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Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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MilanTeatro alla Scala 7:00 pm Sunday November 20 2016

I spent 2 hours or so in Milan over the weekend - to see the Scala's production of Porgy and Bess.  It seems only the other day that Porgy opened at Glyndebourne to its famous, and unprecedented in the house, "standing ovation".  But it was on July 5 1986.........do the math!

George Gershwin's opera is now repackaged as The Gershwins' © Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin. I am not sure that the Heyward's had more to do with the opera than Shakespeare had to do with Verdi's Falstaff though I may be wrong about that.  And Ira was his brother's Da Ponte, Piave, Hoffmansthal or whatever.  Like everything else in the world it seems these days its probably all about money......

Anyway this was billed as in forma semi scenica, and thus got over apparently the owners prohibition having anything other than a full black cast.  The Scala chorus is of course magnificent so that was ok! And Alan Gilbert did a great job with the formidable Scala orchestra.  

The production was actually more than semi staged, it was three quarters staged!  And there was much to enjoy in a very long evening.My standouts in their different ways were Morris Robinson as Porgy, Tichina Vaughn as Maria, and Donovan Singletary as Jake.

It was raining as I went in, pouring when I came out, and brutal when I woke up and walked through the Piazza Duomo looking for Peck.  But Peck is closed on Mondays until 3pm so I had to make do with the Rinascente food hall.  All fine of course!  I am now home in London!

Milan-2

6 months ago | |
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Stephanie corley-1

Independent Opera is a remarkable organisation - they just do what they want to do without flinching.  And they have brought off another triumph this week with Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Simplicius Simplicissimus, hugely enjoyable, in a remarkable production with a remarkable central performance, thanks to the participation of two remarkable young artists - a director and a soprano.

The director was Polly Graham.  Watch that name.  She is hugely courageous - and, I was glad to see, an alumna of my alma mater Trinity College, Dublin!  That is irrelevant though it pleases me!  A future star?  Probably.....

The soprano is Stephanie Corley.  This kind of full blooded commitment, inspired no doubt by the power of the piece but also presumably by the integrity of the approach to work by this ensemble of committed people - it is thrilling to see this in a young artist. 

And there were riper mentors around her in the cast - Adrian Thompson, Marc Le Brocq, and William Dazeley, each giving real weight and distinction to the evening.  But these two young women did the job.  Wonderful!

I am off to Milan tomorrow - to La Scala, to see Porgy and Bess of all things.....all in a day's work!

7 months ago | |
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I have been so consumed by work related activity that I have neglected my poor little blog!!  Oh well - can only get better.

I am a trustee of the Helios Collective and was at a really excellent masterclass by Mark Wigglesworth on Tuesday at King's College (part of London University).  This was part of the most invigorating programme they called Formations.  You can see the final triple bill performance, plus a discussion with me (!) participating, next Friday, November 24.

Mark was truly inspirational with the young conductors responsible for the three short operas which form the core of the Formations programme.  And you might think about showing up at King's tomorrow evening when David Pountney will be doing a masterclass of his own.  That will be a treat - go for it!  I am really sad that I can not be there.....

Yesterday evening the English National Opera paid tribute to the remarkable Jonathan Miller in a programme called, quite appropriately, Marvellous Miller

I was at the dress rehearsal yesterday afternoon - so lovely to reconnect with Gilbert and Sullivan - part of my childhood.  I was even star of Ruddigore at the age of 14.  Rose Maybud was my part!  But that was 60 years ago.....!

7 months ago | |
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LuluPhoto: Alastair Muir

James Morris (Dr Schön) and Brenda Rae (Lulu)

It was another great evening at the Coliseum on Wednessday - the opening of William Kentridge's thrilling production of Lulu - imported from the Metropolitan Opera, with a distinguished ENO cast making it yet another exceptional company achievement.  And with Mark Wigglesworth in the pit the musical standards were the highest of course.

The array of quality on the stage was extraordinary and anyone not booked to see this must cancel what is necessary to get there.  Brenda Rae in the title role has taken on the part for the first time - a marathon role which seemed to take no toll of her at all.  She was fresh vocally to the end.  Veteran James Morris is still in fine form after all these years, so too Willard White as Schigolch.  Sarah Connolly is a predictably wonderful Geschwitz, and Nicky Spence a new star as Alwa. With David Soar as the Animal Trainer/Athlete and COT favourite of five productions 2002-2008 Michael Colvin as Painter - and a company also including Clare Presland, Jeffrey-Lloyd Roberts, Graeme Danby, Rebecca de Pont Davies, Geoffrey Dolton.........few companies could field such a team.

I am late with this.  I seem to be consumed by so many activities that the blog is taking a back seat - I am sorry my friends, I will try harder!

7 months ago | |
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The Auditorium - credit Mike Twigg (7)lowres-2-720x517-blurPhoto: Mike Twigg

I have only seen one performance at Wilton's Music Hall until yesterday evening, and that was Kurt Weill's Silbersee in March 1999, the very first musical event there for over 100 years!  So I was really delighted to be back 17 years later.....and this time for Handel in the utterly delightful space which has proved to be such a success, and which is a perfect place for the Royal Opera to escape to while the Linbury is being remodelled.

The Jette Parker Young Artists programme were the lucky young people to take on Handel's pasticcio opera Oreste.  And there was some very fine singing indeed from the young cast, notably from the excellent New Zealand tenor Thomas Atkins and Lincoln born mezzo Angela Simkin. Super Irish and Russian sopranos Jennifer Davis and Vlada Borovko were moving and stylish Handelians as the much abused young women, and the low life men were Hungarian Gyula Nagy and South African Simon Shimbambu - all these valuable contributors throughout the season to the Royal Opera in so many different smaller roles.  Here was their opportunity to shine, and shine they did!

Tonight Lulu at ENO.  Exciting!

7 months ago | |
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Wihan

An early Sunday evening feast of top class music making at King's Place is one of the many benefits of London life.  And this time we had the exceptional treat of the Czech Wihan Quartet plus the bonus of Sofya Gulak for Schumann's joyful Piano Quintet. Throughout we had serious music making and an exuberance in the Schumann that took our collective breath away!  How good to have a repeat of part of the Scherzo as a bis/encore! Wow!  

Those of you in London who go to King's Place know what a fine room it is. What with this, Milton Court, the Wigmore Hall and Cadogan Hall we are blessed with four super places for small scale ensembles.  Where else in the world.  But this is balanced by the very bad news yesterday that the promise of a proper concert hall in London has been broken......oh dear.  Thank you Mrs May!  I wonder if this means that the LSO will lose Simon Rattle - unintended consequences galore at the moment!

Last night was the dress rehearsal of William Kentridge's spectacular production of Lulu at English National Opera.  It opens on Wednesday - more then!  And this evening is the opening of Handel's Oreste at Wilton's Music Hall.  So this is another interesting week operatically - such contrasts!

7 months ago | |
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Vanessa-erika© Clive Barda

Carolyn Sproule - a striking Erika in Wexford's Vanessa

The really big story at Wexford this year is the exceptional production and performance of Samuel Barber's Vanessa. This was an evening of so many pleasures, but first and foremost the further confirmation of the distinction of a new young director who had already impressed me earlier this year at Holland Park - Rodula Gaitanou.  This is as fine as production of anything I have seen in Wexford over the years. The opera itself is of course of very special quality rather than being something dragged from obscurity, deserved or otherwise.  So we have had the pleasure of being a production to match the special nature of the piece, crafted as it was by two of America's defining composers of the 20th century.  I feel bound to say that Menotti's libretto is as fine, if not finer, than any of his operas!  And of course Samuel Barber is an iconic figure.....

I was especially struck by the Canadian mezzo soprano Carolyn Sproule - a perfect Erika. This young singer is at the beginning of a significant career I feel. And her grandmother was played by the veteran Rosalind Plowright - formidable indeed.  Claire Rutter was a fine Vanessa and Michael Brandenburg gave a good account of himself as Anatol. The indefatigable and versatile Wexford Festival Orchestra played magnificently for Timothy Myers - a gifted young American who was an apprentice with Maazel at Castleton eight or so years ago so comes from a rigorous school!  And my goodness it paid off.

So this was a memorable evening. And I come back to Carolyn Sproule who resonates.....an impressive and moving performance.

You may have gathered that I feel deeply attached to Wexford.  I feel privileged to be so warmly welcomed back after all these years. There are few places like this.....

7 months ago | |
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Herculanum-andrew-haji-olga-busuioc clive barda©Clive Barda

Andrew Haji (Hélios) and Olga Busuioc (Lilia) in Herculanum - Wexford 2016

I faced the prospect of Félicien David's opera with some trepidation and to an extent my fears seemed to have been well founded after Act 1.  But then things took off and it was unalloyed pleasure until the end of this long evening.  This was a thoroughly good idea.  

Thanks to total commitment, excellent singing, and all round performances from the three protagonists - Olga Busuioc, Andrew Haji, and Simon Bailey (Nicanor) - magnificent work from the top class Wexford Festival chorus, and the orchestra under Jean-Luc Tingaud - this was a vintage Wexford evening. It was something to be hugely grateful for whether you an avid collector of rare works, or just an ordinary opera goer who is thrilled by the special combination of theatre, singing, and uninhibited music making which characterises the 19th century version of our wonderful art form.

Yesterday afternoon provided an opportunity to enjoy William Walton's charming The Bear.  This was one of the three short works performed by young members of the company to keep the festival audience amused during the afternoons. And very well done it was - with a particularly attractive young widow in Sarah Richmond, delivering a feisty and very well sung performance, a wicked Luka from Ashley Mercer, and a finely acted Bear from Rory Musgrave.  A lovely way to spend an hour. 

This afternoon it will be the turn of Donizetti - Il campanello.  This will be preceded by a lunchtime recital in St Iberius church by Andrew Haji and Sophie Gordeladze - two of our favourite singers this week!

As you can see I am having a fun three days here in this great little place!

7 months ago | |
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Wexford crescent quay-3
I arrived in Wexford yesterday afternoon - and am always so happy to be back here where I was for seven years in those far off days! Nothing much has changed over the years but two important things have.  The new theatre was built just seven years ago and is as fine a room for the performance of opera as any anywhere. This is a miracle and was built during the "great recession".  Extraordinary!

The other big change is the fabled Whites Hotel - but that is a different story.  I am in one of the excellent rooms in the new block so I have no complaints whatsoever. The public areas are jam packed at Festival time. And its mayhem!

And I guess another change of significance is the quality of performances and production values.  They have come a long way since the minuscule budgets and primitive conditions in the old theatre.  Wexford can now stand proud as a first class producer rather than a quaint anomaly.  They can and do collaborate as equal partners with companies around the world - and last night's production, a co-production with the Minnesota Opera, is an excellent example.

I hugely enjoyed seeing for the first time Donizetti's Maria de Rudenz.  It was especially notable for a very fine performance of the central role of Corrado Waldorf from the Korean baritone Koo Won Kang.  He seems to be up and coming in a vocal category that is sparsely populated these days.  He will do well.

The Wexford chorus is looked after splendidly by our old friend Errol Girdlestone - all in great form last night. And it was also a treat to see Sophie Gordeladze who had been so delightful in our Moskva Cheryomushki in Chicago back in 2012.

This evening we have Herculanum by Félicien David.  Anyone seen that?  Meanwhile this afternoon we have one of the famous "Shorts" - William Walton's The Bear.  Will be fun!  Well everything is irresistible in this remarkable place!

7 months ago | |
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NS masterclass

I am here in the Bertelsmann headquarters city Gütersloh for a joyful concert at the end of the week of masterclasses. The participants were some of the young singers who auditioned for last year's Neue Stimmen competition but were not prizewinners. Since we auditioned approaching 1,000 singers there were a lot of non winners to choose from.  These were some of the best!  And they came from all over - two of the most talented ones from China.  Other countries represented were Turkey, Mexico, Australia, Georgia, South Africa, Poland, Japan, Greece, Ukraine, Finland, and Germany - from which just one each.  What an excellent international mixture it was!  If the other citizens of all those countries could work in such harmony as these young people did the world would be a better place.

We have some meetings about 2017 this morning and then I am back to London very briefly to sleep and repack my bag to get to Wexford tomorrow.  Its all go just now!

7 months ago | |
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