Classical Music Buzz > Brian Dickie
Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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And so we have got to the end of this wonderful competition in Izmir with the finals in the University division on Wednesday and the Young Professionals (up to the age of 33) last night. And that was really night - we got back to the hotel at 1 am!

On Wednesday the three winners were the splendid natural performer soprano Seray Pinar in her third year of undergraduate study who won with impressive performances of Leila in Bizet's Pêcheurs des Perles and an aria from Donizetti's Betly.  She was the runaway winner but the baritone Alper Ünlütürk was not so far behind with Mozart's Figaro Act 4 aria and a robust and ear catching Turkish song.  And third was a seductive counter tenor who is also a serving soldier in the Turkish army.  That by itself is a winning combination! He gave us Scherza infida from Ariodante and Reynaldo Hahn's ravishing Si mes vers avaient des ailes. That was a lovely choice and he did it justice.

I am greatly impressed by the level generally this year, a good step up from 2016 and a most encouraging sign that young Turkish singers are making a strong impression.  This could be a fertile hunting ground for opera studios looking for exceptional talent to develop.

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Yesterday morning we went on an expedition to the old town and naturally took in the bazaar where fruit and nuts and spices are available for silly prices (low) - so we all went shopping!  

However the meat of the day was the gala final yesterday evening in the fine concert hall.  You should be able to see it on this recording of the live stream. I hope that the link works - we shall see!

Our outstanding winner by a significant margin was the 24 year old soprano from Izmir, Ceren Gamze Düskün - a singer to watch, and you can do so in that live stream at approximately 36 minutes in Mimi Act 3 aria, and 1 hour 7 minutes in for Lady Macbeth.  But if you have time do try to listen to the whole evening, best on a decent sized computer screen or TV.

Second place went to a baritone of great confidence and maturity Mehmet Ali Tutar, and third to a tenor Berk Dalkiliç who greatly impressed both as Cavaradossi and Lensky.  That is a voice - a rare young tenor indeed.

It was a strong field and the non winners might easily have won in earlier years. Notable for me was the charming young soprano from Istanbul, just 25, Ekin Su Paker.  She is still sorting out her repertoire, but at her best, in a well chosen piece, she can be outstanding.  See if you can identify her in the live stream!

All in all this has been an extremely rewarding week, some marvellous singing, remarkable hospitality from the team led by the veritable "queen" of Izmir Aytül Büyüksaraç.  She is the moving and ruling spirit of this competition, a superb hostess and a force of nature!!  We all love her.

Our juror Rosemary Joshua left this morning but Ed Berkeley and I have a leisurely tourist day before leaving tomorrow, me to London and Ed home to New York.  They have been great colleagues and we have had a lot of fun, as well as stimulating and thoughtful debate.  I will miss their company. 

 

7 days ago |
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Pergamon TheatreThe Theatre at Pergamon - 2 pm Tuesday 13 February 2018

We jury members had a magical day at Pergamon yesterday, in glorious sunshine. The kindness and generosity of the organisers of the Izmir competition know no bounds.  And as if by magic the rain and cloud of the previous four days gave way to sunshine.  It was paradise.

Trajan's templeThe temple of Trajan at Pergamon - Tuesday 13 February 2018

Our perfect day was rounded off with more superb Izmir hospitality - a most delicious dinner at the Adabeyi Restaurant on Eiffel's Konak Pier - an obligatory destination for any of you visiting this splendid city of Izmir. And so our happy little group walked back to our hotel along the waterfront at around 10 pm.

Izmir night

This evening we have the finals of the University section - lots of nervous young people no doubt.  Oh dear!

 

10 days ago |
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Izmir 2018-4

A morning walk along the Izmir harbour front - Monday February 12

It is a huge pleasure to be back in Izmir for the Young Singers competition which is getting an increasing profile with an outstanding entry from all over Turkey.  I was here two years ago when I had that great experience of Izmir hospitality.  This year we have in addition a stronger field and the last four days has been an exhausting and exhaustive examination culmination with a long day of semi-finals yesterday.  

We have two sections - those still in university or conservatory, and a larger group of young professionals already in the "market place" - including some who are members of the excellent company here in Izmir. We have reduced these to five for the finals of the University category tomorrow evening, and six for the professionals who have a gala final with orchestra on Thursday.

Meanwhile we the jury are going on an expedition to Pergamon today.  I am delighted to be in the company of Ed Berkeley and Rosemary Joshua, great colleagues who add so much wisdom and experience to the process.

It is a sunny morning - a perfect day for our trip!

11 days ago |
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N Michael Elektra© Bruno Simao

Nadja Michael in the title role Elektra Lisbon February 2018

I arrived in Lisbon on Sunday afternoon and made my way to the Cultural Centre in Bélem, a fifteen minute trip from Lisbon's city centre.  The large concert hall there is home to one production a year from the São Carlos Opera, always a semi staged concert performance given that this is a concert hall rather than an opera house!  However, Nicola Raab did a remarkable job in persuading us that this was not the case with a brave and ingenious production whose powerful effect, aided by the superb orchestra playing under Leo Hussain and the shattering score of Richard Strauss, brought the audience to its feet.

In the title role was the unique stage animal Nadja Michael. Commitment of that kind comes rarely enough.  Alison Oakes as Chrysothemis, Lioba Braun as Clytemnestra, and James Rutherford's Orestes yielded little to her; and it was good to see and hear the excellent Portuguese tenor Marco Alves dos Santos making his mark as Aegisthus.

Lisbon Feb 2018-2São Carlos Opera 3:30 pm Monday February 5 2018

It was two delightful days of sunshine in Lisbon replacing the cold of London.  However I am back to face that this evening! This will be only for a day before I fly to Izmir on Thursday - fun coming up!

17 days ago |
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Satyagraha-ENO-Coliseum-465Photo: Tristram Kenton/ENO

Toby Spence and ENO Chorus

Philip Glass divides us all perhaps but there is no denying the mesmerising effect on the listener of Satyagraha, nor the impact pf Phlim McDermott's stunning production, revived this week at the London Coliseum for a third outing.  And it appears to be sold out which is an excellent state of affairs.  We sold out Akhnaten in Chicago all those years ago - its always good to have money in the bank as I know only too well!

Toby Spence is new to the leading role of Ghandi, and he is a more than worthy successor to the remarkable Alan Oke who was there last time. His acute intelligence and gorgeously burnished sound provide the evening with a huge additional pleasure, and he is surrounded by a first rate cast and the exceptional ENO Chorus.  If you can get a ticket, go to it - but be prepared to get into the "zone"! And prepare yourself well with the excellent notes available on the ENO website.  Perversely, you may think, there are no surtitles for this, one of the rare examples of an ENO production not in English!

Satyagraha-ENO-Coliseum-3701Photo: Tristram Kenton/ENO

Thursday was a big day because in addition to Satyagraha I was at the moving performance by Matthew Rose and Tom Poster of Winterreise at the V and A at lunchtime. Matthew is deeply inside this cycle after a good few years of increasingly insightful performances.  So that was a totally absorbing 70 minutes which took us to another place........and to another place (of a different kind) again yesterday - that I could not manage!

I am off to Lisbon tomorrow morning quite early, for three days, then on Thursday to Izmir for nine.  So good stuff coming up!

20 days ago |
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Robert-rattray1We are all reeling from the shock of Robert's sudden death yesterday, an unbearable loss of one of the kindest, most generous, most life loving and life enhancing, most twinkly humourous yet deeply serious friends and colleagues one could wish for. When we first met 45 years ago he was one of Emmie Tillett's well chosen young men all of whom went on to distinguished careers in our business.  One of his early tasks was to look after the great , then octagenarian, Andrés Segovia on a tour of the UK - what a start!

After Emmie handed over the business to Wilfred Stiff he remained there for a short time before moving to join Lies Askonas in those Lilliputian offices in Air Street - his tiny frame fitted those narrow corridors perfectly! And he eventually teamed up with Martin Campbell-White as joint managing director of Askonas Holt, a brilliantly successful re-merger of two of Emmie's young men!  Robert's strength as a manager of singers was unrivalled and what a roster he had!

And in all those years we worked together, particularly of course during my Glyndebourne years, those sparkling mischievous eyes ensured that there was never a cross word.  Unique! So we grew old together (actually he was nine years younger than me) in the business that he adored, with the singers that he adored and who adored him, one of the finest most selfless beings in a business where such creatures are few and far between. There are aching hearts around the world - it is hard to believe............

Photo by Tristan Cook/Met Opera

23 days ago |
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I have been pretty quiet over the last couple of weeks for multiple reasons, largely due to family duties (which are all a pleasure), but also to belt tightening during the weeks prior to settling my tax bill for the year, due on Wednesday next!  So it has been austerity January - but to be followed by a leap back into action in February with three days in Lisbon, nine in Izmir, and three on the Côte d'Azur, I hope, to round the month off.  So no February blues for me!

I was at another charming recital at the V and A last week when the ever delightful Alison Rose was joined by her namesake Nicola and Louise Innes in a varied programme of Handel, Mozart, Strauss, Debussy, Bizet and Ravel.  Here was another excellent demonstration of the achievements of the National Opera Studio over the years since its founding, as successor to the London Opera Centre, in 1977.

I was not able to get to the V and A last Thursday as there was a rival NOS event at their home base in Wandsworth - but this coming Thursday can not be missed - Winterreise with Matthew Rose and Tom Poster.


National Opera Studio 2017-18 Young Artists (C) NOS - Marc Gascoigne 2017© NOS/Marc Gascoigne

The rival event was "Americana" - a cleverly devised programme of scenes from pieces by Avner Dorman, Stephen Flaherty, Ricky Ian Gordon, John Harbison, Stephen Sondheim, Gian Carlo Menotti, Tobias Picker, Jake Heggie, and Leonard Bernstein.  The only person missing was America's greatest living opera composer Carlisle Floyd!

The range of exceptional talents in the current team of NOS Young Artists was put on excellent show.  I have mentioned in the past the merits of the three remarkable mezzos.  On this occasion they shone again (unforgettable was Sinéad O'Kelly's Ladies Who Lunch complete with a martini and a refill......) and I will invidiously also pick out Satriya Krisna, Emyr Wyn Jones, and Daniel Shelvey for additional mention.  But in truth it was a splendid panorama of the virtues of these young people, each of whom flowered under the special direction of Keith Warner.  How good it was to catch up with Keith who around 27 years ago did a Ballo for us in Toronto when I was General Director of the Canadian Opera Company.

You can see this excellent show at St John's Smith Square on April 24 - well worth taking the trouble.

Today it is a family lunch, preceded by Roger Federer and Marin Cilic battling for the Australian Open title!

26 days ago |
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Tosca_act_1_kenton© Tristram Kenton/ROH

Old timers will bang on about Zeffirelli's 1964 production of Tosca which survived for more than 40 years.  I saw no less than five performances of it with Callas and Gobbi - those were the days when early 20 somethings like me were happy to sit in the "Gods" at Covent Garden for practically no money.....and magnificent it was of course.

The Royal Opera has got immense mileage out of the hugely successful 2006 Jonathan Kent production which replaced the enduring Zefirelli one.  It has returned yet again with a series of a dozen performances with multiple casts between last night and March 3. You can take your pick but you would do well to take the Canadian pairing of Adrianne Pieczonka and Gerald Finley, together with Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, the team that opened the run to enthusiastic acclaim yesterday evening.  It is quite difficult for the "shabby little shocker" to fail to make its impact, but here you have uncompromised excellent singing which ensures that Covent Garden's high vocal standards are also maintained. 

Pieczonka remains in superb fresh voice into the third decade of her distinguished career - she has clearly managed the stresses and strains of an international schedule with huge skill and thoughtfulness.  She is good to go on pleasing us for many more years.  And what to say about Gerald Finley singing his first Scarpia?  The intelligence, and vocal quality and stamina, of this man gave us yet another masterclass.  What a pleasure!  And Calleja is Calleja, one of the most sought after tenors of the day with good reason.

Preceding that treat last night was an excellent hour at the V and A on Thursday with Emma Bell and David Butt Philip, part of the ongoing opera exhibition at the South Kensington museum.  This was a program of Wagner and Beethoven by two of the UK's finest.  Emma Bell was the winner of the Ferrier Prize in 1998 when I was a jury member.  She has most certainly justified our faith as she is clearly in her prime 20 years later, but singing Wagner and Beethoven's Leonora rather than the Handel and Mozart she wowed us with all those years ago.  And David Butt Philip is now launched on an international career which should take him to the very top.  In due course, though to be sensible not quite yet, he will own Florestan, Lohengrin and Walther von Stolzing. 

Today is more mundane - appointments with my accountant to review my return, and the dentist.......which will be the most painful do you think?

1 month ago |
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Roundhouse 1847
The Roundhouse 1847

The Royal Opera returned to the Roundhouse in Camden yesterday evening for the second of their Monteverdi productions, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria.  I had greatly enjoyed their Orfeo there in 2015.  I assume that they will get round to Poppea in 2019!

Christian Curnyn and his splendid Early Opera Company forces were drafted in for the purpose and what could be better than that?  And the Royal Opera had assembled an outstandng cast led by Roderick Williams and Christine Rice, with distinguished contributions from the ranks of Britain's finest, Susan Bickley, Catherine Carby, Andrew Tortise, Stuart Jackson, Samuel Boden, Mark Milhofer, Nick Pritchard (SO many tenors!).....as well as Jette Parker programme members past and current - David Shipley and Francesca Chiejina.  The latter made a notable impression as Melanto.  And there was a remarkable substitution - Christine Rice played Penelope but was voiceless - and Caitlin Hulcup came to the rescue sing the part from the pit, quite ravishingly - and by the way the sound virtually seamlessly managed by the magicians of the Royal Opera's "engineering" department.

John Fulljames delivered a simply effective production in the rather circumscribed framework of the Roundhouse, complete with entertaining sound effects including sheep and popping balloons.

The Roundhouse is a refreshing space though with inevitable compromises that go with such a conversion.  For the Ulisse run they have tried on a "dining experience" assuming that the typical opera audience likes to spend £50 and more per head for a fixed price supper.  Together with apparently many others I eschewed the opportunity, and went to the excellent and amusing Belgo across the road.  And next to it there is a good looking pizza place...........

On Monday I was at St Clement Danes for one of the Jette Parker Monday lunchtime recitals - my beloved Die schöne Müllerin sung by a JPYAP ex member Dawid Kimburg with Marek Ruszczynski his excellent partner at the piano.   I learnt the cycle as a teenager from the Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore recording of 1951- and age and experience makes one appreciate its journey all the more! So it is always an emotional as well as a musical pleasure to hear it again and again.

1 month ago |
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IMG_6372Lake Zürich from the Zürich Opera House noon Sunday January 7 2018

I had a day trip to Zurich yesterday and realised that it had been a long time since I had been there - a regular port of call during the 70s and 80s.  It has had a long tradition of finding and promoting young artists.  It was there that I heard for the first time the 20 something Francisco Araiza as Don Ottavio.  And when the studio was established, by the then Intendant Herbert Graf under the leadership of Marc Belfort, it  soon became a primary source of young talent.  That was back in 1974.......44 years ago!  I made so many visits to Zurich all those decades ago, and had so much fun there with Ponnelle and Harnoncourt in the Restaurant Conti over the road from the stage door - but that is another story!

It is clear that the International Opera Studio is very much back in that position now, so I was delighted to return to this delightful place yesterday, primarily to see Barrie Kosky's remarkable production of Fanciulla del West.  Of course there were many members of the studio in the large cast.  But the three protagonists would be hard to beat - Catherine Nagelstad as the Minnie of our day, Brandon Jovanovich, from Montana but a citizen of the whole opera world, as an impossible to beat Johnson, and the really excellent Scott Hendricks that unpleasant Jack Rance character! 

I wont go into the detail of Barrie Kosky's simple approach to this opera - simple because there was no silly operatic fluff, just superlative direction of top notch artists resulting in theatre, music theatre, of totally absorbing power that created instant suspension of disbelief.  Great stuff - the man is a genius.

And that top notch cast were supported by the ensemble drawn largely from the IOS.  There are some stunning talents there but I am not going to reveal trade secrets!  Go and listen and experience your own "eureka" moments!  There are names that you will die to hear five years from now!  And all thanks to the leadership of Zurich's Brenda Hurley and Sophie de Lint. And maybe also to original vision of Graf and Belfort!

I am now back in London and will write tomorrow about the Jette Parker recital which I greatly enjoyed at lunchtime today.

1 month ago |
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