It is always such a pleasure to come to Vilnius, Lithuania's delightful capital. The warmth of the people, the quiet way the city goes about its daily business, and the character of this little city, all prove attractive, and the more so on repeated visits.
After some morning shopping and a delicious salad lunch in a Greek restaurant on Pilies Street in the old city, I made my way to the opera house through Cathedral Square, pictured above. I then heard a dozen singers between 1:30 and 4 - a nice assortment, four Lithuanians, three from Belarus, two from Latvia, and one each from Finland, Russia and Poland.
Belarus continues to produce excellent young singers. I note that a Belarus soprano is one of the five finalists in Cardiff's BBC competition this week. And each of the three yesterday were excellent, one a certain finalist for us, one high on the waiting list, and one immensely talented one who should compete even more strongly in 2017.
So up to that point it was a good day. Then things unravelled - the culprit being Brussels Airlines, the successor to the dysfunctional SABENA, Belgium's bankrupt national carrier. Connections from Vilnius are pretty poor so oddly I had to fly to Berlin via Brussels. We were late out of Vilnius, and emulating the worst excesses of Ryanair they even charged €2.50 for water. We were then 55 minutes late out of Brussels, unexplained and not apologised for. This airline is part of the Star Alliance. They do the brand no good at all. Never mind - as the flight attendant so inelegantly put it "you have a choice, next time don't fly with us". You will be glad to know that I did not return the ball with the words that Boris Johnson might have chosen.
I have a day off in Berlin before two eleven hour days over the weekend.
I am now in Vilnius - and I am looking forward to a full three hours of auditions tomorrow. In addition to the Lithuanians there will be some from Belarus which is close by. Minsk is just two an half hours from here by bus - some 110 miles only I think.
I flew here via Stockholm where I transferred to a delightful little Saab aircraft with propellers - a comfortable 85 minute flight south east from Stockholm on a clear afternoon.......
I arrived in Vilnius at 5:30 local time - Lithuania is two hours ahead of London - to find that my favourite hotel, the Narutis, had overbooked so I was bumped out to the Ramada.....its just about OK for the one night I am here, but I am especially fond of the Narutis having always stayed there during the last ten years. I hope they will have me back next time, in 2017!
I will pop out for supper at some point - not straying too far from this part of the old town.
The Café Montmartre and the Ramada Hotel, Vilnius 7:30 pm June 17 2015
Well after Tbilisi zoo problems I am back in London but not before encountering another zoo - UK Border control at Heathrow. Above was the scene in Terminal 5 yesterday evening. It is embarrassing that the UK government fails in so many areas, but this is a very public area. There were 12 desks for officials to deal with EU arrivals - and eight empty desks. So the result is clear to see. After a long day it is mightily frustrating. British Airways will blame Heathrow, Heathrow will blame UK Border agency, they will blame the Home Office - and so it goes.
Having passed with ease through immigration in quite large airports with high volumes in recent weeks - Tokyo, Beijing, Chicago for example - the comparisons are plain. Not good!
I am having a quiet day in otherwise beautiful sunny London - time to catch up with family and friends before setting out again to Vilnius tomorrow, then on to Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam.
There was a flood and wild animals are out on the streets of Tbilisi. So I thought it right that I should postpone my visit to Georgia for a few days. So I am returning to London this afternoon and will resume my trip on Wednesday when I fly to Vilnius.
Meanwhile we have had a heavy two day schedule in Munich with some splendid singing, particularly yesterday. I was joined by Evamaria Wieser and Francisco Araiza on the audition panel and as always we had a fun as well as serious time! Both are members of the jury for the finals, and Evamaria shares with me some of the burden of the preliminary process. She is off to Kiev and Moscow this morning, and we will meet up again in Berlin on Saturday. At that point we will compare notes and start tackling the increasing waiting list. I expect that Evamaria will find some really strong candidates in Russia and Ukraine - two wonderful sources for exceptional talent. They may very well bump some of the current waiting lit off the top position!
It is raining relentlessly in Munich so I will be doing paper work until I leave later.
The ENO Queen of Spades is yet another serious contribution to London operatic life of the kind that only ENO is capable of delivering. It is in a long line of distinguished and exciting work that I have enjoyed in the house since I returned to London in 2012. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way things are done that this company should be under threat from the government, the government covering their backsides by saying that it is up to the Arts Council of England and "nothing to do with me, Guv"!! Disgraceful behaviour, but what else is new?
One hankers for the days of strong, principled, and knowledgable people in the ministry responsible for the arts. There have been many in the past - notably including Jennie Lee, David Eccles, Jack Donaldson, Norman St John Stevas, Tim Renton, David Mellor and Chris Smith. But the three past incumbents during the present government's regime since 2010 were hopeless, and the new guy looks no more promising. We must give him time I suppose........he is David Cameron's fourth attempt to get it right.
Anyway, back to the splendid performance of Spades. Edward Gardner has presided over the constant improvement of the core of the company, the chorus and orchestra, to a level that has put them at the top of the pile. We saw and heard that again in this production. Gardner will be missed when he leaves for Bergen.
Peter Hoare's assumption of the role of Hermann, at a late stage I gather, was triumphant - a remarkable performance. And Felicity Palmer? - well lost for words..........All in all however it was a company effort and another feather in David Alden's and ENO's caps. Go to it if you have not done so already.
Now in Munich and we have auditions all afternoon, and a marathon tomorrow.
The view from the Gothenburg Opera House 1pm June 12 2015
It has been a long day......but I am now in Munich after an extremely productive few hours in Gothenburg where I captured two finalists for Neue Stimmen - each has a realistic prospect of doing exceptionally well there in October.
The auditions were in the Gothenburg Opera House, on the stage....the house has a wonderful acoustic so all candidates had the best possible opportunity. These two raised the bar.........we still have Munich and Berlin to do, and Moscow and Kiev - but I am already getting a really good feeling about Neue Stimmen 2015.
I flew to Munich this evening, ready for no less than 150 singers over the weekend. Maybe they will not all show up.....there is usually a casualty rate!
I will write about the superb performance and production of The Queen of Spades at the Coliseum tomorrow morning. Now too late to do it justice!
It has been a pretty frantic few days back in London before I take off again to Gothenberg tomorrow early morninng. So this is a quick round up.
I greatly enjoyed the Poliuto at Glyndebourne on Sunday. I found the production much more interesting than the press reviews had indicated, and the singing rather less amazing than likewise forecast. I guess it is often a matter of managing expectations! In any case I am always delighted to see an opera for the first time, in this case particularly since I had enjoyed the French version Les Martyrs so much when it was given a concert performance by Opera Rara in the Royal Festival Hall earlier in the season. And the recently issued recording made in the days prior to the splendid concert is well worth getting.
But back to Glyndebourne - of course the voices were wonderful with a really well chosen cast of exceptional young voices. But the art of bel canto is elusive these days - with the finest "singing" coming from Matthew Rose, and the other magnificent voices not, for me, quite getting to the heart of the style. But it was a great Glyndebourne evening and a "must see" for all truly curious about our art form!
Tuesday brought me back to earth with a long list for Neue Stimmen at the ever hospitable Royal Opera House. I think that we will have a couple of qualifiers there, with a significant number of additions to the waiting list.
I am in Gothenburg tomorrow, and on to Munich for auditions there on Saturday and Sunday. After that we should be in a position to tackle the waiting list........
This evening I am at the Queen of Spades at English National Opera. The new production has been warmly received so I think we are in for an absorbing evening.
© Donald Cooper/ENO
Peter Hoare and Felicity Palmer in ENO's Queen of Spades June 2015
And I have taken two days off the blog.......I have earned it!
I am now at the Royal Opera House waiting for the start of the London Neue Stimmen auditions. We have 40 today. I will write about my Glyndebourne visit to Poliuto when I have time tomorrow........but for now it is all go.
It has been a wonderful two weeks here in Montreal for the Voice edition of their International Music Competition. The organisation has been superb and the hospitality unmatched. Everyone fortunate enough to have been involved here will have gone away appreciating the warmth of the Canadian welcome.
As for the prize winners - well there were more awards announced yesterday evening, notably for the exceptional French soprano Anaïs Constans who scooped the Song Prize and the prize for the best semi-final recital. She eventually walked away with $9,500 - not bad for a runner up. She was particularly delighted that her excellence in the song repertoire was recognised. She now goes off to Cardiff where she should do very well.
The audience prize went to the 2nd prize winner, Hyesang Park. This lovely voice and personality captured the audience on her every appearance. She has just graduated from Juilliard and will be in the Met's Lindemann programme from next season. Only 26 years old she is well on her way..........
I fly to London this evening.
The whole company of contestants, jury, management, staff and board members, also sponsors and other generous friends of the Montreal Competition, had an evening to remember at André Bourbeau's lovely farm in Dunham, an 80 kilometre ride from Montreal. It was a glorious evening to be out in the country, and the Bourbeaus' warm generosity in hosting this motley crew was a wonderful end to the two weeks of competition.
The real final event is this evening, a gala concert preceded by the announcement of the remaining prizes and the official awards ceremony. At the concert all the finalists will sing again, the winner three arias, the second and third placed two each, and the runners up one each. It will be a lovely showcase of the best of these young people. The Canadian Opera Company's Johannes Debus will conduct the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
And thus I will come to the end of my five week round the world trip. I fly back to London tomorrow evening, and am crazy enough to have planned a visit to Glyndebourne to see Poliuto on Sunday......
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