I am here in Barcelona with family - a party of seven, three adults and four under 12.........noisy! I will most likely be silent for the next few days.
It seems like yesterday but it is indeed ten years since I was last here in Cape Town. It has been a pleasure to be back. In the intervening years South African singers have made huge leaps. And yesterday's auditions provided ample evidence of splendid voices extremely well trained, and musical preparation at a level that was not apparent when I was last here. The result is that out of the only nine candidates yesterday three are for the finals and three are for the waiting list. That is an impressive striking rate - possibly the best of all the cities that I have visited for Neue Stimmen auditions in last last four months.
South African singers in recent years have had prize winning success in both Operalia and Belvedere competitions. There have been finalists in Cardiff and Neue Stimmen. There may or not be a prize winner with us this year - but I would not rule it out.......
South African opera activity is concentrated in Cape Town where the University of Cape Town has an exceptional opera training programme. Formerly led by Angelo Gobbato, they now have Kamal Khan in charge, building on the impressive legacy of Angelo. But Angelo is still very much around and I was present for the last 45 minutes of a Figaro rehearsal yesterday evening. They have the depth of student strength to be able to double cast - and really well too.
And the Cape Town Opera has, after a few years of transition during the political changes in this country, emerged as a flourishing and high quality force providing exciting employment opportunities for the young men and women emerging from UCT.
Hout Bay harbour August 12 2015
This morning I met up with Kim Gunning, an old friend and colleague from early Chicago days whom I have not seen for a good many years. She a busy theatre and opera "animal" working alongside William Kentridge on most of his opera projects, as well as being in demand when available at the Cape Town Opera. I was lucky to coincide with her here for she is off to New York at the weekend for meetings on a new Met project. We made the most of a grey day and took a trip to Hout Bay - a delightful spot. We managed time for lunch there and were back in town by 2:30. I am now at the airport waiting for my flight to London.
I will add photos tomorrow - there has been a major foul up in the British Airways internet system at Cape Town airport.
PS - now done. Unprecedented limit on data in British Airways lounge at Cape Town Airport - odd, and annoying! I am now home in London after excellent on time flight. And I have a day to prepare to go on a family holiday to Barcelona tomorrow. I have not been there for years........
©Richard Hubert Smith
Danielle de Niese and François Piolino
I was at the opening of Glyndebourne's final offering of the season on Saturday - the enchanting double bill of L'Heure Espagnole and L'Enfant et les Sortilèges. It is a short evening and unalloyed joy - Glyndebourne's hallmark attention to detail and thorough preparation paying huge dividends in these two minute jewels of music theatre.
Danielle de Niese astonishes with her versatility, seemingly effortlessly inhabiting both Concepción in L'Heure and the Child in L'Enfant - a considerable achievement. Is she the first singer to have taken on both these roles in a single evening? In any event she triumphed and was fortunate to have around her an immaculate ensemble of individual stars, the whole blending together to make a memorable evening to finish off a season abundant in good things.
Glyndebourne's young music director Robin Ticciati is successfully embarking on French repertoire - Béatrice et Bénédict follows next year and there will be more in the future I understand. So far so very good indeed!
I am off to Cape Town this evening, and already back on Thursday morning. A long way for such a short trip......but there is an excellent list of South African singers to be heard for Neue Stimmen. Then we will be done!
Our auditions today were as usual at the splendid Palacio Bellas Artes (above) where they look after us so well. And it was a good productive day with a good little group of finalists, including a tenor! Yes we needed one - well actually we need more than one more ideally so I am keeping my fingers crossed for Cape Town next week.
Francisco Araiza was with me, and before the auditions we made our bi-ennial visit to Los Girasoles for the seasonal delicacy of worms, grasshoppers and ants eggs. These are protein rich foods.......and only available in the first week of August I understand!
We had a really good turn out of singers at a higher level than usual here. But we were done on schedule at 5:30 and Francisco and I went off to the airport together, he to take a plane to Cancun, and me to London. We will meet again on the finals jury in Gütersloh in October.
I will be home in London by 4 pm tomorrow Tuesday. A few days of repose are in store, then the opening of the revival at Glyndebourne of the Ravel Double Bill of L'Heure Espagnole and L'Enfant et les Sortilèges on Saturday evening. No doubt other things will crop up but for now that is it!
My auditions here are tomorrow so after the horrendous long flight yesterday I was delighted to take it easy today. I go here at around 11:50 pm which translated, with the two hour time change, to 1:50 am.......and I ended up with barely 5 hours sleep. So this would not have been a good day to hear 25 singers!
But it was a great opportunity to visit the remarkable National Museum of Anthropology - so I went off quite early and spent the best part of the morning there. It could take all day but I am not good at that. This was just a taste for my next visit to Mexico City in 2017 when I hope to spend more time here.
I returned for lunch at my really excellent hotel, the Hilton Mexico City Reforma, but walked up through the Alameda Park from the Bellas Artes, location of our auditions having been dumped down there by my taxi because of traffic chaos!
It is always an event especially at the weekend. I loved the policeman getting a shoe shine!
I have a whole day of travelling ahead - flying from Buenos Aires to Mexico with a 90 minute layover changing planes in Panama. I will be lucky to get to my Mexico City hotel by midnight! But there is much to look forward to tomorrow and Monday. I will be meeting up with Francisco Araiza for the auditions on Monday. And we should make our biennial visit to eat worms in a nice restaurant adjacent to the Bellas Artes. I hope he makes it in time for this seasonal delicacy - he is flying in from his holiday home in Cancun.
But for now, Saturday morning here in Buenos Aires, its patience to survive and even enjoy the journey!
The last 24 hours have seen two demonstrations here in Buenos Aires of very different kinds.
Yesterday evening there was a demonstration, an outpouring of enthusiastic appreciation, directed at Martha Argerich after her performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto number 2, as his first concerto is called! And stunning it was too, and the audience let her have it, and would not let her go, and she came back again and again and they still wouldn't stop! She is, as they say here, a "monster". Altogether extraordinary music making on top of her astonishing technical perfection. And Daniel Barenboim accompanied her with the WEDO with affection of course. These two Argentine artists are very special, and to see them together at the Colón was a privilege.
This afternoon on my way to another audition at the Colón I encountered another demo - this one in support of demands for devolution. I don't think that it will come to this is Scotland.....but you never can tell!
Anyway this one was peaceful and colourful, and somewhat noisy.
I am now off on a pilgrimage to Jutta Ohlsson's favourite restaurant, Edelweiss, where I had so many wonderful lunches and dinners with her and colleagues over the years. This evening we will remember her and toast her - we will shed a tear and we will dine well, as she always did, with gusto and laughter.
Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires 11:40 am July 30 2015
I am here in Buenos Aires for the ninth time - but it is a sad visit for our great friend and colleague, Jutta Ohlsson, who had looked after Neue Stimmen and me over the years, passed away just a few months ago leaving a terrible void. She will be terribly missed by the generations of artists she cared for on their visits to the Colón over the forty years she was there. And the many young singers whom she nurtured, and guided through the Neue Stimmen process, owe her a huge debt. I know they are grateful, and I am sad that the next generation will not have that inspiration.
We had the auditions this afternoon and there is a waiting list candidate and another singer whom I am hoping to hear tomorrow who was not with us today following the date change.
I will cheer myself up this evening with a visit to the Colón where Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra have a concert with none other than the greatest of them all, Martha Argerich. This is, as you may imagine, a major musical treat for me!!! Of which more in due course.
The 2008 Turin production of Thais by Stefano Poda has been a huge success here in São Paulo, and I had the pleasure of being at a performance yesterday evening. And a great evening in the theatre it was with a piece that is far from easy to make its effect. Clearly great care was lavished on it with exceptional dancers, fine work by the chorus, and a production that had clearly been thoroughly well prepared in this revival. Impressive!
And it was so encouraging to find an audience of much less than the usual average age that one encounters in the UK - and drawn as well from a wide ranging socio economic demographic. The secret is of course cost of access. The top price in this lovely theatre (built 1911) is £24, middle price £16, and bottom price £12. The enthusiasm and appreciation of the audience was heart warming to witness. So opera is alive and well for the younger crowd in São Paulo at least!
My auditions here yesterday yielded one really excellent finalist as well as three for the waiting list. I am in Buenos Aires tomorrow (flying from here this evening) and go on to Mexico City on Saturday. These two cities should yield the final few that we need.......but leaving space for a South African or two - I am off to Cape Town on August 10!
The Tryp Hotel, São Paulo
I am here in São Paulo, the largest city of South America, safely installed yesterday evening in the charming hotel I stayed in last time I was here, the Tryp, in the unpromisingly named but delightful neighbourhood of Higienópolis!
Its a horrible long flight from London - over 11 hours for the 6 thousand miles. But British Airways were efficient, on time, and comfortable, and the theatre kindly sent a car to take me to the hotel. Perfect under the circumstances!
My auditions are tomorrow afternoon, and then there is the treat of Thais at the opera. I have not seen the piece since Nice in 1997.
The Higienópolis shopping centre.........!
I spent my morning off today going no further than the immediate area around here - it was a glorious day, 25 degrees and not a cloud. And this part of town is leafy and really pretty with some interesting buildings, largely residential. But there is an excellent shopping centre where I found Ráscal when I was here before. I had a good lunch there and will return for supper this evening.
São Paulo gives the impression of being a huge modern prosperous city with an enormous comfortable middle class of the kind that is disappearing from the US and the UK. Of course there is more to Brazil than meets the eye in Higienópolis - the name tells it all!
The Buenos Aires Park is near by - full of young families at play, and old men sitting with shirts off sunning themselves on what must presumably be early spring here in the southern hemisphere. I was glad to see that tree hugging is also a Brazilian thing!
I am off to supper now and if I can get a good night's sleep and defeat the comparatively modest time change of only four hours I hope to go further afield tomorrow before the auditions.
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