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Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
2717 Entries

TateTate Britain 3:45 pm December 8 2017

My visit to Tate Britain to see the Impressionists in London show was an exceptional pleasure - Paris's agony of 1871 being London's gain as we welcomed so many refugees.  We were better Europeans then than now.  Tell that to Boris, Jacob, Michael, David, and Theresa!  Shame on them all.

Anyway it is an uplifting show with glorious paintings and sculptures splendidly curated by Caroline Courbeau-Parsons - and included of course the famous fruits of Monet's three winters stay at the Savoy Hotel 1899-1901. And there is the wonderful Pissarro Charing Cross Bridge loaned by the National Gallery in Washington - a wonderful opportunity to see this magical painting "in the flesh". And so much else. The show is on until May 7.  Don't miss it!

Charing_Cross_Bridge _London_(Camille_Pissarro)

2 days ago |
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Ink©Tristram Kenton/Guardian

Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch, Geoffrey Freshwater as Sir Alick McKay and Richard Coyle as Larry Lamb in Ink

Ink is a must see - but hurry, it is only on until January 6 though it is difficult to believe it will not appear elsewhere at a certain point.  However what seems to be the original Almeida cast is there at the Duke of York's Theatre (opposite the Coliseum for opera people to get their bearings) until January 6, and a really wonderful evening it is - as long as an opera at three hours but every one of the 180 minutes is riveting.

It is about the arrival of Rupert Murdoch on our scene 50 years ago - a refreshing experience at the time as the "Dirty Digger" smashed the complacent norms of the British newspaper establishment. As we now know it was the beginning of something deeply unpleasant - but that is a matter of opinion!  Well actually it is really a matter of fact which is contested by some - mainly the radical right, the same people who are tribunes for Trump and Brexit.  As the former would say - "Sad"!

The audience appeared to be packed with media types who had a wonderful time.  And so did I.  Go for it!

Snow and ice are coming.  But I am off to the Tate this afternoon to see the "Impressionists in London" show.

4 days ago |
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The Union Chapel just off Highbury Corner in north London is a spectacular space with a stunning acoustic - and yesterday evening was home to an exceptional performance of The Messiah given by the Clare College, Cambridge choir and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

The Messiah is a piece which we British and Irish (it was after all first performed in Dublin in 1742) know so well that we tend perhaps to take it for granted, or are rather patronising about it. Performances of it by massive choirs lethargically conducted by the great, or not so great, maestros of my childhood such as Sir Malcolm Sargent  were pretty well all we knew, apart from half hearted and scrappy school efforts.  The last four decades of course have seen the work to be the extraordinary master piece of Handel that it is - and it was a joy yesterday evening to to be completely enthralled by the performance by the Clare College choir in this spectacular church.


The OAE was in top form and Clare's young music director Graham Ross is a major talent who accomplished miracles from both choir and orchestra.  I wont go into details of the many glorious moments of the evening.  But I must say that I have never encountered such a moving He was depised as that uttered by Christopher Lowrey, yet another world class counter tenor to match the very best - confirming in a major way the impression he made in Rodelinda at ENO six weeks ago.  This was heart stopping and tear inducing singing.  And a late substitute bass, Andrew Davies, an alum of Clare, made an exceptional impression as did the extraordinary accompaniment to his The trumpet shall sound - David Blackadder astonishing with his natural trumpet. 

So this was a great send off to the festive music season.  Clare's choir now goes off tomorrow on a tour to the United States, a punishing schedule.  Then they are back, this time in St John's Smith Square, for a Christmas programme on December 19.  This will be a lovely event.  I should declare an interest - my great niece Georgie, one of my late sister's grand daughters, is a member of the choir and is also its administrator.  Keeping it in the family!

I am off to see Ink this evening.

7 days ago |
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During the last week I have felt somewhat consumed by auditions for the Salzburg Festival's Young Singers Project, a programme that I have been delighted to help with for my friends and colleagues Evamaria Wieser and Adrian Kelly.  We have had auditions at the National Opera Studio, Adrian has worked with singers at the Guildhall School, and further auditions have taken place at the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, and at ENO where the Harewood programme has some outstanding young singers.

It has been a fruitful week - any singer chosen to join this programme will gain a hugely important launching platform, quite apart from the inspiration they will get from spending 8 weeks in the heart of Europe at the Salzburg Festival.  Some really excellent candidates were identified!

However I also spent some time at the RCM for a performance of The Cunning Little Vixen.  It was directed by Daniel Slater who was responsible for the excellent Garsington Vixen in 2014.  Of course it was somewhat stripped down in scale for the Britten Theatre and indeed had a different design team so it was in no way a re-caboodle!  However it was an enjoyable evening with this gorgeous work with handsome performances from the Fox and Vixen, Ida Ränzlöv and Harriet Eyley. And there was a splendid array of the best of the young singers studying at the RCM in the huge number of roles in all shapes and sizes!

There are two more performances tomorrow and on Saturday. If you love this work as much as I do take this opportunity - you will not be disappointed.

I am looking out of my window onto Battersea Park - it seems to be snowing!

12 days ago |
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RAM DGThe Royal Academy of Music's opera programme goes from strength to strength, and the new theatre which opens in March will be a huge boost for this excellent post graduate opera course.  Yesterday evening I was at the Round Chapel in Hackney for a hugely enjoyable production of Don Giovanni - and it is clear that they have a really good vintage of young singers at their disposal to give us two Don Giovanni casts.  I heard the first night group but if past experience is anything to go by there will be little to choose between to two teams.

There was a formidable Donna Anna from Carrie-Ann Williams (who had been in the Sazburg Young Artists programme last year) and a hugely promising Leporello from Michael Mofidian - splendid both vocally and in his engagement with the character.  To be watched! But the truth is that this strong cast included other fin young artists so chapeau! also to Nicholas Mogg, Emilie Cavallo, Ilona Revolskaya, Emanuel Heitz, Darwin Leonard Prakash and Thomas Bennett.  More will be heard from each of them. This is a very strong international line up and says much for the drawing power and accomplishments of the RAM.

Gareth Hancock conducted a wholly engaging musical performance coping with the the tricky circumstances in the Round Chapel - and the ever creative Christopher Cowell directed with his designer Bridget Kimak (the team responsible for our Chicago Semele back in 2002!) t produce fast moving production full of interesting ideas - a treat for anyone who has seen 100 or more different productions of this opera!

The devil is so often in the detail - so it is worth pointing out that there was some astonishingly beautiful playing of the mandolin in Don Giovanni's serenade from Bradley Johnson.  A niche perhaps but my goodness a star! 

Lovely crisp sunny day out there here in London.  I am now off for a lunch date!

19 days ago |
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Mad king
On Friday evening I was at the Helios Collective's performance of Noah Mosley's Mad King Suibhne which was premiered at Bury Court in the spring.  I was delighted to have had another opportunity to enjoy this 75 minute piece in Ella Marchment's economical and extremely effective production at Lilian Baylis House, the English National Opera's production and admin premises in West Hampstead.  It was a full and enthusiastic house for a polished performance with minimal resources - the thing is that the singing and the playing were first class - with a remarkable instrumental ensemble led by an outstanding Japanese violinist Makoto Nakata, and conducted by the composer.  The cast was led by the Portuguese baritone Ricardo Panela (seen above) in the title role - impressive. 

Marnie mark©Tristram Kenton

Sasha Cooke (Marnie) and Daniel Okulitch (Mark)

But the big one was Marnie at the Coliseum on Saturday evening.  This new opera was a commission by the Metropolitan Opera and is co-produced by them with the English National Opera. Their input into the casting was terrific - with Sasha Cook in the title role and Daniel Okulitch in the lead role of Mark Rutland.  Sasha was with us at COT as Medea in Cavalli's Giasone back in 2010.  We specialised in finding new stars - that was all we could afford in those days!  And the Met delivered the terrific director and creative team - Michael Mayer and colleagues.  The rest was pure ENO at its best with an outstanding team of singers in vital roles - Kathleen Wilkinson, Lesley Garrett, Diana Montague, James Laing, Alasdair Elliott......I could go on......yes, the stunning ENO chorus and orchestra - and all welded together by the authority of Martyn Brabbins, ENO's music director who is making such an impression on the company these days.

We'll see what happens to the opera in the coming years - its performances at the Met will be with a different cast. Isobel Leonard - (another COT alum) - will take on the title role.  She is great but can hardly be better.....! It was a challenge for ENO to get over the claustrophobic menace of the piece in the Coliseum. The challenge at the Met will be no less.

This afternoon I will be at the NOS hearing the current crop in the company of Adrian Kelly who is artistic leader of the Salzburg Festival's young artists programme.  He will be at the Guildhall on Wednesday, and Evamaria Wieser will join the team next week for auditions at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music.  British singers have always done well in Salzburg.  This is the new generation - a great competition!

Tomorrow - a day off with good lunch and dinner dates!

22 days ago |
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I have been either zooming or idle and either condition militates against my keeping up to date with the blog.  After twelve years of doing it with hardly a day missed I have recently, indeed for some months, been neglectful.  Anyway here goes with a catch up:

Les junies la masse-2Les Junies

Tuesday November 7 - I trained it from the charming Gare Austerlitz to Gourdon where Christopher Hunt picked me up in his very snazzy quite new Golf.  SNCF runs some pretty good trains but this was a bit of a horror - ancient rolling stock with hideously uncomfortable couchettes.  And this was supposed to be first class.  I only paid for standard class but even that level was not reached.  And five and a half hours of discomfort is not good.  But the price? A paltry 26 pounds which barely takes you 75 miles in the UK!  I felt I was back in the 1950s!

Les junies la masseFrom Christopher's terrace in La Masse

It was a delight to be back in the Lot where Christopher has been living for some five years now after retiring from Indiana University where he taught for some seven years.  He has a truly lovely place in the hamlet of La Masse, part of the commune of Les Junies.  On this Tuesday evening there was not a single restaurant open in the vicinity - that is to say within a radius of 10 we nevertheless had a fine meal from his store cupboard assisted by Cahors from the cellar!

IMG_6243 (1)Luzech market Wednesday November 8 2017

Wednesday November 8 - a busy day, first to the market in Luzech where cheese and saucisson sec made it into my basket to take home.  Then we made our way to the Château du Cèdre where we picked up a generous quantity of their really excellent Héritage which is available in London at Lea and Sandeman for double the price we paid at the château.  No surprise I suppose - just a shame I could not manage to carry more than half a dozen back to London.....

IMG_6264 (1)Grézels November 8 2017

The highlight of the day was an amazing lunch at La Terrasse - Al Chabrot in Grézels.  This was an unbelievable bargain at €18 each for five delicious courses including a huge carafe of excellent Cahors..........described in the link!

And so eventually back to La Masse and finally dinner at a local restaurant just a mile down the road.

Thursday November 9 - after a slow morning I went off to Gourdon again to get the dreaded train back to Paris. This time I knew what I was in for and adjusted in advance! It is a five and a half hour journey but I ended up very happily in a delightful restaurant, L'ardoise in Le Perreaux-sur-Marne, for a perfect Parisian/Basque dinner!

Friday November 10 - the wonderful Eurostar back to London.  It is really a huge success and I have always found it to be completely reliable (apart from the wi-fi which is useless!). St Pancras International is as good as it gets as a place to arrive by train - and I can get across London to home in less than 30 minutes. We have fantastic public transport in London, really!!

Saturday/Sunday November 11-12 - Family weekend!

Monday November 13 - I am on the Garsington Opera artistic advisory committee and attend many of the auditions for future seasons.  This day we had some time in that excellent space at the Royal Opera House - the Chorus Rehearsal Room where we also hold the Neue Stimmen London auditions.  And it was a particular pleasure to be with Tobias Ringborg, who conducted Garsington's splendid Idomeneo in 2016, and with other Garsington colleagues Laura Canning, Susie Stranders and Sarah Playfair, looking at casting for a future project. 

Tuesday November 14 - a quiet day but a late afternoon visit for auditions at the Coliseum, just catching up with some old friends/colleagues who are in town.  That is London!

Wednesday November 15 - a lovely dinner party chez Polly Lansdowne.  She is an old friend from years ago when she worked at the Royal Opera in John Tooley's time.  Those were great days! Nostalgia.....

Thursday November 16 - Dentist and haircut!! But more to the point - the Dress rehearsal at the Coliseum of Nico Muhly's new opera Marnie which has its world premiere this evening (Saturday).  I will write more about that tomorrow. 

So that is a quick catch up - phew!!

24 days ago |
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Croux hoedt© Studio j'adore ce que vous faites ! / OnP

Marianne Croux and Mateusz Hoedt in Philippe Boesmans' La Ronde/Reigen

The Paris Opera Académie has further developed under the artistic leadership of Christoph Schirm since the arrival of Stéphane Lissner as boss of the Paris Opera.  Monday evening's performance of Philippe Boesmans' Reigen/La Ronde, first performed in Brussels two decades ago, provided ample evidence of the exceptional talent of the singers now in the Académie programme - and I was particularly delighted to see Irish soprano Sarah Shine again after the mark she made in Neue Stimmen in 2015.  She is still barely 24 years old and a valuable new addition to the Paris Opera, as well as being an ambassador for all Irish talent of which so much has emerged from Dublin in recent years.

I was also impressed by Marianne Croux - a new member of this ensemble who has in contrast to Sarah has had more experience.  It is a wonderful voice and she grips the attention.  Both these young women promise much.

Earlier on Today I had the treat of meeting up with Isabel Garcisanz an old friend from Glyndebourne 1966, Wexford 1968 and for half a dozen subsequent seasons.  But I had not seen her for more than 40 time flies!  We had a delicious lunch in the Restaurant Suffren near her apartment.  She is still at work passing on the wisdom and experience of her years to young people at the École Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot.

Yesterday I made my way early in the morning to the charming Gare Austerlitz to get a train to Gourdon where I was met by my old friend Christopher Hunt.  I am spending a couple of days with him in he pretty village of La Masse, down the road from and within the commune of Les Junies - this is in the Lot department and in the Cahors appellation territory! Its a good place to find excellent cheese and saucisse sec as well........I'll bring lots of stuff home!

More reports of good things later!


1 month ago |
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What a day I had yesterday! I went to Nottingham, a slightly under two hour train ride from London's magnificent St Pancras station, saw Opera North's L'enfant et les sortilèges, back to London on the train and thence to Richmond's Orange Tree Theatre for Poison, a remarkable play, a two hander by the Dutch playwright Lot Vekemans.  There were stunning performances by Claire Price and Zubin Varla. This is a must see - and Richmond is so easy to get to, either by underground or really frequent trains from Waterloo, or in my case Clapham Junction, from where its is just 15 minutes.

But I am getting ahead of myself!

The first delight was the train journey to Nottingham yesterday morning on which I had a random encounter with a celebrity, Big Wes and his wonderful wife Yaya, here from Atlanta to attend Nottingham Forest's match against QPR.  It just goes to show always chat to your neighbours on a train journey - you have no idea who you might meet!

NottinghamBig Wes and Yaya

But the real purpose of the journey was twofold - firstly to see Opera North's production of L'enfant et les sortilèges, one of the six works featuring in their imaginative programme of Little Greats.  And secondly to return to the Theatre Royal, the first theatre which I visited as a child, almost exactly 70 years ago!  

Nottingham-2Theatre Royal Nottingham, November 4 2017

This C J Phipps building, later remodelled somewhat by Frank Matcham, is a gem of an eleven hundred seater and I see why this six year old child was so inspired - so much so that he announced that he wanted to work in the theatre "when I grow up"!  And so.........

But the main purpose of the trip was to see Ravel's child, and in this case splendidly played by one of our Neue Stimmen alumnae, the Canadian/Irish mezzo Wallis Giunta, now having a successful career in Europe with a very nice contract in Leipzig as well as much guest work elsewhere. It was a delight to see her again - our paths have not crossed for four years.  And how good also to see John Graham Hall, the multi talented multi faceted and indefatigable tenor all opera producers dream of.

Cropped_Enf_8_654x490© Tristram Kenton

Wallis Giunta and John Graham Hall (Arithmetic)

And so back to London on a 4 pm train - but no Big Wes. He was cheering Nottingham Forest on to a 4-0 thrashing of QPR.

And then to Richmond as described above.  I should declare a family interest in the Orange Tree show.  It was beautifully lit by my distinguished nephew Mark Doubleday!  

I came to Paris this afternoon and am looking forward to seeing the Paris Opera Atelier's production of Philippe Boesmans' La Ronde tomorrow evening.  And I will then be spending three days in Quercy with my old friend Christopher Hunt. 

1 month ago |
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When the National Theatre opened on the South Bank in 1976 I was a regular visitor.  A dear friend from my years in Wexford, Denys Lasdun, was the architect, and Peter Hall, a friend and colleague with whom I worked closely for 20 years at Glyndebourne, was the Director of the NT.  So I saw pretty well all they did in those days - they were part of our family as it were.

Now, after my years in Canada and then in Chicago, and with the inexorable passage of time, the ties have all but disappeared.  But nevertheless it is always a joy to be in this building and seeing the work of the remarkable company.  I know that Denys was often unhappy about some changes that were proposed in his lifetime to his iconic if controversial building.  But I feel sure that he would be proud of where it is now - a splendid functioning theatre for the 21st century for the audiences of today.  And it has a strong sense of permanence about it, unlike some of the other edifices on the South Bank which have not ripened and matured with time.

I now get there not as often as I should with all the other professional imperatives of an operatic and musical nature which take my time when I am in London.  I have to do better......

Josephine-barstow-as-heidi-schiller (1)Anyway yesterday evening I was at Follies - a stunning many layered show, funny, moving, disturbing, tear inducing, but ultimately heart warming as a panorama for someone who has spent 55 years working in this business - and with no desire to stop just yet!  The human condition indeed......

For us opera people of course the event was the appearance of Josephine Barstow (left - click the pic to enlarge) singing splendidly as Heidi Schiller, one of the Follies girls from 1918.  Her remarkable professional life continues.  She was a stalwart of the Arts Council's Opera for All tours of the 1960s - and was our understudy Mimi at Glyndebourne in 1967, and then went on to her fabulous career of course.  And we will be seeing her again on the London operatic stage I feel sure - just wait!

This production of Follies has been ecstatically received so there is no need for me to add anything other than to say "do anything necessary to get a ticket".  Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee (seen below) are worth the price alone, and the huge cast includes Philip Quast and Peter Forbes as their perfectly matched partners.

Imelda-staunton-and-janie-dee-Follies photos © Johan Persson

1 month ago |
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