Opera Anywhere: The Pirates of Penzance

St Mary in the Castle, Wednesday 8 August 2018

Opera Anywhere made a welcome return to Hastings this week but with the new management of the pier were unable to perform outdoors this time, instead presenting two G&S operas at St Mary in the Castle.

This, as it turned out, had a number of advantages – there is a lot more space for the audience and the acoustic is better balanced. As a result The Pirates of Penzance seemed wittier and more energetic than I remember from last year. Much of this is down to strong casting and some very fine singers. There is also the surprising value of not having a full chorus, which allows the smaller parts to shine through. This was particularly true of Edith and Kate who comprised two-thirds of Major Stanley’s daughters. Their school-girl humour and frequently outrageous flirting was a joy to behold, and their singing was as strong as their characterisation. Olivia Bell and Katie Blackwell should go far on the strength of this evening.

Happily Ellie Neate’s Mabel was more than a match for Sullivan’s coloratura in Poor wandering one, often sneaking in flourishes of her own to add to the ornamentation. Her voice filled St Mary’s, riding over the piano and ensemble with ease and great beauty of line. Tristan Stocks’ boyish Frederic was a convincing hero and their duet Ah, leave me not was genuinely touching.

Mark Horner brings us a well-rounded Sergeant of Police, even if he has to do most of the fighting by himself. By contrast Miles Horner’s Pirate King swaggers with aplomb and has the rich bass voice for his familiar act one solo.

Mike Woodward’s Major General seemed to come into his own in the second act where his dilemma is both touching and amusing. Vanessa Woodward’s finely sung Ruth maintains her dignity to the last though she is very much the butt of Gilbert’s anti-feminism.

Throughout Nia Williams provided sterling support at the piano, and was able to negotiate any minor slips in timing with great skill.

Let us hope Opera Anywhere are able to return to us soon – and perhaps it will be back in the open air?

International Composers’ Festival 2018


The International Composers Festival Grand Opening Concert With Exciting Music You’ve Never Heard.

The 4th International Composers Festival, opens with music carefully chosen for its quality, passion and variety, performed by international musicians in the presence of famous and up-and-coming composers coming from all corners of the world, including Mexico, Qatar, USA, Japan, Finland, Italy, Spain, Australia and Argentina.

Experience orchestral music at its most passionate and get that rare autograph from the artists! 


FRIDAY 21st SEPTEMBER 2018 – 7pm


Tickets £15 (VIP Passes for Six Concerts £60) from Hastings Information Centre (Breeds Place, Hastings TN34 3UY) or online at: www.opustheatre.co.uk


Prom 31

Royal Albert Hall, Monday 6th August 2018

An all American evening, this concert was an interesting reminder of just how intangibly distinct American music is. In its way it’s as recognisable as, say, almost anything Russian or French.

The highlight of the evening was Charles Ives’s second symphony. Written in 1902 and then substantially revised forty years later, it wasn’t premiered until 1951 when Leonard Bernstein took it up. It still doesn’t get as many outings as I now think it deserves.  It has been played only once at the Proms before (Leonard Slatkin with Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra in 2006) and was completely new to me.

Osmo Vanska achieved an impressive balance of sound (cellos next to first violins with seconds to his right) in the fugal minor key opening and nice lightness in the first chirpy theme. The adagio cantabile was delicately played and I loved the focus on all the melodies – some of them borrowed from elsewhere in the American tradition in the last movement. In many ways this symphony’s melodious and witty fervour reminded me of Dvorak and this orchestra and conductor has clearly made the work very much its own with lots of enjoyable panache from brass and percussion.

The concert was loosely themed on Bernstein, whose centenary is being celebrated this year. So we began with the Candide overture, which, of course, never fails. Osmo Vanska and his band cheerfully gave us all those syncopated tunes and ideas and played them with terrific polish.

In the middle was a workman-like performance by Inon Barnatan of the Gershwin F major piano concerto. His percussive broken rhythms in the opening movement were competent if a bit lacklustre but the adagio – with its elegant string quartet section and excellent trumpet solo – was enjoyable. Once Barnatan got into the third movement, however, there was plenty of very apt agitato and some impressive virtuoso playing. His encore was fun too – a set of deliciously showy variations on I’ve Got Rhythm.

The encore at the end of the concert was also fun – and moving. The Minnesota Orchestra is about to embark on a tour of South Africa to commemorate what would have been Nelson Mandela’s hundredth birthday. They played a short piece based on a traditional African tune with bold drum work followed by the whole orchestra singing rhythmically before they picked up the melody on their instruments. It made a rather joyful end to the evening.

Susan Elkin

ENO: Paul Bunyan

ENO Studio Live continues with the company’s first ever production of Paul Bunyan at Wilton’s Music Hall, with Simon Russell Beale as the voice of Bunyan

Opens Monday 03 September at 7.30pm at Wilton’s Music Hall (6 performances)

Following the sell-out success of Acis and Galatea in June, ENO continues Studio Live, a programme of work to bring the immense power of opera to more intimate environments, with Benjamin Britten’s Paul Bunyan. In a first for the company, it will perform in the historic setting of Wilton’s Music Hall, the world’s oldest grand music hall and a landmark of East London.

Paul Bunyan, with its libretto by one of England’s greatest poets W.H. Auden, is a retelling of the great American folk tale featuring the titular giant. It is one of Britten’s most eclectic scores, with blues, folk and hymns incorporated into a story of civilisation’s destructive relationship to the ecology around it, and the dangers of the American Dream.

In his first performance with ENO, Olivier Award-winning actor Simon Russell Beale provides the offstage voice of the titular giant. Known as ‘the greatest stage actor of his generation’, (The Independent), Beale’s recorded voiceover stands in for the physical appearance of the lumberjack with the 3.7 mile-stride. He is known for innumerable leading roles on the stage and screen, but also for his voice work: he provided the voice of George Smiley in the acclaimed BBC Radio 4 complete adaptation of John le Carré’s Smiley novels.

ENO Studio Live was begun partly as a showcase for emerging talent at ENO, and Paul Bunyan includes four ENO Harewood Artists, exceptionally talented early-career singers given principal roles as part of their training at ENO.

ENO Harewood Artist Elgan Ll?r Thomas takes the role of Paul’s bookkeeper Johnny Inkslinger, having been praised for his ‘perfectly targeted… demented passion’ (Bachtrack) in his ENO debut in another Britten opera, The Turn of Screw, at Regent’s Park in June. Harewood Artist Rowan Pierce makes her ENO debut as Paul’s daughter Tiny. She will return to ENO to sing Papagena in The Magic Flute in 2019.

Harewood Artists William Morgan and Matthew Durkan sing Tiny’s lover Hot Biscuit Slim and Paul’s antagonistic foreman Hel Helson respectively. Morgan shared the role of Quint with Elgan Ll?r Thomas for The Turn of the Screw. He was also seen last year as Phaeton in the inaugural Studio Live, The Day After.  Durkan has taken a number of roles with ENO in recent years, including Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fiorello in The Barber of Seville and Malcolm Fleet in the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Marnie.

Many of the roles are taken by members of the award-winning ENO Chorus, who create the dreamlike ensemble of cooks, cats, dogs and lumberjacks of the great American forest. Bringing Chorus members into principle roles continues a practice from 2017’s Studio Live, and will also be seen in September’s production of Salome at the Coliseum.

Director Jamie Manton is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of film and theatre production company Duelling Productions. His 2017 production with Studio Live, The Day After, was praised for its ‘impressive conviction’ (The Guardian) and was included in The Observer’s Ten Best Classical Performances of 2017. It was later revived at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Productions that he has worked on as Staff Director at ENO include The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Tristan and Isolde and The Winter’s Tale.

Designer Camilla Clarke, who also designed The Day After with Manton, is a winner of the 2015 Linbury Prize for Stage Design. Recent credits include Bad Roads (2017) at the Royal Court Theatre with Vicky Featherstone.

Conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren is a Mackerras Fellow at ENO, a programme to provide exceptional emerging conductors with an opportunity to develop their skills. Nominated for Best Newcomer in the 2017 International Opera Awards, he conducted a performance of the The Marriage of Figaro for ENO in April, and was widely praised for his conducting of Opera Holland Park’s La traviata in May (‘extremely strong’ – The Guardian).

Paul Bunyan is the third Britten opera to be performed by ENO in 2018 after A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Turn of Screw, and will be followed by War Requiem in November. The composer has had an association with the company ever since the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945 by Sadler’s Wells Opera, ENO’s predecessor, and the four productions make up part of the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of ENO’s residency at the London Coliseum.

Paul Bunyan opens on Monday 03 September at 7.30pm at Wilton’s Music Hall for 6 performances: 03, 04, 05 and 07 September at 7.30pm and 08 March at 2pm and 7pm.

Prom 27 – Folk Music around Britain and Ireland

Royal Albert Hall, Friday 3rd August 2018

You needed to read the small print for this concert. What looked at first glance like a collection of some of our finest folk musicians was in reality a BBC Concert Orchestra concert under Stephen Bell , for they played in almost every number and at times the orchestral arrangements came close to drowning out the soloists.

Prom 27 Folk Prom
Photo by Mark Allan

As a cross-over experiment there were many splendid moments. Jarlath Henderson’s Uilleann pipes were captivating every time he appeared and the rendition of Dawns Soig with ALAW was the instrumental highlight of the evening. Julie Fowlis’ Puirt-a-Beul is captivating and was particularly moving when singing Lovely Molly with Sam Lee. His earlier singing of My Ausheen – a gentle strathspey – was effectively accompanied by the subtle underpinning of the orchestra.

At other times the orchestral arrangements simply seemed too invasive. The Unthanks gave us Gan to the Kye and Mount the Air in the first half and both seemed over commercialised in the romanticism of the orchestration to say nothing of its volume. Their singing of Magpie in the second half was far more successful in its wistful intensity, and they brought the evening to a rousing climax with some brief but exultant Northumbrian clog dancing.

Surprisingly, one of the most moving vocal items was Julie Fowlis’ singing of Camarinas in Galician and Scots Gaelic – genuinely romantic and superbly lyrical.

The orchestra gave us three brief pieces based on folk tunes of which Hoddinott’s Welsh Dances were the most appealing – the others drifting too easily into the realm of generic film music.

Prom 27 Folk Prom
Photo by Mark Allan

A welcome experiment with many memorable moments, but maybe there is room at the Proms for a more serious take on folk music in the same way as we have for Indian Classical music in the past. And for a long-standing resident of East Sussex it was note-worthy that there was no folk-music south of the Wash!

Mary’s Hand

Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival
McCaldin Arts
Holy Cross Church, Cromer Street, London

He who tires of London tires of life. Well it’s certainly never short of surprises. This is “my” city and yet hardly a week goes by without my discovering a venue, space or place I didn’t even know was there. The rather beautiful Holy Cross Church in Cromer Street, King’s Cross, for example, was completely new to me. Built in the 1880s by Reginald Peacock it provided a surprisingly apt backdrop for a short operatic piece about Mary Tudor – aisle, pulpit, chancel steps and a handy prie-dieu all had a part to play.

Mary’s Hand, with words by Di Sherlock and music by Martin Bussey, is a musical monologue about Mary Tudor – a sort of autobiography in words (mostly sung but occasionally spoken) and music. It seeks to make us think about very familiar mid 16th century events from the point of view of someone who has been, generally, demonised by history. Yes, Mary ordered the execution of the “protestant martyrs” (not what she called them) but as talented mezzo Claire McCaldin sings with angry passion. “Archbishop Cranmer? He made me a bastard.”

The piece is predicated on Mary’s passion for card games and McCaldin occasionally invites an audience member to draw a card which she then attaches to a display screen and moves on the next section of her story. This device determines the order in which the sections run but the 80 minute opera would have worked perfectly well without it.

It’s quite a performance from McCaldin who wears a fabulous brown and cream dress with fur sleeves, modelled on the 1553 portrait by Hans Eworth and paid for by crowd funding. The dress then gradually comes apart to symbolise what’s happening to its wearer. At the end she walks back down the aisle in a simple white undergarment (shroud?) carrying a candle like Lady Macbeth.

McCaldin is variously eye flashingly sexy, imperious, wistful, resigned and angry. And she maintains a remarkable level of energy given that this is effectively an 80 minute solo. Her voice includes some ruby red impassioned low notes and some fierce, sometimes hysterical, high ones.  She manages the emotional contrasts with verve.

She is accompanied by an all female  trio – hidden behind a pillar and therefore invisible from my seat, unfortunately – consisting of trumpet, cello and oboe/cor anglais. Martin Bussey’s evocative music uses some interesting effects including col legno cello, rapid pizzicato, lots of off beat blasts and a strange purring tongued effect on the trumpet. Words and music complement each other seamlessly. Don’t go to this if you want melody and “numbers” but it’s worth catching if you’re looking for passion and convincing acting within eloquent music.

Susan Elkin

Prom 22

Royal Albert Hall, Tuesday 31st July 2018

Two London symphonies make a neat thematic pairing although they don’t really have much in common. Haydn’s last symphony was composed in London for London audiences but it isn’t in any sense descriptive of the city. Vaughan Williams’s second, in contrast, is effectively symphonic programme music complete with those haunting, evocative Westminster chimes. Had I been programming I might have started the concert with Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture for another take on London but perhaps there was a length issue.

It’s interesting to watch baton-wielding, time-beating Andrew Manze, unshowy and looking like a city banker in dark suit and tie, at work three days after seeing the flamboyant Teodor Currentizis on the same rostrum. Classical music is a far broader church than people who don’t engage with it usually realise.

Manze gave us a thoughtfully punctuated slow D minor opening to the Haydn symphony reminding us that Haydn was already in Creation mode. Then came a lot of cleanly picked out Haydnesque inter-instrumental dialogue. The mellow bassoon work against the delicate string rhythms in the andante was delighful and Manze allowed all the wit – including those all important general pauses – to sing out in the scherzo with imaginative flexibility of tempi in the nocturne. I liked the decisive resonance he found for the fourth movement too.

I’m reminded of a remark made recently by the professional who conducts one of the amateur orchestras I play in. “If I could choose to have dinner with a composer” he said, while we were working on symphony 103, “It would have to be Haydn. You’d never be bored!” This performance helped to prove his point.

And so, after the interval, on to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s London symphony and the enlarged orchestra it calls for, including six percussionists kept busy, two harps and lots of additional brass. You need a lush string sound to bring off this symphony of many moods. Manze coaxed plenty of richness out of the Scottish Symphony orchestra with memorable solos from the leader, Laura Samuel and principal viola, Scott Dickinson. Violas were, unusually, to the right of the podium where cellos traditionally sit which added to the tonal balance rather effectively. I liked the very evocative dying away to nothing at the end of the third movement nocturne and the grandiloquence Manze found in the fourth before the peaceful beauty of the epilogue.

There’s been a lot of quite polarised discussion lately – on Radio 3, in newspapers and elsewhere – about applause between movements. I’m firmly in the “fuddy-duddy” camp and want all appreciation saved for the end of the work – which rarely happens these days especially at the Proms. For some reason, at this concert, there was no inter-movement clapping. Sudden corporate enlightenment? Well it was certainly a very welcome change anyway.

Susan Elkin




The Parkinsongsters

St John the Evangelist, Hollington, Thursday 26th July 2018

The Parkinsongsters brought us Songs for a Summer Eve on a delightfully warm evening, providing music we all knew and loved. The sixteen singers under their conductor Jane Metcalfe opened with Sumer is icomen in and bounced immediately into Spread a little happiness, before whisking us away to Venice for the Barcarolle from the Tales of Hoffmann.

The first of a number of solos came from Bernard Crosby who encouraged us to join in And her mother came to which was followed by another familiar Ivor Novello song Rose of England. Having flirted their way through You are my honeysuckle the choir had a break while Karen McInally sang for us. I have to admit a personal interest here, as in my youth a lady at my church regularly sang Pale Hands I Loved but I don’t think I have heard it since. It is a wonderful Edwardian ballad and was given all the sentimentality it needs. However before this we had enjoyed There are fairies at the bottom of my garden – just to set the right tone!

A Colour Medley followed – too many tunes to list them all – but it included Silver threads among the gold from Ged Hitchman and Julie White. The final items included a gentle Summertime, a raucous Torna a Surriento, Bryan Skinner singing Drink to me only and all of us joining in Oom pah pah. There was just time before refreshments for a final chorus of Bring me sunshine, leaving us all wanting more and looking forward to next time.