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Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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Carmelites   ©ROH/Stephen Cummiskey 2014

I saw the first performance of the Carmelites in London in 1958.  It made a huge impact then and on the good many occasions that I have seen it since it has always made a powerful evening in the theatre, most memorably in John Dexter's production at the Met  in 1977.  That production has been regularly revived - one of the great monuments to a rich period in the Met's history where Dexter reigned supreme from 1974 to 1981.

And so I will be at the Royal Opera House this evening, sitting up in the amphitheatre where I sat 56 years ago!  Then the conductor was Rafael Kubelik - this evening it is Simon Rattle.  Only the best for this wonderful piece!  And the production is Robert Carsen's, created for the Dutch National Opera, which I last saw in Chicago where it made a huge impact.  It has done the rounds triumphantly touching down in Toronto and La Scala.  It is good that London is seeing it.  I will report tomorrow!

1 month ago | |
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Trafalgar sq June 7-2
  Trafalgar Square from the National Gallery 11:45 June 7 2014

My yesterday was somewhat consumed by the remarkable ladies final at the French open between the enduring Maria Sharapova and the Romanian number 4 seed young Simona Halep.  More often than not these finals are a bit of a two set walk over – but not this, an epic ding-dong battle which kept us on the edge of our seats for three hours.  Wonderful – even operatic!  And this afternoon we can expect more of the same from the men – Nadal and Djokovic……..

Yesterday morning I made my way to Trafalgar Square and lunch with our old friend and colleague from COT days, bassoonist Sally Jackson.  Sally divides her time between San Diego, Chicago, London and Malta.  As a baroque bassoonist she spreads herself between the various groups here in London, including The English Concert, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and the Academy of Ancient Music;  her own Baroque Music Festival in Valletta; regular gigs in Chicago, though less now that COT has forsaken for the time being this approach;  and San Diego where there is a lively early music scene.

Her concert last night was in St Martin in the Fields, one of their candle light concerts - a very chamber version of Messiah.  I was sorry not to have been able to be at the concert but I was delighted to catch up with her before her afternoon rehearsal.  It is usually only twice a year at most alas.

It looks like a lovely day out there again after the torrents of yesterday morning.  I will be spending time making final decisions on Fridges, Dishwashers, Washing Machines and Cookers!  The contractors begin their work at my flat tomorrow - beginnning with the destruction phase of course.

1 month ago | |
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Cellini
Photo: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Michael Spyres as Benvenuto Cellini

English National Opera have, I fancy, another huge success on their hands with Terry Gilliam's extraordinary production of Berlioz'a Benvenuto Cellini. One might think that the visual brilliance and hyperactivity of the production might have dominated the evening at the expense of everything else.  But the fact is that the superb cast make an equally dazzling contribution, and Edward Gardner, yet another brilliant English Berliozian, leads his world class orchestral and choral forces with stunning precision and impact.

The notoriously difficult to cast title role was tossed off by Michael Spyres with effortless nonchalance - amazing!  Last season's Violetta was the lovely Corinne Winters, Willard White was a spendidly sleazy Pope, Paula Murrihy (COT's Annio in 2009) turned Ascanio into a starring role - really very good indeed, and Nicholas Palleson (Fieramosca) and Pavlo Hunka (Balducci) completed the team in magnificent style.  Supporting roles were cast, as always at ENO, from the company's considerable strength.

The large, distinguished, and enthusiastic audience departed, after a standing ovation, happy and exhausted.  Wonderful!

1 month ago | |
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As my regular readers know, I spend a good deal of my time listening to singers, assessing them and, in a small percentage of cases, marking them for significant futures.  And in auditions this is where Mozart makes the difference, even if the singer in question is a whopping great Verdi or Wagner voice.

Jon Vickers sang Handel, early on The Messiah and famously Samson at Leeds and Covent Garden. Pavarotti sang Idamante at Glyndebourne, Ben Heppner Tito in Salzburg, distinguished Verdians Freni and Vaness both honed their skills with Mozart, and Gosta Windbergh and Siegfried Jerusalem, very great Wagnerian tenors as they matured, were Mozartians first.

And so I went along yesterday evening to St John's, Smith Square where the excellent organisation Classical Opera presented an intriguing programme of Mozart Arias, mostly unknown but some very fine indeed.

Ian Page, Classical Opera's enterprising and tireless Artistic Director, had as usual assembled a fine group of young singers.  They were Eleanor Dennis, a member of the Harewood programme at the English National Opera, up and coming Louise Alder who will join the Frankfurt Opera next season, the personable tenor Stuart Jackson, first noticed at the Royal Academy of Music and who has just spent a valuable year in Stuttgart, and young bass David Shipley.  


The program itself was a joy - all Mozart.  What more can you ask for in 90 minutes of pleasure?

“Un moto di gioia”, K.579
“Va, dal furor portata”, K.21
“O temerario Arbace… Per quel paterno amplesso”, K.79
“Clarice cara mia sposa”, K.256
“Basta vincesti… Ah, non lasciarmi, no”, K.486a
“Alcandro, lo confesso… Non sò d’onde viene”, K.512
“Misera, dove son!… Ah! non son io che parlo”, K.369“

Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!”, K.418
“Così dunque tradisci… Aspri rimorsi atroci”, K.432
“Misero! O sogno… Aura che intorno spiri”, K.431
“Bella mia fiamma… Resta, o cara”, K.528
“Un bacio di mano”, K.541
“Io ti lascio”, K.621a
“Un moto di gioia”, K.579

This was as always challenging stuff, but each dispatched their responsibilities with aplomb.  Louise Alder represents the finest in disciplined young British artists, stylish and composed.  Eleanor Dennis has a voice of gorgeous timbre, and Stuart Jackson sang the finest aria of the programme, Misero! O sogno, with vocal beauty and musical eloquence.  David Shipley had fewer moments to shine - Mozart doesn't do many showy bass arias!

I am sorry to be late with this today.  I had a busy morning out, and have now been distracted by the fascinating semi-final from the Paris Open between the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard and Maria Sharapova.

This evening is the opening of Benvenuto Cellini at ENO.  I have not seen the piece since the Royal Opera production of 1966 - really?  48 years ago? Nicolai Gedda sang the title role........

1 month ago | |
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York June 3The Ouse - York 7:30 pm June 3 2014

I was delighted to be back in York yesterday for a visit to the Music Department of York University.  My great niece is graduating from there this month and her sister will replace her as representative of the family in September!

Few British universities have as many performance opportunities in their music faculties as York.  And there are some fine singers there - so it was a privilege to have spent some time with four of them, hearing them sing and discussing the next steps in their young lives.  They were all 21 but as we all know the development of a singer follows no consistent pattern as far as the "budding" age is concerned. 

One of these young people has already been accepted for a Masters course at the Guildhall.  He was also accepted at the Royal Academy but chose Guildhall.  Few have the luxury of such choice. So he is on the way to a successful professional life.  Evidently he is a fine clarinetist as well - more luxury of choice.

One of the others is taking more time and preparing for the entrance process for the following year.  The stress will come in November when the conservatories conduct their entrance auditions and interviews.

A third will take even more time and hopes to be ready for the next step at the grand old age of 23.  And the fourth will be returning to her home city of Hong Kong enriched by her three years at York.

They have a wonderful mentor in Peter Seymour.

Clearly this remarkable man's work at York is making a huge difference to the lives of these talented young people.  York has created a warm but rigorous family in the music department.  There are few better places for gifted young musicians to spend three years to discover their direction in life with music.  It is hard at the age of 18 to know what is possible - I think that York provides remarkable opportunities to discover.

And by the way York is one of the loveliest of university cities, small enough to have a village feel, and large enough to have everything you could want.  A bit like Dublin where I was an undergraduate at Trinity College 55 years ago!

1 month ago | |
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Bills Hoxton-2

Bill's Hoxton Square 9:30 am June 2 2014

It has been very striking to me the extent to which London has changed over the last 25 years, for the bulk of which time I have been living outside the UK.  I had the need to make a trip to Hoxton this morning, in the east end of London and north of the financial district (the City) which years ago was not a trendy place at all - far from it.  But now it is abuzz - all singing and dancing. London seems to be really unstoppable.

The reason for my trip was the finalise the details of my new Battersea kitchen.  The showrooms of British Standard are in Hoxton Square.  And there is also a Bill's, where I stopped for a very delicious coffee.  This is a huge success for Lewes, Sussex where I lived for 25 years or so, and where they started out in 2000.  It is a wonderful story - go to the website and read it!


Bills Hoxton

A not yet very busy Hoxton Bill's at 9:30 am

I am off to York again tomorrow to spend some time with singers in the music faculty.  We will do "mock auditions" and then discuss the whole hairy business of making a career as a professional singer.......they are so brave!

1 month ago | |
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Garsington June 1

View from the upper level of the Garsington Pavilion 2pm June 1 2014

England is full of bucolic opera places - and on a day like this they are really magic.  But this is nevertheless serious stuff even though it could be said the Offenbach's Vert-Vert is a somewhat slight piece. However it is given the full treatment by a first class creative team of Martin Duncan and Francis O'Connor (yes - the same guy that only last week did the Peter Grimes in Grange Park), and a real loving specialist in scores of this kind, David Parry, in charge in the pit. So this is the luxury treatment.

This was a rehearsal day and it seems to me to be in great shape and on the way to another success.  But it will depend on the audience "getting it".  There is a marvellous cast and the Garsington chorus/ensemble is of the highest order.  The delicious Fflur Wyn,  makes her mark very strongly, as does Robert Murray as her passion in the title role, and veterans Geoffrey Dolton and Yvonne Howard are both supreme as the older "couple".  Mark Wilde, a really versatile character (he was a splendid Pedrillo here last season) keeps the comedy moving along.

And the lovely Naomi O'Connell is going to knock 'em out as La Corilla.  She is the Irish mezzo whom I know from Juilliard.  But perfect as she is she still had to take a few notes from the Head of Music Staff, Susanna Stranders - there they are below having completed their session.  They are still friends!

Garsington June 1-2

1 month ago | |
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Garsington May 31

The very pretty Garsington garden 8:30 pm May 31 2014

I was at the almost final rehearsals of Fidelio today.  They are fortunate in having an excellent Beethovenian at hand - Douglas Boyd, also their Artistic Director.  Whilst it is premature to comment on a work in progress it is clear that the Garsington audience have something to look forward to.

I will take the invidious route of singling out a revelation, someone to mark down for a really fine future, the Marzelline, soprano Jennifer France, who impresses more with each additional encounter.  It is a joy to see a young singer going in leaps and bounds.

And the Garsington Chorus, which has a major role to play in Fidelio, is stunning - healthy young quality voices, superbly prepared and wholly committed.  As fine a sound and as disciplined an approach as you can find anywhere!  And I think that you will find the same care and attention to detail in the rest of the production - by the still amazing John Cox.  He worked with Günther Rennert on Glyndebourne's famous production of this piece in 1959.......

I am sorry that it was not allowed to illustrate all this.  But at least you have a picture of the pretty garden above.  But it hardly tells the important part of the story!

I will be back there tomorrow for Vert-Vert's "pre-dress rehearsal".

1 month ago | |
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Grey Thames

Battersea Park and Albert Bridge from Chelsea Bridge 3:45 pm May 29 2014

We have had another miserable day here but there is a certain beauty in the greyness of the Thames as it winds its way through South West London.  This afternoon I walked accross Chelsea Bridge from my Battersea flat towards Sloane Square - it was lonely but invigorating with not a soul around.  I am still living in Parsons Green but in the process of rehabbing my lovely old Battersea Place now that my tenant has left. So on a few odd free days I am kept busy with that.  

Tomorrow is a sad trip to Sussex, and the weekend will be spent at Garsington Opera's lovely Wormsley Park "campus".  Fidelio and Vert-Vert are coming to the boil!

2 months ago | |
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It was an appropriately stormy evening at Grange Park yesterday for the dress rehearsal of the new production of Peter Grimes.  Umbrellas were to be left at the door but my telescopic one fitted neatly into my coat pocket, thence under my seat........good for a quick getaway to find cover in the 90 minute interval.

The Grange Park opera house is an excellent theatre, altogether a remarkable achievement for Wasfi Kani and her colleagues, testament to determination and ruthless persistence - and a wonderful space for this most claustrophobic of operas.  It will be an overpowering experience for the audience - nothing bland about this piece.

And it will receive an outstanding ensemble performance if the dress rehearsal is anything to go by. Under the vigorous but meticulous eye and ear of Stephen Barlow in the pit, and with the considerable and rare advantage of a perfectly achieved balance between orchestra (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra - excellent) and stage, every word is crystal clear, and there are NO supertitles.  Hurray!  They were absolute not needed so kudos for the cast and general preparation.

The cast included as Grimes and Ellen Orford two rising singers from the USA - Carl Tanner and Georgia Jarman. And there a fine array of the best of English characters who provide richness to the community of The Borough.  Notable are Glyndebourne veterans from so long ago, Anne-Marie Owens as Auntie and Nigel Robson as The Rev Adams.  It was so good to see them again after a good few years.......

The "creative team" is really strong showing up the high production values at Grange Park.  Jeremy Sams directs with really fine designs from Francis O'Connor, and mini-miracle video work from Andrzej Goulding

Too wet for more pictures of Grange Park - but its a lovely place even in the wet, and idyllic if the weather clears up. Their season runs through until July 12.

2 months ago | |
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