The Academy of Ancient Music has adorned the London music scene, and more widely around the world, for more than 40 years. The recent death of its founder Christopher Hogwood reminded us, if necessary, of the huge influence that the AAM has had on the early music movement. And it was entirely appropriate that Christopher should have been paid tribute at last night's semi-staged performance of Monteverdi's Poppea.
The AAM put together a stellar cast, including Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role and Sarah Connolly as Nero. Antonacci was a very specific piece of casting, breaking many of the rules - but she could have been remarkable in the role. Alas she withdrew. Her replacement was a no less distinguished and revered artist, Lynne Dawson - and the result of course was also a very different Poppea from one's normal expectations, but as stylish and sophisticated as one would expect from such a fine artist.
Sarah Connolly gave an astonishing performance as Nero - marvellous singing and a remarkable assumption of the character of the appalling Nero. Iestyn Davies, undoubtedly the counter-tenor du jour by a mile, brought all his customary subtlety to his assumption of Ottone - another riveting performance from this splendid artist. Marina de Liso was a powerfully moving Ottavia, and Matthew Rose, the best young bass of the day, completed the main principal line up as Seneca - a fine array indeed.
There was true depth in the casting with striking contributions from Sophie Junker as Drusilla, really lovely, the excellent Daniela Lehner as Damigella, Andrew Tortise a very finely sung Arnalta, and Elmar Gilbertsson a mightily sensuous Lucano in both singing and acting. All other roles were strongly taken, including some sensible double casting, and I must especially mention Charmian Bedford, daughter of my old friends Steuart and Celia, as the excellent La Fortuna.
The other casualty of the evening was the original conductor Richard Egarr - but the AAM had the good fortune to have Robert Howarth in command of his little band of just ten players.
The "semi-staging" was devised by Alexander Oliver and Tim Nelson. And they dealt with the challenge of the Barbican with considerable aplomb. The audience loved it - it was however slightly ironic that the back page of the Barbican program last night was advertising performances at the Wanamaker Playhouse, site of the last performance I saw of a Venetian opera, Cavalli's L'Ormindo.
When Nicholas Hytner's production of Xerxes was unveiled at the Coliseum in 1985 it was clear that Handel at last, on his 300th birthday, had taken his rightful place as central to our repertoire - Hytner had found a way to communicate in 20th century theatrical language, with a not small contribution from Charles Mackerras in the pit, the humanity of this operatic genius and the universal appeal of his operas. We now take all this for granted as so many of Handel's operas have taken their place in the repertoire of the "grand opera" houses of North America and Europe. The influence of this production can not be over estimated.
And so has also emerged a remarkable family of opera singers who think nothing of singing Handel at the Met or Munich, and an army of outstanding counter-tenors in the place of the three or four that one might have identified 40 years ago.
ENO has had a distinguished record in this repertory since 1985. While Semele had been produced at Sadler's Wells, only the excellent John Copley production of Julius Caesar had been seen at the Coliseum before the Hytner breakthrough.
© Mike Hoban/ENO
Alice Coote and Sarah Tynan
The title role of Xerxes, taken with such distinction by Ann Murray in 1985, has seen Sarah Connolly and now, in the current revival Alice Coote - our three unequalled Handelian mezzos of recent years. And Alice Coote was joined with utter distinction by Sarah Tynan as Romilda. Alice Coote gives a riveting performance in every department - such a joy to see and hear such engagement as she completely inhabits the role.
With a fine group of singers in the other roles, notably Neal Davies and Andrew Watts, and Harewood artists Rhian Lois and Catherine Young, we had a real company performance showing once again the strength in depth of the indispensable English National Opera. Yet another happy evening at the Coliseum.
I am sure the gardeners welcome the rain but it is bleak out there this morning.......
The opera program at the RAM has got off to a very quick start just three weeks into their with a two hour programme of scenes which was somewhat blighted by the illness of their best young people Emily Vine and Bradley Smith. But, resourceful as ever, Jane Glover and her team improvised with valiant performances at a day's notice from Christopher Diffey and Christine Buras from the side of the stage, with Emily and Bradley acting .....it is a proven technique not infrequently used in more august locations than a conservatory.
Photo courtesy RAM
Emily Vine, Angharad Lyddon with Henry Neill in Korngold's Die tote Stadt
The program was remarkably varied with Poulenc, Rossini, Monteverdi, Korngold, Cimrosa, Berlioz and Richard Strauss all making contributions. The very clever John Ramster and his designers Jake Wiltshire and Patrick Doyle made seamless transitions between each scene - some achievement.
There were striking contributions from Bozidar Smiljanic and Henry Neill, two very promising young singers, and clearly the rest of RAM Opera 2014-15, many familiar from their recent performances there, are off to a busy start to their year. We look forward to seeing them in full production mode in a Puccini double bill in November.
This evening I am at the Coliseum for Xerxes - and tomorrow Poppea at the Barbican. And for something completely different Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House on Monday.
Meanwhile we can enjoy yet another beautiful October day.
I have had a few days of catching up with old friends and colleagues, and a few more to go this week. Last week it was the perennial delight of seeing Tom Graham who is as relaxed and amusing as ever, a big heart and a sharp observer of our musical environment. Nobody can get away with anything......!
The occasion was celebration of his 70th birthday. He had three - one in New York and two here in London the first of which I missed as I was in Denmark. As always at such events there were many old friends and colleagues - a happy occasion all round.
On Monday I was delighted to see John Willan after quite a little time, for lunch at the excellent Union Café in Marylebone Lane. John was boss of the LPO during my last years at Glyndebourne, had an immensely successful spell at BBC Worldwide, was co-founder of Hazard Chase, and has recently opened a new "boutique" management company - Percius - which is already making waves.
There were more reminiscences on Tuesday with Alexander Oliver coming to dinner at Battersea. Sandy is in London to direct the Academy of Ancient Music's semi staged performance of Poppea at the Barbican on Saturday evening. This takes us back to the beginnings of Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1968 - and Sandy has just retired from the leadership of the Opera programme of the Amsterdam Conservatory. So almost 50 years of stories!
And today Christopher Hunt, who is in London for a few days from his home in France, was another visitor to Battersea. So more catching up again.......
This evening I am at the Royal Academy of Music for the first Opera Scenes event of their academic year. More about that tomorrow.
From the first bar of Otello last night at the Coliseum it was clear that we were in for an evening of great music making under the inspiring guidance of Edward Gardner. The ENO orchestra and chorus have delivered some spectacular performances under their music director in the last 12 months - great scores such as Peter Grimes and Benvenuto Cellini come to mind, and now Otello . It has been a rich period and he will be greatly missed - lucky (clever) Bergen to have him in succession to Andrew Litton.
© Alistair Muir/ENO
In the cast first and foremost were the superb performances of Stewart Skelton and Jonathan Summers (above). In addition there was a notable Cassio from Alan Clayton and some splendid full blooded singing from the Desdemona Leah Crocetto. An as always at ENO these days there was strong casting down to the last little detail.
David Alden is unerring in my view - such an intelligent and musical director whose work at ENO has over the years given such lustre to the house.
I hate to mention my unease with this piece in English - but the adjustment was relatively easy with such fine performanes in all departments............funny thing, did not get the same feeling with the recent Traviata and Rigoletto. Maybe it is just the unique character of the word Bacio! Somehow "kiss" does not quite make the grade!
It is a lovely day today in London but what a struggle to get here yesterday! After my truly wonderful week in Odense, brilliantly organised, delightful people, calm and unhurried, I came down to earth with a bang!
First my SAS flight to London was cancelled. They then assumed that it would be just fine to rebook me on a 7:30 am flight this morning. Fortunately I was being handled by a super star customer service person who agreed that this was unacceptable. If only he knew what I then went through! The solution of flying on Lufthansa through Frankfurt seemed reasonable enough. What then followed was an historic catalogue of ineptitude, lies, and rudeness! It is not a good idea to fly economy on Lufthansa. This company employs world champion patronising little officials in uniforms.
1. We could not board the flight to Amsterdam because the wheelchair had not arrived to take a disabled passenger off the incoming flight until one hour after that flight arrived!
2. We were informed that the reason for the flight delay was weather - we knew better!
3. Transferring from the arrival gate to the departure gate was a marathon hike. And passport control out of Germany into this non-Schengen country is a laborious, understaffed, and over zealous, therefore time consuming procedure.
4. The Frankfurst London flight departed 90 minutes late - weather was the explanation again - no one believed it!
5. My carry on, which has been with me unquestioned for a good 2500,000 miles during the last three years, including on the previous flight from Copenhagen to Frankfurt of course, was suddenly deemed to be too large! And the miserable little creature who dealt with this issue might need some education in manners in addition to good customer practice.........
I ended up four and a half hours late. Well many people, including me, have experienced worse on premium airlines that are their countries standard bearers - but almost always with good honest explanations and courteous helpful airline staff.
But Lufthansa will definitely not be seeing me sometime soon, if ever.
Apart from that dear readers I am feeling invigorated and happy after my week in Denmark and looking forward to being back there next year. And this week my first operatic excitement will be Othello at ENO. That will be on Thursday.
back in London after a horror travel day - more detail tomorrow!
Saturday is market day in front of the Concert Hall in Odense - and so it was this morning when I went out for another walk about in this delightful place. But the focus of the day was the finals this evening. They are now over and we have the winners.
First was Sébastian Jacot who has given mature performances all week
Second was Yukie Ota who also took no less than three other awards - the children's prize (voted by the children of Odense), the Orchestra Prize, voted by the orchestra, and the Public's prize. A remarkable achievement.
And third was the stunning 18 year old Korean Yaeram Park who throughout the competition showed extraordinary musical integrity - the only player to perform Berio's Sequenza by memory.
It was a fine evening of music making with the first rate Odense Symphony Orchestra conducted by jury member Patrick Gallois. To hear the Carl Nielsen Flute concerto three times in an evening was a real treat. What a fine work it is.......
I am really sad to be leaving here tomorrow morning. I will be leaving a lovely group of new friends and colleagues. We have worked so happily together this last week, listening and eating together and sharing so much. The competition has been beautifully managed by the Odense Symphony Orchestra and Nordic Artists teams, all co-ordinated by the ever cheerful, though overworked as they always are, project manager Georgina Mongaya Høgsholm.
I am looking forward to being back in Denmark next year when I will be on the jury of the Nikolai Malko conductors competition.
Late night news - the three contestants who qualified this evening for the finals are:
Yukie Ota - the now world famous Butterfly girl from Japan by way of Chicago
Sébastian Jacot - a Swiss flautist from Geneva
Yaeram Park - an eighteen year old young woman from South Korea, studying in Paris
Tomorrow evening each will play the first movemment of one of the Mozart Flute concertos, and the Carl Nielsen Flute concerto, in its entirety of course.
Now for sleep - it was a long day.
There was a spectacular concert by the eight flautist members of the jury yesterday evening - pure joyful music making by eight star players totally endowed with enthusiasm and joy, as well as skills of the highest order.
Flute playing members of my readership may particularly appreciate this for the repertoire for this kind of concert is full of riches largely unknown by the general music loving public.
We began with a delicious Trio Sonata in C major by CPE Bach - played by András Adorján and Rune Most, with the excellent Leif Greibe at the piano, as he was all evening when required. This was followed by the star trio of Patrick Gallois, Robert Langevin and Raffaele Trevisiani with Kuhlau's Op 13 no 2 for three flutes. The amazing duo of Danish flautists Thomas Jensen and Toke Lund Christiansen then gave us a suite from Carl Nielsen's Aladdin music - four dances arranged by Toke - and a phenomenally entertaining thing it is. It is wonderful material for any occasion when two outstanding players are available. This was followed by an intensely musical performance of two of Schumann's Op 94 Romances, played by Robert Langevin.
The great Pierre-Yves Artaud then took his piccolo from his pocket saying that he doesn't really like it. But he wrote a piece for it fifteen years ago just to see whether it would be possible to play with elaborate extended techniques on "this little machine" and actually produce a pianissimo. Well of course he did with this splendid little piece Eole (this is the French name for the Greek God of winds.) So you flautists out there who haven't tried this do so - its fun and its composer brought the house down!
Pierre-Yves continued with a performance of Yoshihisa Taïra's Filigrane for flute and piano - another fascinating piece pushing way beyond what I thought to be the boundaries of what is possible with the flute. This week has been an education indeed!
András then played Wilhelm Popp's Opus 407 (!) - a splendid czardas for flute and piano called Gruss an Ungarn. At last something in András's mother musical tongue, albeit written by a German.
After a short pause we had something more conventional though no less delicious - Mozart's Flute Quartet K 285, played by Rune Most with colleagues from the Odense orchestra, and the evening ended with the Denisov piece illustrated in my blog yesterday!
It was a joyful evening amongst a group of amazing characters who adore their instrument and clearly love and respect each other. This was the very best of professional music making - and it was a huge privilege to have been there with them.
This morning we had the first half of the semi finals. This evening we have the rest with orchestra. In the meantime I took another quick spin around town on this sunny afternoon. It is a delightful place!
The garden of the Hans Christian Andersen house, Odense
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