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Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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Q of s© Robert Workman

Peter Wedd (Herman) and Rosalind Plowright (Countess)

I was at Opera Holland Park yesterday evening for a tremendously enjoyable Queen of Spades, one of this remarkable enterprise's finest achievements.  There are just two more performances, tomorrow and Saturday, and it is worth making an effort to get to it.

First of all - the director, Rodula Gaitanou.  Here is a most interesting talent, and all credit to Opera Holland Park for having backed her.  She has really delivered the goods for them and could be a rising star. And her designer, Cordelia Chisholm, is another emerging artist of distinction.  Both these young people should be looked at seriously by the more enterprising of the larger companies.....!  I would hire them at once if I were still in Chicago - but I am not - so......!

And they had fine material to work with.  Natalya Romaniw was the star of Garsington's Eugene Onegin earlier in the summer - and here she was again, notching it up without difficulty to sing a glorious strong Lisa, with all the vocal resources to nail her big moments.  Excellent!  Peter Wedd was a convincingly obsessive Herman, I very much liked Richard Burkhard's Tomsky, Laura Woods's plush voiced Polina, Daisy Brown's sweet Masha, Laura Zigmantaite's vocally exceptional Governess, and Aled Hall's splendid Chekalinsky.  And then as the Countess there was Rosalind Plowright - a Glyndebourne chorus alum, like so many great English singers, of the "good old days"!  She dominated the stage, as one would expect of such a distinguished and experienced artist, and she remains in terrific shape vocally.  Good for her and for Holland Park - it makes such a difference.

And the whole, utterly enjoyable evening was held together by the authoritative presence of Peter Robinson in the pit with the excellent City of London Sinfonia.  This was a performance and production of complete integrity - these "fringe" companies never cease to amaze in so often punching above their weight!

8 months ago | |
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Caldas MonchiqueMorning view of Caldas de Monchique

We arrived back on Saturday after a perfect week in Portugal.  Portugal's southern Algarve coast is a pretty crowded tourist place and for the fastidious is probably best avoided. However if you fly to Faro and drive for a mere 50 minutes, you can arrive at a delightful spot, Caldas de Monchique, up in the hills above Portimão. However beware of venturing to the beaches on the southern coast in August.  This is the epitome of the tourist trap and its trappings!

However the town of Lagos is an absolute charmer - if you avoid the famous Dona Ana beach which is rated in Condé Nast traveller as the finest in the world.  Well it is not - well it could be breathtakingly beautiful when deserted in the winter.........


If you are fed up with the pool, and want to get to the ocean, then the best plan is to go west to Aljezur where there are some excellent simple cafés and bars, and then to the splendid Praia da Amoreira, a lovely uncrowded beach with decent rolling waves coming in from the Atlantic for moderately exciting surfing, if that is your thing.  And there is an excellent restaurant, the Paraiso do Mar, which had no difficulty in accommodating our noisy party of seven, and serving us with the customary extraordinary Portuguese charm and efficiency.

Portugal-5Praia da Amoreira, Aljezur

I am now back in London.  The next operatic excitement will be Tête à Tête's Remarkable Rocket on Wednesday evening!

8 months ago | |
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Imagine 5,000 people cheering after 3 hours of wonderful Rossini - a full to capacity Royal Albert Hall for the Glyndebourne Prom performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia. It is a most remarkable event for all the artists concerned, and for those taking part for the first time it is mind blowing!

Glyndebourne has produced a Prom performance every year since 1961 - and I was present at each one between 1962 and 1988. But I think that with my sojourns in Toronto, Chicago, and Nice, together with my Neue Stimmmen duties over the years, I have not been to one since that 1988 Falstaff until last night.  And the thrill was as great as I remember from all those years ago.

This performance came at the end of a long run of performances of Il barbiere during the Glyndebourne season and opened there on May 22.  (Click the link to see my account)

The impeccable precision and polish of the performance was therefore to be expected I suppose - but no less astonishing for that. And the enjoyment of the proceedings by singers and orchestra was infectiously led by Enrique Mazzola - the most genial of Rossinians and clearly adored by all with whom he works.  The cast was as at the Festival of course and once again Danielle de Niese, Taylor Stayton, Björn Bürger, Alessandro Corbelli, Christophoros Stamboglis and Janis Kelly delivered the goods to the first attentive, and then cheering thousands.

My Chicago friends will remember that Danni and Taylor appeared very early in their careers at COT...........we were as proud of them then as Glyndebourne is now!

8 months ago | |
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Tower bridge
I have been neglecting the blog these last days - well largely because there is little operatic or musical that I have been up to.  But life goes on on even without those two important strands!

I made a trip to the parallel universe of Canary Wharf on Thursday evening - an odd experience, the centre of gravity for our financial services industry which keeps us all in vital public services through the taxes it generates.  But it is still a distasteful place........everything has a price.  But of course the pleasure of getting there on the terrific Thames Clipper boat service from Embankment pier, and under Tower Bridge, is a great counter balance.  And I went there with my old friend and colleague Anthony Whitworth Jones to meet up with Camilla - so all in all it was a positive outcome!

Robertsbridge-2Robertsbridge High Street

On Saturday I was at a village cricket match in Sussex - between my younger son's home team of Upper Dicker and Robertsbridge, home of the world's most renowned makers of cricket bats Gray Nicolls.  I am glad to say that Robertsbridge were soundly beaten by the Upper Dickerites, including not only my son Edward (an impressive bowler) and his second son Bruno, aged 13, an amazing wicket keeper holding his own in this team of mature adults!

RobertsbridgeRobertsbridge v Upper Dicker Saturday July 23 2016

Now back to opera - I will be at the Albert Hall this evening for the Glyndebourne Promenade Concert performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia. Glyndebourne has been a presence at the Proms annually since 1961.  They are joyful occasions and really special performances given that they follow a long series of performances at the Sussex opera house - so hugely fluent, relaxed, easy going - and generators of noisy enthusiasm!  It will be fun......

9 months ago | |
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Jpya-1516 (1)© 2015 ROH Photograph Jay Brooks

This afternoon the Royal Opera's Jette Parker Young Artists Program was on display for the public with their annual Summer performance.  There was a full house, with an enthusiastic and rather rowdy audience - not the sort of behaviour one associates with the Covent Garden audience - but none the worse for that!

Covent Garden has always had  an international approach to its choice of artists for this Jette Parker program.  This year there are two English, one Anglo Irish, a Russian, a Ukrainian, a Korean, and four Australians.  Their contribution to the casts of the Royal Opera over the season is significant, and the experience each member of the programme gets during their time at the opera house is priceless - as good an apprenticeship as one could hope for as young opera singer.  The comparable programmes elsewhere are those at the Metropolitan in New York, Chicago's Ryan Center, the Adler Fellowship programme in San Francisco, and the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio.  They are all pretty well on a par with Jette Parker in terms of consistent success in producing remarkable artists over the years.  In Europe there are also good opportunities of a similar kind including those found in Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris and Zurich. 

This afternoon we had a short programme with chunks from Kát'a Kabanová, a single extended aria from Mireille, and a healthy slice of Act 3 of Eugene Onegin, all in the first part.  After the interval there was a most welcome bit of Leoncavallo's La Bohème, followed by some of the usual snippets of Fledermaus which are so useful on such occasions.

Whilst it may seem to be invidious to single individuals out I will, as usual, do so!  And my "gold medals" all go to the Aussies!  Of course the overall quality was very high indeed but, for what it is worth, I was particularly struck by Lauren Fagan, who seems to me to have made huge strides since she came from Sydney some five years ago to the Guildhall - she has blossomed into a most significant new artist.  She sang the Mireille scene and Mimi in the Bohème.  A complete newcomer is the mezzo Emily Edmonds - a wonderful Varvara in the Janácek, and an exuberant Orlofsky showing a completely different side of her in the Fledermaus.  And the third most gifted Australian was the baritone Samuel Dale Johnson - Rodolfo in the Bohème, and apparently due to sing the Count in Figaro at Scottish Opera next season. That might be worth the trip for talent scouts!

We are apparently in for a three day heatwave.  That means 33 degrees Celsius.......not too bad!  I am very much in holiday mode.  The first of my 11 grandchildren will be 17 tomorrow so there will be a happy family celebration.  I will be off to Portugal for a week with family on July 30. Meanwhile all attention is on our wretched politicians who are making such a hash of things - unbelievable!

9 months ago | |
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I was at a fascinating debate on Wednesday evening organised by The Spectator magazine.  The chairman was Andrew Neil, and is seen above with his panel (left to right) Simon Jenkins, Colleen Graffty, James Forsyth, and Ben Page.  And this all took place on an evening, as it turned out, of maximum political excitement here in the UK - the day that Teresa May took over from David Cameron, the evening when her top four cabinet picks were announced, and the day on which it appeared that the Labour Party was reaching the climax of its suicide mission.

Nominally the debate was about the question "Is party politics broken?".  But proceedings were overshadowed by the context.....and the greatest moment was when Andrew Neill interrupted to announce that Boris Johnson had been appointed Foreign Secretary.  Is this a joke the panel asked? Well it may be - but a German joke - No laughing matter. We must wait and see how this turns out. Maybe he will end up like that other Boris - Yeltsin.

Boris is a former editor of the Spectator which is a poignant coincidence.  And he is the recent winner of the Spectator's offensive poem competition prompted by the much publicised sensitivities of Turkey's President Erdogan. 

Boris has a fine record of insulting remarks about world leaders and countries.  How will he manage all this I wonder?  Quite a job for British diplomats ahead I assume.

So the silly season is getting sillier.

9 months ago | |
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Aix Richelme
Aix-en-Provence is a perfect festival city - up there with Edinburgh and Salzburg for beauty and charm, and wide ranging programming though it is smaller in scale in that regard than its illustrious colleague cities. But nothing can compare with the Sunday morning aperitif in one of its places, in the case above Place Richelme.  Go there if only for the Plane trees!

But the music is the thing.  And I was at a run through on Saturday afternoon of the performance that the Académie were doing the same evening, but clashing with the performance near by of Handel's Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno.Their Résidence Mozart is an invaluable opportunity for young professional singers in the early stages of their careers to get down to the fundamental challenge of Mozart for a few weeks.  This is so healthy and it was good to see some gifted young singers meeting the challenge so successfully.  One of the most notable beneficiaries I thought was the Swedish soprano Cornelia Beskow.  She is a striking young singer with the beginnings of a major career in progress - she is someone to watch.  On Saturday she made a great impression as Donna Elvira....then the American soprano Angela Vallone, not yet so far in her career (she is still at Juilliard), will be a personality for the future - casting directors get first in line! 

I will not cover them all - but there was a consistent quality there and it was a great pleasure to have had the opportunity to see them at work. I should however also just mention the excellent young Irish pianist, Killian Farrell, whom I had noticed in Aldeburgh a couple of weeks back.  It is good for him that he is doing the rounds this summer.  What wonderful experience for this gifted young man. Opera companies should take a long look at him.

A full list of the participants is available here on the Aix website.

Trionfo© Pascal Victor / Artcomart

Sabine Devieilhe (Belezza) Franco Fagioli (Piacere) Sara Mingardo (Disinganno) and Michael Spyres (Tempo)

Saturday evening at 10 pm in the greatly loved Théâtre de l'Archevêché provided the opportunity to hear a splendidly sung and marvelously conducted performance of Handel's 1707 oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno. It was not intended for the stage of course but Aix provided an elaborate theatrical framework for it from the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski and his large team of creative colleagues.  This is his first opera production as far as I can make out - but then it is not an opera so we will have to wait and see.  It caused some controversy but nothing could take away from the achievements of the cast and Emmanuelle Haim, with her most excellent and expanded orchestra Le Concert d'Astrée.

And so that was Aix this year for me.  This is a most hospitable city with a terrific team managing and directing the festival.  I look forward to their next year's exciting programme!

I am now back in London for what might normally be expected to be a quiet time.  But we have our very public theatricals going on in our political world just now - and this is likely to spin out for many weeks, and even months, more.  Few are coming out of this farce with any credit.  Theresa May, the new prime minister, gets nearest to that!  Well so far anyway but I am not holding my breath.  I am sure there will be many more twists that no one has yet mentioned as possibilities.

9 months ago | |
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Aix marketYes the fruit and the sunshine, the heat.  Paradise after the miserable June in England.

I was first in Aix in 1961 - Così, Zauberflöte, and Poppea - the latter in a version by Malipiero conducted by our beloved Chicago friend Bruno Bartoletti.  There were some memorable performances - Teresa Stich-Randall, Teresa Berganza, and Luigi Alva each appeared in two productions.  The luxury of having such hard working singers!

I have visited this beautiful festival city pretty often over the years but this is the first time for a bit - not I think since I went to Chicago in 1999 though that seems like yesterday........

Yesterday evening there was a remarkable, unforgettable, deeply disturbing performance/production of Pelléas et Mélisande.  You can only see it here - though you MIGHT have a chance to see it in Warsaw or Beijing two plus years hence.  It would be good if the Royal Opera could bring it to Covent Garden, as they did Katie Mitchell's remarkable production of George Benjamin's Written on Skin.

There was the cast of the half-brothers du jour - Stéphane Degout as Pelléas and Laurent Naouri as Golaud. There was a Mélisande of extraordinary vocal, musical, and intellectual strength in Barbara Hannigan. And Esa-Pekka Salonen was in charge of an opera that he is completely committed to - and which I saw him in charge of in London and Chicago in the last 18 months.

Suffice to say it was overwhelming in its success in conveying a recognition of the psychological torture of these characters - what happened to Mélisande before she was found in the forest by Golaud?  It is too much pain to wonder........


9 months ago | |
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Garsington onegin© Sarah Playfair

On Monday evening at Garsington Opera there was a really excellent event, a performance of Eugene Onegin by the cover/understudy cast for an audience of school children aged 11 to 18, together with a sprinkling older ones.  It may be an exaggeration but it occurred to me that the average age of the audience was 18 compared to the average age of 80 that a regular performance would see!  At any rate it was hugely refreshing both in the auditorium, and on the stage where the young artists, more used to being rank-and-file choristers, became principals for an evening.

Above you see the curtain call acknowledging the applause of a loudly enthusiastic young audience who appeared to be riveted throughout the complete and unabridged performance of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece.  There was a not a weak link in the cast - and for that we have to thank to Garsington team that recruits these young singers, Laura Canning, Susie Stranders, and Sarah Playfair.  Thanks, Sarah, for the photo!

Kirsty Taylor-Stokes was a vocally formidable Tatyana, managing both thrilling and tender as needed.  Elgan Llyr Thomas was a powerfully lyrical Lensky with great beauty of voice, and Benjamin Lewis a vocally totally authentic Onegin.  All other roles were amazingly strongly taken down to the smallest parts - James Way made a particular mark with his keenly observed M. Triquet, and his ability and courage to produce the finest possible pianissimo.  Amazing!

I am sure that this must become a fixture in Garsington's annual calendar.

I am off to Aix-en-Provence this afternoon.  Watch for reports from there......!

9 months ago | |
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Willard-White-and-Cynthia-015© Ira Nowinski

Cynthia Haymon and Willard White - in rehearsal for Porgy and Bess at Glyndebourne 1986

Yes, today is the 30th anniversary of the first performance of Porgy and Bess, an occasion etched in the memory of all who were there, faithfully recorded in the New York Times some three days later.  The project that Simon Rattle, Trevor Nunn, and I dreamed up one morning in my office during the summer of 1983 arrived at the finishing line after a long and thrilling journey.

Trevor was rehearsing his very first opera production, Idomeneo, and Simon was conducting the revival of the Sendak/Corsaro production of The Love for Three Oranges.  I felt that this pair would be a perfect match - and out of our first conversation together there eventually emerged this, for the time and place, groundbreaking project.

Gershwin family members were there, including Ira's widow Lee.  The next day she sent me a telegram (yes, they still existed in those days!) saying "Brian, at last George and Ira's dream has been realised".

It was indeed a remarkable evening and I can't believe it was thirty years ago.......

9 months ago | |
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