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Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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Falstaff© Clive Barda

Henry Waddington in the title role in Garsington's Falstaff

After a week in Montreal and five days in Suffolk I was delighted to get to Garsington on Monday for the new Falstaff which had opened 48 hours before.  And what a huge joy it was - the perfect opera for a summer evening, in the English countryside, in the extraordinary pavilion that Robin Snell designed for Garsington Opera's new location in Wormsley Park which opened in 2011.

Garsington has followed their successful Zauberflöte and Capriccio with an irresistible production and performance of Verdi's last opera, which it is very hard to believe was written by an octogenarian, such is its youthful exuberance - albeit balanced by an old man's wisdom and warm humanity. And what a great job has been done by director Bruno Ravella and conductor Richard Farnes, together with a gloriously balanced cast of veterans such as Adrian Thompson and Colin Judson, and dazzling young talents such as Soraya Mafi and Oliver Johnston. And in between we have the central trio of singers in their prime, Henry Waddington in the title role, and Mary Dunleavy and Richard Burkhardt as the Fords.

And the cherry on the cake is the Philharmonia Orchestra and Garsington's prodigious collection of the best of the best that make up the chorus. So this is an evening to delight those hardest to please, as well as the rest of us! 

This evening I will be back for Capriccio, to see and hear Miah Persson as the Countess.  She was indisposed for the two rehearsals I attended but is clearly back to full health and glorious voice!

15 hours ago |
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I returned from Orford on Thursday evening after four delicious days, my concentration being on the place and the masterclasses at the Britten-Pears programme.  But I did get to the new opera, To see the Invisible by Emily Howard that they had programmed in the Britten Studio on Monday evening, also to Le Concert Spirituel playing Handel, Charpentier and Corelli in the Maltings on Tuesday evening.

There is not so much opera alas at the Aldeburgh Festival these days, but this new piece was firmly in the tradition of bravely performing new work, a tradition that yielded masterpieces from Birtwistle and Walton, not to mention Benjamin Britten. This one will have to wait for such recognition.  Meanwhile the admirable French ensemble delivered what you might expect from its eccentric founder Hervé Niquet - something completely different, some spectacular Charpentier, some very brisk and largely enjoyable Handel but including some extreme natural horns in the Water Music, and some most elegant strings in Corelli.

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Meanwhile back at the masterclasses there was terrific stuff including Matthew Rose and the excellent Polish soprano Justyna Bluj getting physical (above) with Donna Elvira. There were some other splendid talents on display including a hugely promising counter-tenor Jacob Ingbar and soprano Angela Kim.  Ingbar is a very recent convert to the counter-tenor world.  Look at this excellent programme he did at Juilliard in April.  He is to be watched.....

I am back in London briefly but this afternoon off to Somerset on family business - my eldest daughter and her four children!

4 days ago |
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IMG_0133From Snape Maltings evening 7:15 pm June 12 2018

So far I have had a busy two days here in Suffolk. On Monday I attended the first of the Masterclasses being conducted by Julia Faulkner, John Fisher, and Matthew Rose - with singers and pianists taking part in the summer program at the Britten-Pears school. I will be attending these through the week to Thursday, both the public sessions and some private ones.  

On Monday the public got the first taste of the work of John, Julia and Matthew - and indeed it was a revelation for both young singers and pianists to be subjected to such detailed analysis from these three. This will surely be a memorable and possibly career defining experience for many of them.

IMG_0119Matthew Rose with Polish mezzo Agnieska Grochala and pianist Lyndsi Maus

Yesterday morning I was over in Aldeburgh for a most moving hour and a half with Humphrey Burton, Peter Grimes, Leanard Bernstein and Seiji Osawa.  There was a screening of a magnificent documentary produced by Toronto's Rhombus company, A Tale of Tanglewood  introduced by Humphrey Burton, a long time friend of Britten and Bernstein and now a long time resident of Aldeburgh, one of the true treasures of this place.

IMG_0112Humphrey Burton introducing A Tale of Tanglewood, Aldeburgh Cinema, June 12 2018

The film covered the first performances of Peter Grimes in the US in 1946, and the 50th anniversary of that historic event back in Tanglewood in 1996.  It was a totally absorbing and beautifully made document, and prefaced by the remarkable Humphrey's wise and moving words providing first hand background about all the key players in this story. Whilst of course I was not there in 1946 I did attend one of the 1996 performances in that unique place with a young man called Tony Griffey in the title role - later to become the celebrated Anthony Dean Griffey.......unforgettable, and also for the masterly leadership of Seiji Osawa.

I am here until tomorrow evening - so lots of good stuff to come. I will write about other events tomorrow morning.

7 days ago |
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IMG_0091Prize giving Maison Symphonique, Montréal June 7 2018

My six day trip to Canada this past week was a delightful interlude with time to see so many old friends and colleagues, a good few going back to friendships begun almost fifty years ago.  I was on the jury of the competition three years ago but this year was just an invited guest - that was extraordinarily generous of them but completely typical of that most hospitable of nations, Canada.  I have huge affection for this country where I spent five happy years in charge of the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto.  During that time I visited Montréal many times.  And my elder daughter who was studying French at University College, London chose the Université de Montréal for her third year away at a French university.  So Montréal has a special place in my heart!

The Aria section, opera and oratorio, had two winners (of the 2nd and 3rd prizes) who had also scored wins in Neue Stimmen.  Second prize went to the amazing 23 year old Canadian mezzo Emily D"Angelo who took the same position in Neue Stimmen last October.  The third prize went to Konstantin Lee from South Korea who was first prize winner in Neue Stimmen in 2013 when he was just 23 as well!  The first prize went to another Korean, Mario Bahg, who competed in Neue Stimmen last year as well but did not make it to the finals!  He scored well in our preliminary auditions in London and was on the waiting list........as incidentally was Konstantin Lee in Montréal, only taking up his place a few days before when another singer cancelled.  Such are the unpredictable ways of competitions!

It was disappointing to me that there was an imbalance of women to men reaching the final stages with nine out of the 12 semi finalists being men, four from South Korea a country which so often dominates in competitions.  But they are good and they win!  Mario Bahg was indeed a worthy winner with some glorious singing on Thursday evening - Don Ottavio, Alfredo, and Faust - excelling in each with gorgeous honeyed tone and impeccable style.

The result in the Song section of the competition was almost a replica of the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation competition in London last year with the top prizes going to Julien van Melaerts, John Brancy and Clara Osowski but in a different order - so alas nothing new there!  It was a bit of a shame not to have strong competitors in this section from France, Germany and Austria.  However this was the first year of song being included.  The prize money is huge and when the news gets out that the winner received Cdn$ 80,000 (£46,000) then there could be a gold rush next time round!

I am now back in London, but only briefly as I am off to Orford tomorrow morning and will spend four days there with Masterclasses at Snape and other events part of the Aldeburgh Festival. 

 

10 days ago |
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© Tam Lan Truong

So at 10 pm yesterday evening the last six standing were announced, and here they are looking very happy. Left to right: Seungju Mario Bag, John Brancy, Mikhail Golovushkin, Emily D'Angelo, Andrew Haji, and Konstantin Lee.

Three tenors, and a mezzo, a baritone, and a bass.  Where are all the sopranos?  We had three mezzo winners in Neue Stimmen so it seems to be a trend!

I will make no further comment until its all over.  There will be more big smiles from some of these on Thursday evening!

14 days ago |
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Song finalists© Tam Lan Truong

The first event of my Montréal trip, not as a juror but a privileged guest, was the finals of the Song competition on Sunday afternoon.  Above you see the four singers and their pianists. Julien Van Mellaerts (pianist João Pontes Araújo), Gemma Summerfield (pianist Sebastian Wybrew) John Brancy (pianist Peter Dugan) and Clara Osowski (pianist Olivier Godin).  And what a feast they gave us.  But we will not know who the winner is until Thursday evening after the Aria section is completed.  The poor things will have to wait - that is cruel!  

But the jury know......and what a wise and lovely lot they are, under the benign chairmanship of Zarin Mehta.  Old friends and colleagues going back decades are Felicity Lott, Kiri Te Kanawa, Joseph Rouleau and François Le Roux - Glyndebourners of the 70s and 80s - as well as Warren Jones and Ben Heppner from my COC days. There are two immensely distinguished singer/teachers in Edith Bers and Soile Isokoske.  And how lovely for me at last to meet Richard Rodzinski whose connection to me and all Glyndebourne old timers was his friendship with our beloved mutual friend and colleague Calvin Simmons who died young so tragically more than 35 years ago - seems like yesterday and it still hurts.

Yesterday afternoon Warren gave a truly revelatory masterclass to four young Montreal singers and their pianists.  This was a riveting session - a wonderful bonus to get some jury members to inspire the next generation, in this case from the Montreal Opera studio, McGill University, the Montreal Conservatory, and the Université de Montréal.  This afternoon it was the turn of Soile Isokoski to do the same with four more from the same institutions.  

And yesterday evening we had the first leg of the Aria semifinals, six singers with the Montreal Symphony conducted by Graeme Jenkins.  There will be the other 6 this evening and then the decision about the six finalists.  Whereas I did not believe in the case of the song section that I am sufficiently qualified to make judgements - but I can imagine that the jury may have found it difficult - in this case I have my views on the candidates to date.  And three of last night's were especially impressive.  So I will be looking out for another three this evening.........

This is an impressively well managed competition lead by Christiane LeBlanc since 2013.  Christiane has a rare combination of geniality and robust rigour and authoritativeness - a model captain of what is clearly a very tight ship.  She has the recipe for success and the competitions go from strength to strength.

I hope to report the outcome of the semifinals later this evening.  But no doubt full details will also appear very quickly on the CMIM Facebook page!  And don't forget that if you are in a convenient time zone you can watch the whole evening on the live stream. Otherwise of course on catch up tomorrow - miracles of the 21st century!

15 days ago |
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Gars mug wrap 2018 copy copyGarsington opened last night with  new production of Die Zauberflöte and a new mug to add to your collection of the mugs designed by Zeb Helm - he is back after a year off!  And it was great to see him at the dress rehearsal on Monday.  (Full disclosure - he is my nephew!)  They are on sale in the Garsington shop for just £1

I resist for the main part writing proper reviews and anyway a dress rehearsal is a dress rehearsal.  But I would be surprised if Johnny McGovern's Papageno did not set tongues wagging.  A hugely attractive and charismatic young singer with a fine future ahead.  We will see what the experts have to say. It opened last night.

And on Tuesday I was at the dress rehearsal of Capriccio, a piece I fell in love with at Glyndebourne as a 21 year old in 1963. It was the second of my 27 years at Glyndebourne and the divine Elisabeth Soderstrom was the Countess.  Click the link above for the complete cast.  So just hearing this ravishing music, the melodic genius of the elderly Richard Strauss in his last opera spinning out effortlessly and endlessly, brings back so many old memories.  Am I too sentimental?  Well maybe, but I don't care - there it is!

It opens tonight at beautiful Garsington and it is a wonderful cast and production by Tim Albery, splendidly conducted by Dougie Boyd and the Garsington orchestra exceeds itself. It is a must see.

On Wednesday afternoon the Zauberflöte covers gave us a really terrific rough run through - my goodness Garsington has such depth of talent amongst the new recruits to the profession.  Mark my words we will be hearing much more of the Pamina and Tamino - Verity Wingate and Rob Lewis........

I am off to Montreal tomorrow for the Voice competition final stages - Sunday afternoon song final then three evenings of semifinals and finals for the opera section.  I'll be home in London next Saturday.

 

19 days ago |
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I was at Garsington's gorgeous theatre at Wormsley yesterday for a pre-dress rehearsal.  This beautiful place is ready for the annual summer invasion of discerning opera goers, but yesterday it was pretty well deserted apart from all the artists and staff getting the acts together!  This evening will be another matter as invited friends and family will fill the house for the first of the dress rehearsals with an audience, a friendly and particularly enthusiastic one of course......meanwhile yesterday we enjoyed the natural beauties of this special place without much human intervention!

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This evening it is Die Zauberflöte and tomorrow Capriccio.  I will be there!

23 days ago |
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IMG_0043Final line up: Manuel Lange, Svetlina Stoyanova, Emily D'Angelo, Christina Nilsson, Zlata Khershberg, Liz Mohn, Mingjie Lei, Petr Sokolov, Holger Noltze

It was indeed an excellent celebration of young talent in Berlin on Wednesday evening.  We were proud of our three mezzo prize winners, Svetlina, Emily, and Zlata, (links above) as they demonstrated to the distinguished audience the qualities that enabled them to emerge victorious from a process that involved 1,000 candidates! Förderpreis (additional prize provided by sponsors) winners Christina Nilsson and Petr Sokolov joined the line up as well as the second prize winner in the male category Mingjie Lei

One of our distinguished family of pianists working with Neue Stimmen, Manuel Lange, devised a terrific programme with a mixture of song and opera, perfectly tailored to the singers'strenths, and beautifully balanced as a programme in itself.  Immensely enjoyable.

Our popular long standing moderator Holger Noltze was his ever charming witty self in presenting the evening, and our indispensable founder Liz Mohn, without whom nothing, presided with her customary authority and grace.

It is hard to believe that I have been part of the Neue Stimmen family for 19 years.  It was in February of 1999 that I made my first excursions for the preliminary auditions around the world.  It has been a huge pleasure and I can't wait for next year!

Back from Berlin on Thursday, and always a sucker for something different, I made my way to the Barbican for the Britten Sinfonia's programme of Gerald Barry's Conquest of Ireland and Beethoven's Pastoral.  The former was dominated by an astonishing virtuoso performance from Joshua Bloom, the thinking person's bass of choice - he is remarkable in whatever he turns his voice, in all its forms, to.  And he can whistle as well! What a joy it always is to see Josh, a good friend since he was with COT back in 2007.  And how sensible of him to live in Clapham!!

The evening was presided over by Thomas Adès, no less distinguished as a conductor than as a composer.  The Britten Sinfonia is a classy set up - if you don't know their work  you will be very happy to discover what they do.  They have a marvellous season programmed through to 2018-19.

I am off to Garsington this afternoon for the Pre-Dress rehearsal of Capriccio and again tomorrow for the Dress of Die Zauberflöte.

24 days ago |
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Another week gone!  And the highlight was 48 hours in glorious Suffolk, in Orford with all its associations with the world of Benjamin Britten.  Of course two days is never long enough but I will be back in June for another four days during the Aldeburgh Festival and hope to get to the Snape Proms in August.  So many are the pleasures of musical life in an English summer.  Next up is Garsington, and then Glyndebourne.

And if you get to Aldeburgh and need a simple, and simply delicious, lunch try out the Lighthouse.

Lighthouse Aldeburgh

Before leaving for Suffolk I was at the new George Benjamin piece at the Royal Opera House - Lessons in Love and Violence.  It is a co-production with Dutch National Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Opéra de Lyon, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and Teatro Real, Madrid so there should be plenty of opportunity to catch up with it.  I was in an uncomfortable seat with restricted view in the upper reaches of the house.  My mistake! I will try to get to it again - but only as long as the remarkable Barbara Hannigan is in the cast.  Another exceptional outing from her.......

I am in Berlin tomorrow for the Neue Stimmen winners concert.  This is always a spring highlight, meeting up again with the Bertelsmann family and remembering the fun we had last October.  All three mezzo prize winners will be there.

29 days ago |
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