Classical Music Buzz > Brian Dickie
Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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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.

 

5 months ago | |
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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.

5 months ago | |
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I have had a busy week and have been less than diligent on the blog.......

There was a fine opportunity on Wednesday evening to hear a good many of the Royal Academy of Muisc students - the Pavarotti Prize. Sadly there was precious little Italian opera on offer, and no Verdi at all - something that Pavarotti might have raised his eyebrows at!  But there is little Verdi available for young singers apart from Oscar, Nanetta and Fenton......better not let them get at the heftier stuff too soon.

The prize was won by the finest voice - and that was the excellent Céline Forrest - a fullish lyric singing Dove sono and The Jewel song. I have no idea who came second, or indeed if anyone was named as runner up or highly commended.  There were some excellent candidates for such an accolade - Angharad Lyddon is one to watch, as is Emily Vine. No doubt all will be seen again when the RAM produce a Puccini double bill in November - plenty of parts for display in Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica.

Earlier in the day I got at last to a jewel of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  This was Virginia Woolf: Art, Life, and Vision.  It only on for another week or so - a delight and easy to pop into for an hour or less.  And it is accompanied by a treasure of a book by the exhibition's curator Frances Spalding. 

From Hungerford Bridge October 9

Yesterday evening I was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for an intriguing Rameau double bill - Pigmalion and Anacréon.  As always the early evening crossing to the South Bank showed London and its river to advantage.

It was good to see a packed house for this Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment season opener.  And such a pleasure it was indeed to discover, for me, unknown Rameau.  What a pioneer he was......

There was some fine singing, in particular from Daniel Auchincloss and Anna Dennis.

Rameau scholar Jonathan Williams conducted and it was good to see last Saturday's excellent conductor of Poppea at the Barbican, Robert Howarth, at the harpsichord last night.  Strong casting!!

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Little is it realised the extent to which the "Assistant conductor" contributes to the success of a production.  Major opera companies will have a number of them on the staff, beavering away in the background and so often, it has to be declared, making the difference between a guest conductor having a success or not.........e

Some even emerge from a long career as a staff conductor to take a place amongst the Pantheon of the greats.  Reginald Goodall comes to mind. So it is good that they come into the limelight on occasion.

And so it was at the Royal Opera House yesterday evening when Paul Wynne Griffiths took charge of the last performance of Rigoletto.  This was a series of performances that had some cast changes along the way.  But we got the original cast last night.......and Griffiths had everything under complete control of course.  It is to the huge credit of the house that they retain the services of such indispensable and so often under valued and under appreciated team players.

The cast was the usual mixed bag one gets in the great opera houses these days.  Not an Italian in sight, an Albanian tenor, a Polish soprano, a Lithuanian mezzo, an English Rigoletto (the always distinguished Simon Keenlyside) and Sparafucile........a patchwork of the best around these days but do we not all so miss Italian opera sung by Italians?!  Things will only get worse as opera is dying in Italy - the latest casualty being the Rome Opera.

The Royal Opera House is on a roll - a sold out house on a Monday evening for this revival of David McVicar's production, at the highest prices in Europe.  As Molière rightly said "Of all the noises known to man, Opera is the most expensive".

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    You can now see Vienna State Opera productions at home for  an amazingly reasonable price. And you can give it a try for free.  But at just €14 a go for live streaming and only €5 for archived videos - that is just €1 an hour for Meistersinger - this seems to be a bargain. 
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The Academy of Ancient Music has adorned the London music scene, and more widely around the world, for more than 40 years.  The recent death of its founder Christopher Hogwood reminded us, if necessary, of the huge influence that the AAM has had on the early music movement.  And it was entirely appropriate that Christopher should have been paid tribute at last night's semi-staged performance of Monteverdi's Poppea.

The AAM put together a stellar cast, including Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role and Sarah Connolly as Nero.  Antonacci was a very specific piece of casting, breaking many of the rules - but she could have been remarkable in the role.  Alas she withdrew.  Her replacement was a no less distinguished and revered artist, Lynne Dawson - and the result of course was also a very different Poppea from one's normal expectations, but as stylish and sophisticated as one would expect from such a fine artist.

Sarah Connolly gave an astonishing performance as Nero - marvellous singing and a remarkable assumption of the character of the appalling Nero. Iestyn Davies, undoubtedly the counter-tenor du jour by a mile, brought all his customary subtlety to his assumption of Ottone - another riveting performance from this splendid artist.  Marina de Liso was a powerfully moving Ottavia, and Matthew Rose, the best young bass of the day, completed the main principal line up as Seneca - a fine array indeed.

There was true depth in the casting with striking contributions from Sophie Junker as Drusilla, really lovely, the excellent Daniela Lehner as Damigella, Andrew Tortise a very finely sung Arnalta, and Elmar Gilbertsson a mightily sensuous Lucano in both singing and acting. All other roles were strongly taken, including some sensible double casting, and I must especially mention Charmian Bedford, daughter of my old friends Steuart and Celia, as the excellent La Fortuna.

The other casualty of the evening was the original conductor Richard Egarr - but the AAM had the good fortune to have Robert Howarth in command of his little band of just ten players.

The "semi-staging" was devised by Alexander Oliver and Tim Nelson.  And they dealt with the challenge of the Barbican with considerable aplomb. The audience loved it - it was however slightly ironic that the back page of the Barbican program last night was advertising performances at the Wanamaker Playhouse, site of the last performance I saw of a Venetian opera, Cavalli's L'Ormindo.

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When Nicholas Hytner's production of Xerxes was unveiled at the Coliseum in 1985 it was clear that Handel at last, on his 300th birthday, had taken his rightful place as central to our repertoire - Hytner had found a way to communicate in 20th century theatrical language, with a not small contribution from Charles Mackerras in the pit, the humanity of this operatic genius and the universal appeal of his operas. We now take all this for granted as so many of Handel's operas have taken their place in the repertoire of the "grand opera" houses of North America and Europe.  The influence of this production can not be over estimated.

And so has also emerged a remarkable family of opera singers who think nothing of singing Handel at the Met or Munich, and an army of outstanding counter-tenors in the place of the three or four that one might have identified 40 years ago.

ENO has had a distinguished record in this repertory since 1985.  While Semele had been produced at Sadler's Wells, only the excellent John Copley production of Julius Caesar had been seen at the Coliseum before the Hytner breakthrough.

7764© Mike Hoban/ENO

Alice Coote and Sarah Tynan

The title role of Xerxes, taken with such distinction by Ann Murray in 1985, has seen Sarah Connolly and now, in the current revival Alice Coote - our three unequalled Handelian mezzos of recent years. And Alice Coote was joined with utter distinction by Sarah Tynan as Romilda. Alice Coote gives a riveting performance in every department - such a joy to see and hear such engagement as she completely inhabits the role.

With a fine group of singers in the other roles, notably Neal Davies and Andrew Watts, and Harewood artists Rhian Lois and Catherine Young, we had a real company performance showing once again the strength in depth of the indispensable English National Opera. Yet another happy evening at the Coliseum.

I am sure the gardeners welcome the rain but it is bleak out there this morning.......

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The opera program at the RAM has got off to a very quick start just three weeks into their with a two hour programme of scenes which was somewhat blighted by the illness of their best young people Emily Vine and Bradley Smith.  But, resourceful as ever, Jane Glover and her team improvised with valiant performances at a day's notice from Christopher Diffey and Christine Buras from the side of the stage, with Emily and Bradley acting .....it is a proven technique not infrequently used in more august locations than a conservatory.

RU5A7927 approvedPhoto courtesy RAM

Emily Vine, Angharad Lyddon with Henry Neill in Korngold's Die tote Stadt

The program was remarkably varied with Poulenc, Rossini, Monteverdi, Korngold, Cimrosa, Berlioz and Richard Strauss all making contributions.  The very clever John Ramster and his designers Jake Wiltshire and Patrick Doyle made seamless transitions between each scene - some achievement.

There were striking contributions from Bozidar Smiljanic and Henry Neill, two very promising young singers, and clearly the rest of RAM Opera 2014-15, many familiar from their recent performances there, are off to a busy start to their year.  We look forward to seeing them in full production mode in a Puccini double bill in November.  

This evening I am at the Coliseum for Xerxes - and tomorrow Poppea at the Barbican.  And for something completely different Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House on Monday.

Meanwhile we can enjoy yet another beautiful October day.

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I have had a few days of catching up with old friends and colleagues, and a few more to go this week.  Last week it was the perennial delight of seeing Tom Graham who is as relaxed and amusing as ever, a big heart and a sharp observer of our musical environment.  Nobody can get away with anything......!

The occasion was celebration of his 70th birthday.  He had three - one in New York and two here in London the first of which I missed as I was in Denmark.  As always at such events there were many old friends and colleagues - a happy occasion all round. 

On Monday I was delighted to see John Willan after quite a little time, for lunch at the excellent Union Café in Marylebone Lane.  John was boss of the LPO during my last years at Glyndebourne, had an immensely successful spell at BBC Worldwide, was co-founder of Hazard Chase, and has recently opened a new "boutique" management company - Percius - which is already making waves.

There were more reminiscences on Tuesday with Alexander Oliver coming to dinner at Battersea.  Sandy is in London to direct the Academy of Ancient Music's semi staged performance  of Poppea at the  Barbican on Saturday evening.  This takes us back to the beginnings of Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1968 - and Sandy has just retired from the leadership of the Opera programme of the Amsterdam Conservatory.  So almost 50 years of stories!

And today Christopher Hunt, who is in London for a few days from his home in France, was another visitor to Battersea.  So more catching up again.......

This evening I am at the Royal Academy of Music for the first Opera Scenes event of their academic year.  More about that tomorrow.

 

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From the first bar of Otello last night at the Coliseum it was clear that we were in for an evening of great music making under the inspiring guidance of Edward Gardner. The ENO orchestra and chorus have delivered some spectacular performances under their music director in the last 12 months - great scores such as Peter Grimes and Benvenuto Cellini  come to mind, and now Otello .  It has been a rich period and he will be greatly missed - lucky (clever) Bergen to have him in succession to Andrew Litton.

Otello-ENO-Alistair-Muir© Alistair Muir/ENO

In the cast first and foremost were the superb performances of Stewart Skelton and Jonathan Summers (above). In addition there was a notable Cassio from Alan Clayton and some splendid full blooded singing from the Desdemona Leah Crocetto. An as always at ENO these days there was strong casting down to the last little detail.

David Alden is unerring in my view - such an intelligent and musical director whose work at ENO has over the years given such lustre to the house.

I hate to mention my unease with this piece in English - but the adjustment was relatively easy with such fine performanes in all departments............funny thing, did not get the same feeling with the recent Traviata and Rigoletto. Maybe it is just the unique character of the word Bacio!  Somehow "kiss" does not quite make the grade!

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