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Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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GarnierGarnier from the "Gods" 7:15 pm February 6 2016

I was once again high up in the opera on Saturday evening, this time in Paris for Robert Carsen's production of Capriccio, now running until February 14.  Here was a bird's eye view again, with the usual advantage of wonderful sound and perfect balance between pit and stage, orchestra and voices. And what a grand old house it is - and so good to see it full and at prices more modest that we have alas been forced to become accustomed to in London.

Richard Strauss's last opera has long been a favourite of mine, partly sentimental of course since it was first produced at Glyndebourne during my second year of employment there, in 1963 with the peerless Elisabeth Söderström as the Countess.  But it is very satisfying provided you can follow the argument - and in Paris they kindly do the supertitles in both French and English!  And the never ending ability of Strauss to spin out a melody at such length remains unique and, in my case, gut wrenchingly pleasing!  So one way or another there is never a dull moment!

And it was good to do it without interval as intended.  At Glyndebourne (as elsewhere these days) the hiatus came with the serving of the Countess's chocolate - and so the audience went off for the long dinner interval.  But here the catering department was not troubled, and we saw the piece through seamlessly to the end in 150 minutes.

Whilst the cast was hardly a vintage one there were fine performances from Benjamin Bernheim as Flamand and Lars Woldt (Glyndebourne's most recent Baron Ochs) as La Roche.  And Emily Magee's Countess did well the dim the memory of Söderström and Felicity Lott who were both magnificent in the role.  And by no means least was veteran (he is my age!) Graham Clark as M. Taupe - really excellent.  Ryland Davies had taken the role here in Paris last time round - that must have also have been a treat!  Of course it was beloved Hugues Cuénod in the old days......

Ingo Metzmacher got the best out of the Paris Opera Orchestra - and that can be very good indeed. As as mentioned above the sound from the amphithéâtre is splendid.

Finally a comparison of the upper reaches of Covent Garden and the Palais Garner?  It is a tie - anyone should be happy with either and they provide excellent value for money!

I am back in London tomorrow and off to Izmir in Turkey on Thursday for jury service.  I am greatly looking forward to that!

2 months ago | |
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I took the 6:20 am Eurostar to Paris yesterday morning in order to attend the memorial mass for my dear old friend and colleague Jean-Albert Cartier who passed away just after Christmas.  I had the good fortune to work closely with him over three decades - beginning in Angers in 1974 and then in Nancy, at the Châtelet, and finally in Nice (1994-1997).  He was a man of extraordinary sensibility and sensitivity, a man of emotion and passion, of fine discrimination, and demanding only the best at all times.  

The service was at the Church of St. Roch, the "church of the artists", where Diderot and Corneille are buried.  Jean-Albert's family and close friends and colleagues were there, people from the dance world in particular as well as those from our opera family.  It was a good time to share our memories of him - and I was particularly happy to see there some of those with whom I worked with him - including Diego and Gite Masson, Marc Minkowski, Felicity Lott, Willard White, and Beatrice de Laage, who has been with the Aix festival since 1994 but started her career with Jean-Albert.  We all loved him........

Yesterday evening I was at the the Palais Garnier for Capriccio - I will write this evening about that.

 

2 months ago | |
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ROH Gods

View from the "Gods" Royal Opera House 7:25 pm Wednesday February 3 2016

L'Etoile, Emmanuel Chabrier's absurdist and frothy romp, one of the most delightful of the many lesser known corners of the French 19th century repertoire, finally arrived at the Royal Opera House on Monday.  I was there for the second performance yesterday, sitting high up in the "Gods" - where I spent so many happy hours during my teen years in the 1950s when company artists such as Jon Vickers and Joan Sutherland were appearing on routine evenings.  Now, as then, it is the regular haunt of the rather young and the rather old.  I have made the leap!

It was an enjoyable evening, enhanced by a chance encounter with my great niece who is now working in the opera business following graduation from York.  The enchanting score, studded with jewels only an impeccable miniaturist such as Chabrier could have created, was the thing - sometimes buried I felt perhaps by non stop business on the stage in the rather large Covent Garden.  But there were two particularly striking performances to make the trip to see this piece above average - a wonderful Canadian soprano Hélène Guilmette as Laoula, and Kate Lindsey as Lazuli - the one with the show stopping number Ô petite étoile.

Guilmette is a rare vocal beauty - wonderfully beguiling sound to stop the heart - and a complete performer.  I see she will be Héro in Glyndebourne's Béatrice et Bénédict this coming summer.  That may well also be worth the trip!  And Kate Lindsey stole our hearts too - that she made me think of Frederica von Stade is a compliment not an adverse comparison!  But Flicka would indeed have been, and was, a superlative Lazuli........

The rest of the largely French or Canadian cast (notably Christophe Mortagne, François Piolino, Julie Boulianne, and Aimery Lefèvre) were into it with impeccable style - these pieces require authenticity if they are to be exported/imported.  But somehow like Swiss wine (as Hugues Gall was fond of saying) they do not always travel well.   I think that by and large it is better to leave them as they are and not try to be helpful to the English audience by introducing Holmes and Watson and Eurostar into the plot!

But I am so thrilled that Covent Garden brought this delicacy to town - and with the music in the hands of the remarkable Mark Elder, refined, elegant, deliciously pointed playing elicited from the Covent Garden Orchestra, we must be more than just grateful.

I will be up in the Gods again on Saturday for Capriccio in Paris.  It will be interesting to compare the Palais Garnier experience with that at Covent Garden......you will hear from me!

2 months ago | |
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Five-Finger-ExercisePhoto: © Marc Brenner

Terenia Edwards (Pamela) and Lorne MacFadyen (Walter) in Five Finger Exercise

Five Finger Exercise was Peter Shaffer's first major hit and it has been revived in the amazing Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill Gate and is well worth the trip to this famous neighbourhood.  But it is only on until February 13.

I was there yesterday evening for this absorbing production of a sometimes distressingly high octane domestic drama from the 1950s.  The 32 year old Peter Shaffer was already showing the brilliance that later resulted in Amadeus and Equus.

The Coronet is in the early stages of being restored. I hope they do not overdo it - it really doesn't need to be cleaned up too much! I was intrigued to discover two coincidental pieces of trivia - this was the theatre where the great John Gielgud saw his first Shakespeare play, As You Like it, in 1912 at the age of 8.  And Gielgud was the director of the first production of Five Finger Exercise in the West End in 1958........

This evening I have something completely different - Chabrier's L'Étoile at the Royal Opera House.

2 months ago | |
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Cast in HangmenPhoto © Helen Maybanks

I very foolishly overlooked going to see Hangmen at the Royal Court, my lovely neighbourhood theatre in Sloane Square just ten minutes bus ride away, when it was on in September.  But it had been a hard six months and my eye was off the ball.  But I made up for it yesterday evening after its transfer for a limited run to the Wyndham's Theatre in the West End.  It has been a huge hit and appears to be a hot ticket - it is only on until early March.

For many it may appear to be in a foreign language - it is set in Oldham, Lancashire, home town of Eva Turner. If only you could bring her along to translate.  But maybe if you could get hold of John Rawnsley.........

It is a wonderful evening full of laughter, much of it dark and some of it decidedly not PC.  But hey!.......it is superbly acted and directed (by Matthew Dunster) and is surely another enduring classic from the magical pen of Martin McDonagh.

Do try to get tickets -

3 months ago | |
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Dduval

We mourn Denise Duval who died on Monday in Switzerland.  She was associated with Francis Poulenc for the last 16 years of his life, a friend, a colleague, an inspiration, and often dubbed his "muse".  He died in 1963, and her career was cut short by illness two years later.........she was Mélisande at Glyndebourne in 1962 and 1963 so I was fortunate to have encountered, at very close hand indeed, the magic of this artist, at so many of the rehearsals of Carl Ebert's last production for Glyndebourne, and passing on notes to her after the stage and orchestra rehearsals!  What a presumption - but how adorable she was.

A live recording from 1963 is available on CD.

3 months ago | |
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Many of you have written wishing me a Happy New Year and worrying about where I have gone!  I am touched and grateful for your concern.  I am alive and well and have been taking an unannounced pause after over ten years of almost daily blog postings.  It has been a long Christmas and New Year holiday this year with everything shutting down it seemed from December 18 to January 4.  I meanwhile have seen my new grand daughter as well as the ten other grandchildren in various combinations!  And it has been a grand period of catching up with friends.  

Errol and Susie Girdlestone have been in town from Nice - Errol auditioning with David Agler for the 2016 Wexford Festival company.  They are off to continue the process in Dublin tomorrow.  I was delighted to have them for dinner on Thursday with David and Carol Lloyd Jones.  David and Errol were colleagues at ENO all those years ago in the Mackerras/Goodall days, and were both with us with the European Union Opera in Baden-Baden for the Eugene Onegin in 1998.  So this was a wonderful evening of catching up, David as usual full of hilarious stories and reminiscences.

Now I will gradually be getting the blog up and running again. I have a few interesting events in my calendar in the coming weeks - including eight days in Turkey on the jury of the Izmir voice competition, and a week in the US - Omaha and Chicago!  

I will be in Paris in early February - for the Mass for my dear friend and colleague Jean-Albert Cartier who died just after Christmas.  We worked together between 1974 and 1997 - in Angers, Nancy, the Châtelet, and finally in Nice.  

And I expect to get to Lisbon for Iphigénie en Tauride, to be directed by James Darrah, who did such distinguished work for us in Chicago and whose career goes from strength to strength.……

Meanwhile there is much going in London as always.  But more of that as it happens……..

3 months ago | |
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The Wigmore Hall has upped its game over the years since John Gilhooley took charge.  He has done a great job in expanding the chamber music activity as well as serving the world of the "art song" very comprehensively.  The current Schubert project is a remarkable achievement and by and large the song series overall gives us in London the world's best practitioners! 

Wednesday evening's recital was by Patricia Petibon who was was rightly, I think, described in the Guardian as "a voice mixing muslin and steel, this beguiling performer defied classification in a show that was more surreal revue than recital".  And when her CD appeared, labelled, as was this recital, as La Belle Excentrique, it divided the cognoscenti many of whom felt that French song was not being well served.......

We have been somewhat spoilt here, oddly you may say, with such artists as Felicity Lott, Graham Johnson, and Malcolm Martineau acting as superb advocates and exponents of this repertoire, and all three widely admired in France as well. François Le Roux seems to be the chief passionate and informed scholar/performer keeping safe the integrity of French song.

I am having a quiet time as you may have gathered - though the Christmas shopping for my huge family has taken its toll.  I am off to Somerset tomorrow to inspect grandchild number 11.  I will be there for 36 hours or so - back on Sunday evening.

4 months ago | |
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Battersea lake-2
I have been occupied and preoccupied by matters away from the musical and operatic scene these last ten days.  But i have managed to enjoy the beauties of my local park which I can see from my desk.  And have also rejoiced in the odd sunny day this remarkably mild December here in London.  We were promised the devil of a cold Christmas - well there is time I suppose!  Meanwhile you get the flavour from the above picture taken on a short walk in the park a day or two ago.

Meanwhile it is Christmas shopping for my growing family, and school plays and carol service for my youngest daughter ending today her first term at Latymer Upper School.

4 months ago | |
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One of the most valuable features of the opera programmes in the London conservatories is the inclusion scenes in addition to the three or so full productions that are mounted each year.  The Guildhall School are particularly good at this and are fortunate to have some wonderful facilities of various sizes in which they can present these programmes to the best advantage. 

I attended their current programmes on Monday evening and it was one of the most enjoyable I can remember - beautifully planned and supremely well executed.  The young singers were all stretched, yet never overparted.  Here was a really good example of thoughtful challenges giving these young people the best possible opportunities to develop the skills and self knowledge that they will need as they enter the profession.

My standouts were many - Bianca Andrew in all she did - Sonya in the War and Peace excerpt, Zerlina, and Chérubin.  Here is someone to watch - as is young baritone Dominic Sedgwick - a perfect Sid in the Albert Herring scene. Joanna Skillett showed the virtues of passion and commitment with her Rodelinda in particular, and I greatly enjoyed Margo Arsane's Adina. There were no weak links and this is due to the understanding and skill of the Guildhall's opera director Dominic Wheeler, and the man who put together these scenes in an effective and seamless sequence, Martin Lloyd-Evans. Very good stuff indeed.

And last, but by no means least at all, we must recognise the young Canadian pianist Erika Gundesen who would be a priceless addition to any opera company's music staff.  It is so good to see fine keyboard players devoting themselves to working in opera and with singers.

I have had a busy past five days or so joining the team from the Salzburg Festival to survey the emerging talent from the London conservatories as well as the Harewood programme at ENO.  I have little doubt that some of those we heard will be invited to join the Salzburg young artists programme in 2016.  We still manage to train people pretty well here in London, and they come from all over the world to be part of the excellent opera programmes at the Guildhall, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Royal College of Music.  They were rewarding sessions led by Evamaria Wieser and Adrian Kelly.

And on a personal note, yesterday, bang on time, my eleventh grandchild was born just before 11 am.  Its a girl bringing the tally to eight boys and now three girls.  I am happy and proud!!

4 months ago | |
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