ENO: La Boheme

London Coliseum, Monday 26 November 2018

Jonathan Miller’s production of La Boheme has always impressed for the vitality of its staging and the simplicity of its story telling. When this is combined with young singers who are totally convincing in their roles it can’t fail to please.

This may be its fourth revival – to say nothing of an ill-fated alternative which was thankfully short-lived – but it comes up as fresh and emotionally truthful as ever. Much of this certainly is down to the casting.

Jonathan Tetelman’s Rodolfo sang heroically throughout, the top firm and rounded, and the voice seemed to blossom as the evening progressed. Added to this, his acting was emotionally convincing at all times, the subtlety of his gestures particularly telling. Let us hope we see him again soon. Natalya Romaniw may be better known to us but was none the less welcome. Her near immobility in the final act was devastating as she literally faded away before our eyes. Earlier she had been more in control of the situation that is often the case, leading Rodolfo out in Act Three where he had almost lost the plot. It was very touching.

Nadine Benjamin’s Musetta uses all her sensuality to promote herself and yet proves to be equally sensitive in the final act. She is strongly partnered by Nicholas Lester’s intelligent Marcello.

Alexander Joel was making his debut in the pit and took the whole evening at a fast pace though it never, ever, seemed rushed. The orchestra responded with enthusiasm and the chorus, as ever, was magnificent in the finely staged second act. Here everything buzzes on stage without ever upstaging the soloists – the sign of an exceptional understanding of stage-craft.

I am sure this is not the last time we will see this splendid production.

Brighton Philharmonic

The Brighton Phil’s concert on Sunday 2 December at Brighton Dome is dedicated to the memory of Ted (Edward J) McFadyen who died, aged 88, in December 2016. Ted had been a Friend of the Phil for 30 years and was from time to time a Patron of the orchestra and sponsor of concerts. He left a generous bequest in his Will to the orchestra for which the Brighton & Hove Philharmonic Society is most grateful.

Ted was a journalist, living and working in London before moving to Brighton in the early 1970s when he began to attend Brighton Phil concerts. A committed trade unionist all his working life, he was also an avid anti-nuclear campaigner and a member of the famous ‘Committee of 100’, the precursor of CND, taking part in the annual Aldermaston marches. He wrote an influential pamphlet for journalists about HIV and Aids “because there were so many distortions and lies at the time and we felt they needed to be told what was what”. He was also responsible for Gay Rights at Work, a booklet that played an important role in persuading trade unions to better support their gay members. As an energetic member of the Sussex Playwrights club Ted wrote and performed in plays. He was actively involved in local gay rights campaigning and with the management of Brighton Gay Switchboard.

The Society is delighted that several of Ted’s friends (who tell us that Ted was very fond of Mozart and Beethoven) will be attending the concert which takes place at 2.45pm. Conductor Ben Gernon is joined by Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin) in a programme that includes Mozart’s Symphony No.35, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5 and Beethoven’s Symphony No.7. Tickets (£12.50-£39.50) from Brighton Dome Ticket Office (01273) 709709 www.brightondome.org

Tonbridge Philharmonic: Britten; War Requiem

Tonbridge School Chapel, Saturday 24 November 2018

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War has given rise to a wide range of events, but Britten’s War Requiem has been foremost amongst them. Tonbridge Philharmonic, under Matthew Willis, drew on strong forces to bring us a moving and at times challenging reading of the work within the often difficult acoustic of Tonbridge School Chapel. The layout is not conducive to concerts as the audience is essentially facing itself rather than the performers and the sound tends to remain at the east end. Only in the magnificent outpouring of the brass at its most triumphant or the hushed singing of the girls’ choir in the west balcony did the whole space really come alive.

Britten’s demands are difficult for any group to bring fully to fruition today. We had the benefit of the distant girls’ choir and the movement of the solo singers, but there was no real differentiation between the full and chamber orchestras, nor the second conductor as Britten required.

Many key moments flowered impressively. The Kyrie was precise and accurate, the Sanctus built to a thrilling climax and the Lacrimosa blossomed beautifully. The three young soloists were able to ride the large orchestra though their diction was often lost within the acoustic. The best moments came in the more reflective sections. Tenor Bradley Smith was movingly effective in Move him into the sun and bass-baritone Tristan Hambleton sympathetic in the final pages. Soprano Sofia Troncoso has the more difficult task as Britten needs a remarkably large voice to ride the emotional intensity of the orchestration. She seemed to grow in strength as the work progressed, producing ever more beautiful tone.

The choral forces produced strong tonal colour and some incisive rhythms but as with the soloists the text tended to get lost as soon as the volume increased. The girls’ choir in the gallery had the better deal as they were not required to fight with larger forces and impressed throughout.

The evening opened with an introductory talk from Barry Holden and a reading of a few of Wilfred Owen’s poems. We also had strict instructions not to applaud at any point. Given the venue this seemed to be attempting to turn the event into something more than a concert. This would not be a problem if clearly indicated beforehand but might have confused some of the audience. When Britten’s instructions on the way to perform the work are ignored, it is unclear why picking this one demand should be so crucial. Thanking the performers is normally a natural reaction not an expectation and it seemed strange not to be allowed to thank those involved.


Ensemble OrQuesta: L’Incoronazione di Poppea 2019

Having had two consecutive years of critical acclaim with several 4-star reviews and audience praise at the prestigious Grimeborn Opera Festival at the Arcola Theatre, Ensemble OrQuesta are delighted to be bringing one of their exciting baroque opera productions to the intimate setting of the Cockpit Theatre.

Marcio da Silva’s sensual and daring minimalist production of Monteverdi’s early 17th century opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea will be performed by a cast of talented up and coming singers, accompanied by the Ensemble OrQuesta Baroque.

The tense and dramatic plot revolves around the historical figure of the Emperor Nero and his lover Poppea, who persuades him to abandon his wife Ottavia and make her his Queen instead. This is a potent political tale of love and lust, power, vengeance and death, where good does not in fact prevail in the end.

Performances will be in Italian with English surtitles, and will take place on 30th, 31st January and 1st February, at 7:30pm. Ten singers, baroque violins, cello, lute, organ and harpsichord will unite in a thrilling baroque explosion! Cockpit Theatre: Gateforth Street, London NW8 8EH

Tickets:http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/lincoronazione_di_poppea_monteverdi £12-£17

Stage/Music Director Marcio da Silva
Music Director/Harpsichord Stephanie Gurga
Harpsichord Petra Hajduchova
Archlute/Baroque Guitare Cédric Meyer
Violin Eleanor Harrison, Rudolf Balázs
Cello Carina Drury


Poppea Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada
Nerone Eric Schlossberg
Seneca Marcio da Silva Ottavia
Sophie Levi Arnalta Kieran White
Drusilla Joana Gil
Amore/Damigella Sarah Matousek
Valetto/Fortuna Maya Wheeler-Colwell
Virtu/Liberto/Pallade/Lucano Celena Bridge
Ottone Helen May

w w w . e n s e m b l e o r q u e s t a . c o m

WNO: La Traviata

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, Wednesday 21 November 2018

Tanya McCallin’s sepulchral design is a fitting visual complement to David McVicar’s often stark and unromantic approach to a work which can too easily be sentimentalised. We are aware of death from the start and never allowed to forget the inevitable outcome of events. When this is added to an early nineteenth century moral straight-jacket there can be little hope for any of the protagonists. No matter how sorry they may feel for past action there is no way they can escape and it seems that even faith in the mercy of God is no match for the failure of society to forgive. As such it is one of the finest approaches to La Traviata I can recall, and this WNO revival is remarkably strongly cast in all areas.

The chorus are as strong as one could ask for, and carefully individualised in the two party scenes. Smaller parts, particularly James Cleverton’s Baron and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones’ Flora, are incisively characterised to create a naturalistic, if at times over indulgent, world within which events unfold.

Kang Wang’s Alfredo is very much the outsider here. His baritonal warmth, with no difficulty in the higher register, creates a deeply human if naïve young man. The fact that his costume never quite seems to fit was telling – he is growing in to his adulthood and making mistakes along the way. The fact that these mistakes become literally fatal is what turns the narrative into real tragedy. Roland Wood is finely sensitive as Giorgio Germont.  His changes of attitude are convincingly naturalistic and his relationship with Violetta is marked by his body-language as well as his voice.

Anush Hovhannisyan is magnificent as Violetta. Not a cough in sight but a body wracked with pain and a gradual, if inevitable, sense of collapse. The final act is deeply moving in her intense vulnerability, never able to do more than crawl and yet fighting all the time to live.

James Southall’s conducting allows the larger than life melodies to flow unhindered but concentrates on the moments of intimacy for internal detail.

This is a production that deserves to be revived frequently and hopefully seen more widely.

Highgate International Chamber Music Festival

20 November, St Michael’s Church, Highgate

This imaginatively programmed chamber concert opened and closed with substantial works (Beethoven String Trio in G Op 9 no 1 and Schubert Piano Quintet in A D.667 Op 114 ‘Trout’) and sandwiched other slighter – but interestingly varied – pieces in the middle. It meant that we heard seven talented musicians in a range of contexts including duets which showcased a great deal of pretty stunning virtuosity.

Kenneh-Mason, as we’re rapidly realising, can play anything and wow an audience with it. If he gave us a one octave G major scale he’d make it sing. His rendering, in this concert, of Bloch’s Prayer from Jewish Life (immaculately accompanied by Irina Botan) brought out all the mournfully, soulfully evocative minor key richness in the piece and I loved the way he leaned on that dramatic quarter tone moment just before the end.

He and Ashok Klouda had fun with the South American dance rhythms and that catchy refrain in Jose Elizondo’s Autumn in Buenos Aires for two cellos too – lots of smiling eye contact and evident pleasure both in music and in working together.

It’s also good, to hear a live performance of Mahler’s 1876  single movement A Minor piano quartet written while he was still a student. It’s an evocative piece, very familiar from radio but I don’t recall ever hearing it in concert before. It was played here with lots of youthful emotion exactly as the young Mahler probably intended.

The Beethoven trio, with which the concert opened  is, of course, a pretty little gem. I admired the handling of  incisive contrasts in dynamic and tempi, especially in the Allegro con Brio which were well supported by the acoustic in the cavernous Victorian space of St Michael’s Church. The concert was sold out and the church full to the rafters so all those bodies softened the echo rather well. Another high spot in the trio was the finely judged melodic weaving by the first violin (Alexander Sitkovetsky) in the Adagio Cantabile.

And so to the utter joy of the Trout quintet with Simon Callaghan on piano and the very charismatic Chi-chi Nwanoku reading her double bass part from an iPad and dancing her way communicatively though the music. I admired the apparently effortless, graceful work in the variations which comprise the  famous andantino – especially Alexander Sitovetsky on violin. This lovely performance was also graced by an exceptionally slick scherzo.

The gallery at St Michael’s is cursed by some of the most uncomfortable seating it has ever been my misfortune to spend time in. Fortunately the quality and exuberance of the music superseded it – mostly. How about some reserved ground floor seating for the press next time?

Susan Elkin


Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates its 500th concert

Brighton’s only resident professional orchestra, the Philharmonic, presents its 500th concert on Sunday 2nd December. Founded 94 years ago as the Symphonic String Players, it has been presenting orchestral concerts without a break since 1927 in the historic Brighton Dome and officially became the Brighton Philharmonic in October 1958. The exciting young British conductor Ben Gernon will be conducting this very special event and will be joined by another young British musician, the violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen.

Over the past 60 years the orchestra has performed almost 2,500 works and is proud that throughout this time there have been only three Musical Directors. Mozart has been the most frequently played composer and our concert on December 2nd celebrates this with two works by Mozart, his energetic Symphony No. 35 written for his childhood friend Sigmund Haffner, and his exotic 5th Violin Concerto, nicknamed “Turkish” after its Turkish–sounding final movement. The concert concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 which the composer himself considered to be “one of my best works”.

Tickets (from £12.50-£39.50 – 50% student/U18 discount, children just £1) are still available from Brighton Dome Ticket Office, (01273 709709) or online at www.brightondome.org



Opus Theatre: Ramtin Ghazavi

Opus Theatre, Saturday 17 November 2018

Iranian tenor, Ramtin Ghazavi has a rapidly increasing international reputation and thanks to Artist-in-Residence, Oliver Poole so has the Opus Theatre. Bringing the two together was a master-stroke which came to fruition last Saturday with a concert of Italian and Iranian song.

Though much of Ramtin Ghazavi’s repertoire is based on the familiar operatic canon he chose to sing a more interesting programme based around Italian song and, to us, unknown Persian songs.

Paolo Tosti may be a familiar 19th century Italian composer but less known for the fact that he lived for many years in England and some of the songs we were to hear were written locally in Folkestone!

They opened with his well-known song – A vucchella – moving on to the tolling bell motive of Tormento and the fluid romanticism of Ideale. The songs sat very comfortably for Ramtin Ghazavi as they allow an operatic approach while giving some freedom for a more delicate, sensuous intimacy.

The first half ended with Faure’s Les Roses d’Isapahan with its gentle phrasing and subtle harmony.

After the interval we heard three Persian songs which proved to be heady in their romantic intensity and emotionally forth-right. The last of these – Aay sar kotal-  did not have a piano part so Oliver Poole drew on all his considerable skills to create the accompaniment.

The final section was on more familiar ground with De Curtis’ Non ti scordar di me and Leoncavallo’s Mattinata, where Ramtin Ghazavi almost produced the necessary sob in the voice.

In both halves Olive Poole provided a pyrotechnic solo in the form of Wagnerian arrangements from the Ring Cycle – a lurid reading from Das Rheingold and a more conventional version of the Ride of the Valkyries, both with more notes than he appeared to have fingers.

A wonderful evening needed an encore which followed in the shape of an improvised version of O Sole mio – gloriously created and leaving us all wanting more. When he is appearing at La Scala and The Met we will recall we heard him at the Opus!

ENO: War Requiem

London Coliseum, Friday 16 November 2018

The ability to stage oratorio convincingly has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years and Daniel Kramer has produced his finest work to date with this timely presentation of Britten’s War Requiem.  Rather than create a distinct narrative, the scenes flow with the inevitability of the structure of the mass itself. We are moved as much, if not more, by those who survive than those who have died. The jokey approach to Out there reflects the reality that death is not the problem for a solider but surviving maimed and essentially inhuman. Equally powerfully, the women at home, waiting, the traumatised children are all victims of the insistence on violence. Britten’s masterly combination of the Latin text with Wilfred Owen’s poems here seems even more apt, bringing the personal into direct contact with the universal.

For this the large chorus – drawn from the regular ENO singers and the special chorus for Porgy and Bess- is stunningly effective, not only in its attack and edge in the larger scenes but their physical presence on stage either as dying, sleeping or escaping masses caught-up in conflict.

The two male soloists help us here to identify and pinpoint the individual suffering of those in war. Tenor David Butt Philip and baritone Roderick Williams could hardly be bettered, not only in the sensitivity of their singing but in the shifts in characterisation as the evening progresses. Setting So Abram rose with a group of children was a masterstroke, moving from a fire-side story to the calamitous reality of mass killing.

Daniel Kramer’s approach to the soprano part was more complex. Emma Bell brings enormous strength to the part and becomes something of an earth mother as Britten keeps her within the Latin setting, so that she can only empathise with events at second hand. This becomes a strength as her presence often seems to comment on events rather than engage in them. At the end she is left alone on stage in the snow by a grave with two boys – all the rest are gone.

Wolfgang Tillmans’ designs are always telling and frequently add an extra layer to the sub-text rather than simply providing a background. The sudden snow storm is a brilliant coup and the sense of winter and death remains until the end. It is these final scenes which are the most moving. The early use of WWI photographs and the references to Srebrenica though apt seemed to distance us from the emotional engagement of the final scenes.

Martyn Brabbins holds all his forces together with consummate skill and frequently shattering effect.

The only thing that is lost in a staging like this is the musical disparity Britten deliberately creates. We are not really aware of the chamber orchestra – though it is more evident in the theatre how quiet many scenes are – and the children are very obviously present rather than the ethereal voices envisaged. But this is a tiny issue and far, far out-weighed by the success and impact of this staging.



Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

White Rock Theatre, 15 November 2018

It may not quite be Christmas but the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has started its seasonal tour with an invitation to local enthusiasts to join them in a number of familiar Christmas pieces. Opening with Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride they passed seamlessly through Neapolitan songs, New Romantics and Silver Machine to the point where all could join in Good King Wenceslas. Their tongue-in-cheek approach works exceptionally well with a minor key, Russian arrangement of George Formby’s I’m leaning on a lamp-post coming close on the heels of I’ll be watching you direct from their appearances in China.

After the interval we were all able to join in Jingle Bells before songs by Joni Mitchell and Grace Jones, a spirited rendition of Lime House Blues and a galvanising Highway to Hell. One of their greatest strengths is the egalitarian feel to the event with all eight members taking turns to lead, sing solos and provide the jokes. This was never more obvious than in the glorious ensemble where one player provided a classical underpinning and the other seven sang different songs, all in the same key and remarkably harmonic.

Concluding with We wish you a Merry Christmas they returned to give us David Bowie’s Heroes as a rousing encore. We could happily have asked for a lot more.