Classical Music Buzz > Brian Dickie
Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
2717 Entries

Agrigento

This was a backdrop for the performance of La Bohème in Agrigento yesterday evening.  And what a trip to was - pretty well worth every moment to see the remarkable temples at Agrigento, albeit in dusk and eventual darkness, and from a certain distance.....I will be back to get the full experience in due course, as well as the rest of Sicily's Greek inheritance. Remarkably in all the years of travelling the world I have never made it to Sicily until now.  

Of course this was a remarkable setting for the young singers of this summer programme at Caltagirone to perform their excellent concise version of La Bohème.  I will be doing a summing up of all my experiences here in due course.  Meanwhile I will just express my pleasure at the touching performances from the Samoan born New Zealander Marlena Devoe and Tai Collins as Mimi and Rodolfo, the energetic and really well sung Schaunard of Arshak Kuzikyan, and the extraordinarily beautifully voiced Marcello of the teenage Maltese baritone Charles Buttigieg - a remarkable find and a young man who has much exciting work ahead of him as he develops over the coming years.  What a start!

I had another two sessions yesterday before the departure to Agrigento.  It is such a joy to be working with these young people from all over the world - they may not be lapping up all my words of "wisdom" but we are having a lot of fun and I guess some of them are learning a few tricks, as well as the need to think carefully about the choices they make when in this disagreeable but inevitable audition situation!

We all took off for Agrigento some 40 minutes later than intended yesterday, and one way and another managed to get further behind and only got back to Caltagirone at 3 am.  I was on parade again at 11 this morning - that was fine.  But Jack LiVigni, our boss, was already rehearsing at 9 am - that I could scarcely believe when I arrived.  He had been on that same bus.......! He is an inspiration and example to us all!

4 months ago |
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I am here in Caltagirone, some 40 miles south west of Catania, joining the Mediterranean Opera Studio and Festival, part of the team guiding an extremely talented group of young singers from all over the world through the first stages of their professional careers.  I am hoping that some of my long experience may be of some interest and even help to them whilst they navigate their lives at this important stage.  I held my first "class" yesterday afternoon during which new discussed the various tricks and tips that might be useful in the dreaded audition process, so much part of their lives at present.  I hope to see them all both collectively and individually during the coming days.  I am here until Saturday.

Part of their programme includes performances.  This evening we all go off to Agrigento for La Bohème in the Valley of the Temples.  This should be a spectacular location!

Meanwhile yesterday was the eve of St James' Day - and the occasion for the spectacular candle lighting of the staircase of Santa Maria del Monte in Caltagirone.  

Caltagirone

Above you see the early evening preparations for the "event".  And below you see the result - and the crowds!

Caltagirone-2

There was time for dinner with some of my colleagues in an excellent restaurant near by - La Piazzetta.  This is the place to go if you visit this enchanting place.

4 months ago |
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Ariadne Gly© Robert Workman

I went to the decidedly odd production of Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne yesterday evening - amply described elsewhere when it was first seen, and again on the occasion of this revival.  So I wont go into that!  But I have to say that the astonishing singing of the title role eliminated all reservations to a distant back burner - Lise Davidsen appeared to be all that she was touted to be, and then some.  And now I look forward to seeing her in Wexford in October in Cherubini's Medea.  That will be something indeed.......

Glyndebourne has had a long and distinguished attachment to Richard Strauss.  The first Music Director Fritz Busch was, of course, a long time colleague of Strauss and thus it was natural that Ariadne (perfect for the house) should enter the repertoire - way back in 1953.  In fact Busch never conducted it at Glyndebourne, not even when the first version (without the Vorspiel) had been done two years before at the Edinburgh Festival.  (Sir Thomas Beecham conducted it then)

Glyndebourne's love affair with Strauss persisted for decades - the next piece was Der Rosenkavalier in 1959 - directed by Carl Ebert with an historic cast - Régine Crespin, Elisabeth Soderstrom and Anneliese Rothenberger.  And then in 1963 Capriccio with Soderstrom.  In 1965 Rosenkavalier was revived, memorably conducted by John Pritchard, with Caballé, Zylis-Gara, and Mathis.  I sat through all those rehearsals and most of the performances.  I still dream of hearing the Act 3 trio sounding more sensuous and utterly thrilling.  It will never.

The 1970s brought Ariadne back in John Cox's brilliant production, which he then followed with his remarkable adaptation of the Rennert production of Capriccio - again with Elisabeth Soderstrom.  It was then taken up by the Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1976 to introduce the wonderful young Felicity Lott to the world.

In 1974 Soderstrom returned for Intermezzo (Busch had conducted the premiere of it in Dresden in 1924), then Schweigsame Frau was introduced in1978. This was indeed a remarkable John Cox/Strauss decade!  And it was capped in 1980 by his production, designed by Erté, of Rosenkavalier - with the lovely Felicity Lott as Oktavian.  Is it really 37 years ago?  I weep - it is like yesterday.......

For me it all ended with the Arabella in 1984 with Felicity Lott cast in the title role - but she had to withdraw to give birth to her daughter. However she returned, gloriously, for the revival the following year.

I am thrilled that Strauss still lives in this theatre which has such a long association with him. With more singers such as were chosen this year Strauss has a long life ahead of him in Sussex! I am sure they can find the conductors and directors to do these marvellous operas justice.  But of course they are somewhat unfashionable these days - things come and go don't they?

4 months ago |
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Battersea PowerThe Thames from the Battersea Power Station construction site 3:30 pm 17 July 2017

The extraordinary development in London between Chelsea Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, which includes a new USA embassy, an extension of the underground to Battersea, and a complete redevelopment of the Battersea Power Station site with an assortment of buildings by such names and Gehry and Foster, is just very slightly taking some shape.  When completed it will totally transform my neighborhood, but will in no way damage the bucolic nature of Battersea Park which I overlook.  So I win, win!

Battersea Power-2

As you can see here there are little sites which will be occupied by restaurants, and disturbingly up market delis - not really reflecting the 2017 reality. We shall see whether this really works for our diverse community in Battersea.  There may be some Brexit-like delusional mentality working here.  We shall see.  But what is clear is that it will be a destination for a time, until it shows that it is not actually responding to the needs of the "real" Battersea.......

The first store to open is the Battersea General Store. I think that it is missing a trick.  It has good stuff in it, but is is overpriced and may very well collapse given that the owners and tenants of the nearby apartments are rather few - they are absentee landlords  and the rest are shopping instead at Waitrose up the road! It was empty this afternoon.........it is a long term project and I hope that they have done their homework.

Battersea Power-3

And now some opera!  I had a very enjoyable evening at the Royal Opera House yesterday evening. Following my usual policy of not making too many invidious comments if it can be avoided, I will restrict my remarks to applause for two hugely talented young people. These were the terrific mezzo Angela Simkin - she really captures her audience;  and Thomas Atkins, a tenor from New Zealand, blessed with a voice of exceptional seductive beauty.  Rare indeed. 

I had a fun evening with so many old friends and colleagues.  Late to bed!!

4 months ago |
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It has been a great relief to have had a few quiet days since I got back Gascony on Wednesday evening.  Of course it has been enhanced by the tremendous tennis from Wimbledon.  Two such utterly charming champions - Garbiñe and Roger. The BBC's coverage is exemplary - oh we are blessed to have ad free TV here.  Unique in the world?

This evening the Jette Parker programme at the ROH have their annual showcase performance - always a perfect opportunity to see the fruits of a long year's professional development in these young people.  And on Wednesday I will be at Glyndebourne for Ariadne auf Naxos.

Apart from that I am keeping my head down until I leave for a week in Sicily on Sunday afternoon.........about that more in due course.

4 months ago |
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IMG_5759

I am on my way home after a much needed break, off opera, off blog, off Facebook......there should be a longer report later - but  am now in Toulouse Airport waiting for my flight to Gatwick and should be home in London bye 7:30 this evening.  Then back to stuff tomorrow!

4 months ago |
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I feel so happy that I enjoy such a range of music - relatively speaking!  I wonder what Mozart and Elgar would have made of each other - chalk and cheese I guess!

The English National Opera, where I had the pleasure of being part of the team for three months at the turn of the year, introduced some summer programming for the chorus and orchestra to replace the time that had to be given up thanks to the extraordinary actions of the Arts Council of England - known in my day as the Arts Council of Great Britain since it had a wider and nobler remit to enrich the quality of life of the whole of this great island.  Having worked closely with them way back and for many years from the mid 1960s, I am somewhat qualified to remark on the observed diminished nature and character of the current Arts Council.  It has indeed become a wretched thing as a result in part of the appointment by successive governments of philistine ministers of "culture".  There are I am sure many, if not all, working there who have no clue of what a great institution it once was.  Sic transit gloria........

However, ENO have devised some splendid programming this summer, most notably and enjoyably the thrilling performances of Elgar's  Dream of Gerontius this past weekend.  With a distinguished and remarkable trio of soloists, Patricia Bardon, Gwyn Hughes Jones, and Matthew Rose, we were treated to a truly operatic performance of the piece rather than the more oratorical version to which we are accustomed. Having spent time with the Philharmonia, the LPO, and the Vienna Philharmonic, during the last ten days, I have to say that the ENO orchestra yielded nothing to them - and Simone Young was a brilliant choice to conduct these performances.  And to hear a fully voiced opera chorus singing this stuff is really something.  What a treat it was for the apparently sold out Royal Festival Hall audience.

Le nozze di Figaro Garsington Opera 2017 Duncan Rock (Count)  Stephen Richardson (Bartolo)  Timothy Robinson (Basilio)  Janis Kelly (Marcellina)  Joshua Bloom (Figaro) credit Mark Douet-min© Mark Douet

Duncan Rock (Count) Stephen Richardson (Bartolo) Janis Kelly (Marcellina) Jennifer France (Susanna) and Joshua Bloom (Figaro)

And then so last evening to Garsington again - for the revival of dear John Cox's warm, affectionate, loving production of this perfect piece - the first time that it has been seen at Garsington's new home at Wormsley Park.  Garsington's transforming Artistic Director, Douglas Boyd, conducted - and we all had the happiest of times from 5:30 pm to 10:15 pm.......as good as it gets these days - and all without any assistance from the Arts Council!  So be it........

5 months ago |
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Mitridate© ROH/Bill Cooper

Michael Spyres in the title role of Mitridate at Covent Garden

Graham Vick's colourful production of the 14 year old Mozart's Mitridate was somewhat less colourful on Thursday evening as a result of the indisposition of Albina Shagimuratova, the remarkable Russian soprano cast as Aspasia - dressed to match.  She was replaced at 60 minutes notice by the gallant Vlada Borovko, a member of the ROH's Jette Parker young artists programme. There was clearly no time to dress her in the magnificent and elaborate costumes worn by Miss Shagimurtova.

Mitridate is pretty tricky to pull off given its dependence on a starry and immensely capable bunch of singers to compensate for the longuers born of a very different operatic convention to the one the adult Mozart employed. It may be politically incorrect to suggest such a thing - but there it is!  Fortunately Covent Garden assembled a pretty distinguished cast headed by Michael Spyres in the title role - and the full house enjoyed the almost four hour experience.  There is just one more performance to go - next Friday July 7. There is only a handful of tickets left so hurry hurry!

Semele Garsington Opera 2017 Robert Murray (Jupiter)  Heidi Stober title role credit Johan Persson-minJohan Persson

Robert Murray (Jupiter), Heidi Stober (Semele)

And so on Friday I went to Garsington, fatefully by train instead of driving.  I had my pocket picked, and lost my wallet, on the tube on the way to Marylebone station!  Thank goodness for Apple pay on my phone - otherwise I would have been well and truly stuck.

But apart from that it was a fine opportunity to catch up with Garsington's successful production of Semele. There is some splendid singing from Heidi Stober, Christine Rice, Jurgita Adamonyte?, Christopher Ainslie, and David Soar - and with Jonathan Cohen in the pit musical values were guaranteed.  And Wormsley Park, Garsington's home, is as seductive as ever.  I will be back there tomorrow for Le nozze di Figaro.  I will go by car!!

And today?  Well its not exactly opera - but the ENO Orchestra and Chorus will be doing The Dream of Gerontius this afternoon at the Royal Festival Hall, conducted by Simone Young.  There is a splendid cast - Patricia Bardon, Gwyn Hughes Jones, and Matthew Rose.

5 months ago |
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Elisir vienna

Sunday evening at the Staatsoper provided a happy welcome to Vienna with L'elisir d'amore, a production in every respect different from what I had seen in Tbilisi just a couple of weeks ago.  But the real treat was to see our Neue Stimmen prize winner from 2011, Jinxu Xiahou - still only 26 years old having been recruited by me in Beijing at the age of 20 - a most unlikely story!  Jinxu has become a mainstay of the Wiener Staatsoper company singing Mozart, Donizetti, and Rossini in impeccable style.  And on Sunday evening it was a superbly sung Nemorino. He had a delicious Adina in Valentina Nafornita, Cardiff winner in 2011, and the unique Bryn Terfel was Dulcamara.  It doesn't come better!

Our real work began on Monday with a huge list of auditionees.  We worked from 10 am to 7 pm with an hour break for lunch at 2 pm.  It was a pretty good day with two qualifiers for the finals - that is about par for the course!  And we repeated the pattern on Tuesday with once again two qualifiers.  The standard was extremely high and alas we are reaching the stage that super candidates, if they are sopranos, will be disappointed.  So the waiting list is really high quality.  Now that we are at the end of the audition process, apart from auditions in Cape Town in August, we will be finalising offers this week.  Our target is to have 44 young singers to travel to Gütersloh in October. 

Elektra

For something completely different there was a remarkable performance of Elektra on Monday evening - with Nina Stemme and Waltraud Meier going full tilt - and the magnificent Vienna Philharmonic under Michael Boder likewise.  Did it compare with Carlos Kleiber, Birgit Nilsson, and Marta Szirmay at Covent Garden in May 1977?  Its pointless to speculate - but that evening is certainly etched in my memory. 

Pelleas vienna

Tuesday evening provided another opportunity to celebrate Neue Stimmen prizewinners - with Olga Berzsmertna  as Mélisande, seen above with the excellent Adrian Eröd as Pelléas.  I wonder if I come back to Vienna in 6 years time I will find some of our 2017 winners in the company?  Well we have some pretty fine finalists in prospect so I guess that if they are not here they will be on some other of the great opera stages of the world.

We are so grateful to the ever gracious and generous Dominique Meyer for hosting us in his Staatsoper which he has directed with such distinction these last 7 years or so.

I am now back in London.  Yesterday evening I made my way straight from Heathrow to the RADA studios where the Garsington understudy show case provided an opportunity to see some of the new vintage of talented British singers.  There were so many excellent ones that I will not single out any individuals.......that would be invidious!  We will be seeing a good many of them in the future - winners all!

Tonight more opera - Mitridate at the ROH. 

Photos © Wiener Staatsoper GmbH/Michael Pöhn

5 months ago |
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AnnagasseAnnagasse 9:30 am Tuesday June 27 2017

When I first came to Vienna well over 50 years ago I stayed at the Römischer Kaiserhof (above right).  In the intervening years on my very many visits to this beautiful place I was booked in various then not so expensive places such as the Sacher, the Imperial, the Bristol etc - nice and near to the Staatsoper.  When things got really pricey the Astoria was the best choice off the Kärntner Strasse, but now I have been back in the Annagasse which is convenient both for the Staatsoper and the excellent Sole - an Italian restaurant favoured by opera folk. But it is to the Mailberger Hof (above left) that I have gone.  Even the Römischer Kaiserhof has priced itself out!!

I have been here for two days of auditions for Neue Stimmen and three evenings of opera......it has been non stop and I have not had more than the odd minute to deal with the blog.  So I will write a full report after I return to London this afternoon.  At least I am free tomorrow before further operatic indulgence - Mitridate at the Royal Opera House tomorrow evening.  Life is hard!

5 months ago |
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