YES! - Les Martyrs from Opera Rara and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Royal Festival Hall yesterday evening. This marvellous piece, Donizetti's wonderful and exotic adaptation for Paris of his Poliuto, was given a hugely successful public airing by Opera Rara following their recording of the piece which they have been doing these last three weeks.
This was the shortest three and a half hours on record - rich with fascinating orchestration and instrumentation (two harps doubling trumpets(!) for example - four bassoons and a cacophony of flutes/piccolos - as well as an ophicleide). It was an altogether exhilarating evening of the Grandest of Opera, magnificently conducted by Mark Elder, and with some remarkable singing from Joyce El-Khoury and Michael Spyres in the two leading roles, with no less formidable support from David Kempster, Brindley Sherratt and Clive Bayley, showing depth in the quality of the cast assembled by Opera Rara.
Yet another memorable evening from Opera Rara, following their Belisario and Fantasio these last two years.
It should be noted that there is the opportunity to hear Poliuto at Glyndebourne in 2015. That should certainly not be missed.
I have always found Fanciulla del West a problem. Puccini's ability to make huge impact in such pieces as Boheme, Tosca, and Butterfly is partly the result of his economy and compactness - never a superfluous moment. Fanciulla has a problem first act for me - it is an hour long and lacks forward momentum. Whenever I see it I think that it must be just me at the moment. But every time I get impatient and irritated......and have been known to leave in frustration. But in Acts 2 and 3 he gets into his stride of course and the considerable musical and dramatic merits of the piece become irresistible - well almost.
I first saw the piece in December 1962 at Sadler's Wells - in a production by the company that was to become the English National Opera that we know today. That is a long time ago - but curiously memorable. I was sitting in the front row, the conductor was Warwick Braithwaite, and the powerful singing of the three principal singers, Elizabeth Fretwell, Don Smith, and Raimund Herincx, was overwhelming. Well that was then........
And now Puccini was particularly well served by the conducting of Keri-Lynn Wilson, a considerable discovery. Energy and passion there were in abundance, but also subtle delicacy as needed. The ever excellent ENO orchestra came up trumps again, and their remarkable chorus likewise, led as they were by the fiery Miss Wilson.
Craig Colclough was a very well cast Jack Rance - here is a very valuable new baritone who will surely have a prominent career. Peter Auty was the valiant Dick Johnson, and sang the only set piece aria of the opera, Ch'ella mi creda, in fine style with with the robust ringing sound needed for this hefty role. And best of all, the splendid Minnie of Susan Bullock - a real winner.
Richard Jones directed - I have little doubt that this work, accomplished with his usual eye for detail and intellectual integrity, will have a huge success in Santa Fe - ENO's co-producers. Whenever that may be - not in 2015.
The National Opera Studio has a busy calendar of events including Lunchtime recitals at All Saints Church in Wandsworth High Street, near their splendid premises in South West London. They are mostly free and unticketed, a nice bonus for local residents.
Yesterday evening they had a major "scenes" show set in a speed-dating bar! A nice, and not unsuccessful, idea from the creative director of the show, Gilles Rico. It gave an excellent framework for what was essentially a sequence of arias, duets, and ensembles with the theme of love, in all its forms and of every colour. For those of you who, like me, are unfamiliar with speed-dating, well it is kind of Match.com live........I am assuming that you are familiar with the concept at least!
The NOS has a high level of "trainee" - post post graduate level and decidedly on their professional way. There is nothing remotely "student like" about any of these young people so we were treated to some very good stuff indeed.
I was delighted to see Tereza Gevorgyan, a Neue Stimmen finalist last time round. She delivered a charming Adina and Marie in the well put together Donizetti sequence, as well as a convincing Cendrillon, in which she was matched by the glowing voiced Prince Charming of Hanna-Liisa Kirchin.
There were many other excellent things - notably the versatile young lyric tenor Trystan Griffiths who made his mark in Donizetti and Mozart; and the impressive tenor Gerard Schneider who distinguished himslef whilst a student at the Guildhall School, and now is a stand out at the NOS; and Roisín Walsh, a fine Butterfly of most generous personality who catches attention as a real theatre person.
It was a fine evening of music making by talented youth. Tomorrow I will be at the final performance of the English National Opera's acclaimed production of La fanciulla del West.
We are having another glorious few days with the city looking as pretty as it possibly can. So I took a few minutes after lunch to walk from somewhere just east of Vauxhall Bridge to Lambeth Bridge to Westminster Bridge - and to enjoy the life of the Thames and the sight of the Palace of Westminster on a sunny 70 degree late October afternoon. Lovely........!
Final line up including John Norris, Gustav Kuhn, Liz Mohn, and Francisco Araiza
I am on my way back to London after two enjoyable days in Gütersloh. The concert last night was a happy occasion with this varied dozen enjoying themselves hugely while delivering some really distinguished performances.
With Gustav Kuhn in charge and three outstanding pianists, Céline Dutilly, Peter Nelson, and Raffaele Cortesi (seen left) providing indispensable support, we were always in for quality music making. And so it was – with exceptional performances from Lithuanian soprano Aiste Pilibaviciûte, Canadian mezzo Rihab Chaieb, American tenor Jonathan Winell, and Korean baritone Joseph Lim. And really excellent stuff all round – I just mention one from each voice………
We also had a lovely performance of Zueignung from German soprano Raffaela Lintl, 22 year old Italian mezzo Aurora Faggioli delivered a "Rosina meets Carmen" performance of Una voce poco fa, and 23 year old Romanian mezzo Maria Popa demonstrated her remarkable vocal strength and range with Fenena from Nabucco.
I was so glad to hear from Rihab Chaieb that she will be singing Mercedes in Carmen at Glyndebourne next season. It was also good to see Chicago Ryan Center alumnus Joseph Lim, and to hear him in such good form; and to hear also how spendidly Jonathan Winell has developed during his year in the Berlin Staatsoper.
These periodic reunions are hugely enjoyable! The next one will be in Berlin March - a prizewinners' concert at which some of the very best of past Neue Stimmen winners will treat us!
To see the 20 year old Rossini's La scala di seta is a rare treat and so, at the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House, there was a sold out house on Thursday. It is difficult stuff, starting with the famous overture where the oboes get tested to the limit - they did well. And so it goes on for the singers.
There were stand out performances from James Platt and Yuri Yurchuk. I was particularly delighted to see and hear Yurchuk - he is a graduate of De Paul University in Chicago where our old friend Marc Embree was his teacher I believe. He is a great credit to this fine school which I know well from Chicago days of course.
I am now in Gütersloh where the 2014 masterclasses have been conducted all week, culminating this evening with a programme which promises to be entertaining and high quality, judging from the rehearsal that I attended yesterday evening. Cheryl Studer, Gustav Kuhn and Francisco Araiza have been the "masters", and there are a dozen singers, mostly drawn from Neue Stimmen finals candidates, from a wide range of countries, including Germany, Italy, Korea, Lithuania, Canada, Georgia, Brazil, Slovakia, Mexico, and the USA. A terrific mix of talented personalities.
Tutti in rehearsal for L'italiana in Algeri finale Friday evening October 24
A quick update - I am on the way to Gütersloh (home of Neue Stimmen) for two days. I will be reporting from there this eveing and tomorrow. Meanwhile I hope to catch up with other things, in particular the Jette Parker production of La scala di seta which opened last night. More later..........
Thursday saw a visit to each of the Royal Academies - firstly of Arts at Burlington House where the splendid Dennis Hopper show ends this weekend.
And more importantly the Vocal Faculty at the RAM had their opera scenes show, a two hour sans interval ten scene marathon which showed off a huge number of the current crop of singers.
I can not name them all but must just mention some standouts for me - just my quirkiness perhaps but here goes!
There is a promising Polish countertenor to watch out for who appeared in the two Handel selections, as Ruggero in Alcina and Bertarido in Rodelinda. This is Damian Ganclarski - a fine figure of a fellow, with easy stage presence and commitment, and an excellent voice used expressively to boot. He should do well.
There is a firm beautiful voice in the making in Alex Otterburn, who negotiated Don Giovanni and the Count in two of the four Mozart excepts with impressive confidence. An excellent impression - again promises good stuff for the future.
And the real jewel was a brand new Masters student from Spain via the Guildhall School of Music, Lorena Paz - a delightful Despina. I look forward to seeing and hearing much of her in the future. She will no doubt join Royal Academy Opera next year if she does not get snapped up before then!
I am now off to Glyndeburne for the touring Turn of the Screw which opens at the home theatre this afternoon.
As regular readers know I had the extreme pleasure of serving on the jury of the Carl Nielsen competition in Denmark last month. And today I revisited the special world of the flute when I attended a masterclass with William Bennett at the Royal Academy of Music. And what an afternoon it was!
William Bennett is of course a renowned soloist - amongst the world's most distinguished. During my week in Denmark I discovered that flautists are a very special breed, crazy about their instrument and eloquent expressive musicians not unlike singers in their ability to reflect considerable emotion in their playing. So I should not have been surprised to have been so entertained and moved by Bennett's passionate teaching style, and enchanting wicked humour.
Three very young RAM flautist students showed their paces - firstly Silvija Scerbaviciuite, from Vilnius, Lithuania via Chethams School, in the very beautiful third movement of Widor's Suite.
Second up was Chloe Bradshaw - playing Benjamin Godard's delightful Waltz from his Suite Op 116. And finally the very brave Laura Davies who made a fine job of the Dutilleux Sonatine, one of the pieces that I heard around a dozen times in the Nielsen competition in Odense.
Bennett is clearly an inspirational teacher, balancing rigour and discipline with warm encouragement and evident pleasure when, as so often happened this afternoon, the young players responded with commitment both to the music itself and the coaching he was giving them. I had to leave after the break and was sorry to miss the last two - William Bennett had the stamina however to continue until 6 pm!
Tomorrow I am back at the Royal Academy for a scenes event from the Vocal faculty - and at the the other Royal Academy for two shows - Dennis Hopper and Anselm Kiefer.
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