large number of minor parts which Prokofiev requires. Some doubling up was sensitive but so was the use of chorus members for small parts, where there was never any sense of two tiers of singers – all were equal within the cast as a whole.

Of the principals, tenor Mark Le Brocq was outstanding as Pierre and grew in stature as the evening progressed. Jonathan McGovern’s over-smooth Andrei oozed his way through the opening scenes though his death was unexpectedly moving. David Stout sang four roles, including Denisov and Napoleon, creating incisive characters for each. The second half is almost entirely given over to Simon Bailey’s gruff but warmly pleasing Field Marshal Kutuzov, who gives us just enough insight into his private life to create a leader who is aware of his responsibilities.

There are not as many female parts but Lauren Michelle’s Natasha is suitably naïve until the war challenges her assumptions. She sings radiantly throughout and is genuinely moving at the end. The final tableau showing her aiding Pierre / Tolstoy writing up the events makes a fitting conclusion to the work. By contrast Jurgita Adamontye’s Helen is about as narcissistic as one could wish for, her beautiful singing at odds with the nastiness of her character.

A wonderful start to the season. The problem with such vast undertakings is that the likelihood of revival is always slim. Let us hope we don’t have to wait another generation to see the work again.

Opus Theatre World Series: Marcelo Bratke

Saturday 8th September 2018

The penultimate concert in the current World Series at the Opus Theatre brought us a stunning performance of Brazilian music from surely its finest interpreter, Marcelo Bratke.

The programme was built around the meeting in 1917 of Heitor Villa-Lobos and Darius Milhaud in Rio de Janeiro. Villa-Lobos took Milhaud to hear pianist Ernesto Nazareth, who played regularly in the foyer of the Odeon Cinema. It was a revelation, and Milhaud suddenly understood the heart of Brazilian music.

Having given us this intriguing background, Marcelo Bratke introduced the pieces individually, opening with the delightful Broken musical box by Villa Lobos followed by the more familiar Bachianas Brasileiras No4. In Brazilian folklore the stars of Orion’s belt are known as the Three Marys, and Villa-Lobos’ short suite of that name twinkles and charms with its rapid staccato and very high-lying tonal range. A lenda do Caboclo (the legend of the native) is a movingly lyrical piece and gave us a moment of reflection before the vigour and fire of the eight miniatures of A prole do bebe – a doll’s suite – which became familiar internationally when they were taken up by Rubenstein.

After the interval we moved on to Milhaud himself with his seven movement suite Saudades do Brazil, which uses Brazilian dance rhythms to underpin his frequently modernist compositions.

The final section brought us to Ernesto Nazareth and his captivating melodic and rhythmic pieces. Brazilian tango is immediately appealing and his strong classical training comes through in an homage to Chopin. The dance rhythms return in Coracao que sente – the Heart that Feels – which concluded a wonderful evening.

The Opus piano seems to get better and better, on this occasion the clarity and immediacy of the sound, even in the fastest of runs and arpeggios, was exhilarating.

There was just time for a short encore – which brought us closer to home with a wistful, romantic snatch of Chopin himself.




Welsh National Opera Announces General Director

Welsh National Opera is delighted to announce the appointment of Aidan Lang as the new General Director following an extensive recruitment process.

British born Lang is currently General Director of Seattle Opera, a role he has occupied since 2014. He will take up his new position in July 2019, reporting directly to the Chair and Board.

Chair of WNO’s board Mark Molyneux said “The Board of WNO are delighted with the appointment of Aidan Lang as our General Director.  We conducted an extensive, global search and were exceptionally pleased with the calibre of candidates, which reflects well on the leading reputation of the Company.  Aidan stood out, with both his deep artistic credentials as well as proven leadership skills, and we look forward enormously to working with him. The experience that Aidan brings to WNO will build on the Company’s world-wide reputation for achieving the highest artistic standards, bold and innovative productions and a wide-ranging youth and community programme. As the UK’s largest touring opera company WNO is a resourceful and imaginative company and we believe we have found a leader who embodies these qualities and is equipped to undertake ambitious plans for the future. We look forward to him building a great working relationship with all of our strong leadership team.”

During his tenure as General Director at Seattle Opera, Aidan Lang has forged new partnerships across the opera industry, including co-productions with Washington National Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Philadelphia, Opera Queensland and New Zealand Opera. He also launched the first of several critically acclaimed chamber operas designed to showcase operas in a new light, especially those that have a direct connection to social conversations happening today. The company has greatly expanded the range of its youth and adult programmes, and its audience for mainstage performances has increased from 67,000 in his first season to 85,000 in the season just completed. Millennial audiences have nearly quadrupled during this period and 40% of Seattle Opera ticket buyers are now under the age of 50. He has also overseen the development and fundraising efforts for the company’s new administration and rehearsal home, which is due to open in December this year.

Worbey and Farrell


Cadogan Hall, 6 September 2018

If you want a high quality piano recital cheerfully enlivened with a bit of stand up comedy than catch Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell in action. Although they aren’t yet a household name they have performed in over 150 countries and seem to astound audiences everywhere they go – we reviewed them here when they played The Carnival of  Animals with Barry Wordsworth and Brighton Philharmonic earlier this year.

Yes, they follow in the tradition of Victor Borge and Liberace but their USP – and it’s quite a coup – is that they play four hands on one piano and arrange the music accordingly. It’s an original take on the concept of piano transcription.  This concert included their versions of Scott Joplin, Vidor’s Toccata and Fugue, Bumble Boogie, Sidesaddle and much more – culminating in a stunning rendering of Rhapsody in Blue.

Worbey and Farrell, who were at the Royal College of Music together, are partners in life as well as in music. Normally I’d regard that as a complete irrelevance but here it isn’t. There’s a comfortable intimacy in the way they play because this is definitely not piano duetting in any conventional sense.  Sharing a single piano stool, they lean across each other, tucking notes in beneath each other’s hands as they race up and down the keys taking most works at phenomenal speed. They told the audience that Joplin stipulated that his rags should be played slowly. “We’ve come to the conclusion”, Farrell said chirpily, “That he just couldn’t play them as fast as we can! So we’ll meet him in the middle.” The joke, of course, was the accelerando in the Maple Leaf Rag after a gentle start.

In addition to lots of humour – they spark well off of each other as comedians too – the concert included extracts from The Carnival of Animals which they developed for the BPO concert. Each number is preceded by an introductory verse which they’ve written and they’re pretty witty.

I also really like the projection above and behind their heads which, with a camera placed near the piano, allows the audience to watch their hands. It’s carefully thought out too. Worbey was wearing floral cuffs while Farrell’s shirt had a scarlet band at the wrist so there was never any visual doubt whose hands were whose.

They are musically highly attuned to each other and achieve some astonishing effects with prestissimo, fortissimo playing especially in the Vidor. Such virtuosic flamboyance is testament to a lot of talent, the chemistry between Worbey and Farrell and many thousands of hours of work and practice. And it makes for an entertaining concert.

Susan Elkin

Prom 70: Tango Prom

Royal Albert Hall, Tuesday 4th September 2018

A Tango concert complete with dancers to give us an immersive, if very rapid, insight into the way the dance craze made its way from the brothels of Buenos Aires to the Royal Albert Hall. A bland statement like this hardly does justice to the emotional excitement of the evening and the hedonism virtually all tango music arouses in both players and audience.

The evening opened with the strings of the Britten Sinfonia accompanying bass Nahuel di Pierro in five early songs which ooze with the smoke and sweat of a cellar bar. During El motive they were joined by tango dancers Vincent and Flavia, better known for Strictly Come Dancing than at the proms, who brought an added level of glamour and sensuality to the event.

For those unaware of the impact of tango the following section may have come as a shock as all the music was from Finland – opening with a tango arrangement of Sibelius’ Valse Triste by Timo Hietala. Five songs followed, sung by Helena Juntunen whose high coloratura can match any opera singer in this hall. An additional unexpected feature was the accordion playing of Veli Kujala whose instrument has quarter-tone settings, making for some surprising, not to say edgy, musical inflections. As if all of this had not been challenging enough in itself, the first half ended with a version of David Bowie’s Sudenkorento (Life on Mars).

If the second half seemed somewhat more conventional it was certainly not lacking in musical excitement as it was led by pianist and composer Pablo Ziegler, who continues in the tradition of Astor Piazzolla, though his own compositions encompass modern jazz and elements of contemporary classical composition. As if to set the scene the second half opened with Piazzolla’s familiar Libertango, before moving into more demanding territory with the furious pace of Fuga y misterio and the aggressive trumpet solos of Murga del amanecer. With all the Bernstein we have heard this season, Ziegler’s Places seemed an appropriately brash evocation of a city at its most dynamic. There was a slight relaxation for Blues Porteno before the very hard edged Buenos Aires Report.

All involved, including conductor Clark Rundell, who had guided us so smoothly throughout the evening, and the three bandoneon players and dancers, returned for the final rendition of La cumparsita – which traditionally ends all tango evenings. With the Proms spreading its wings so aptly one can only wonder what we are in for next year?