One of the pleasures of the week has been a visitor from Omaha, Roger Weitz, General Director of the Omaha Opera. He made a vast contribution to the successes we had a COT between 2000 and 2010. It is wonderful to see how he is transforming Omaha Opera with most interesting work both in terms of repertoire and in his approach to producing quality work.
We spent a couple of hours together with other colleagues on Wednesday afternoon, he came to the Rakes Progress at the Royal Academy of Music yesterday evening, saw a performance of Zauberflöte at Covent Garden and will see the Indian Queen at ENO. We will catch up on his trip over lunch on Sunday, and he returns to the far mid west on Monday!
Earlier in the week I was at the concert performance of Semele given at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to open the London Handel Festival. I am fond of this piece and we were proud to stage a lively production at COT twelve years ago. It really needs staging - it is an opera after all I say, in defiance of those who call it something else.......including Handel himself who evidently did not intend it for the stage. Well it is in English and opera was an Italian art form in the 1740s.
We were treated to some excellent performances especially from Anna Devin and Rupert Charlesworth with the indefatigable Laurence Cummings presiding with his customary authority. So a good start to the excellent annual Handel activities here in London, the primary staged opera contribution to which will be an opportunity to see Giove in Argo at the Royal College of Music opening on March 24.
Yesterday evening the Royal Academy Opera delivered their much anticipated Rake's Progress. As an old Glyndebourne hand this piece if of course another one very close to my heart. And I remember an early production of it at the very same Royal Academy around 1965 when the young Sheila Armstrong emerged to eventually become one of the most admired sopranos of her generation.
Photo: Royal Academy Opera
Božidar Smiljanic (Nick Shadow) and Bradley Smith (Tom Rakewell)
This time the focus for me was on the Nick Shadow of Božidar Smiljanic. This young man goes from strength to strength with each production he is seen in. We will hear much more of him. His exemplary communication of the text was mirrored by similar achievement by Bradley Smith as Tom. A good job by both of them - no supertitles provided, and none needed! But this was a company achievement with exceptionally fine work from the chorus in John Ramster's excellent production. The Royal Academy Opera's distinguished director Jane Glover presided.
Manuel Lange, Mária Celeng and Xiahou Jinxu rehearsing for the prizewinner's concert Thursday March 5 2015
We had a really good evening in Berlin in Thursday with a delightful quartet of former Neue Stimmen competitors delivering an enjoyable short programme devised by our friend Manuel Lange, Prorektor and Professor of Lieder at the Musik Hochschule in Detmold. We had a blend of song and opera with a wintery theme, even including a song by Roger Quilter, Blow, blow thou winter wind. For the rest it was Richard Strauss, Schubert, Wolf and Debussy. And for opera we had Mozart, Verdi and Puccini with Mária Celeng and Xiahou Jinxhu utterly convincing as Mimi and Rodolfo - two talented winners in 2011.
Additionally we had Eunju Kwon, winner in 2009, and Vuyani Mlinde, semi finalist in 2007 since when he has gone from strength to strength as a member of the Frankfurt Opera ensemble. He is a graduate of the Royal Opera's Jette Parker young artists programme. Vuyani was impressive as Banquo as well as in the Quilter song, and an accomplished Leporello as well. Eunju gave us Strauss's Schlechtes Wetter and Wolf's Des Wassermanns sein Töchterlein as well as Puccini.
Libiamo, libiamo - the full quartet!
Earlier in the week there was Purcell at the English National Opera - The Indian Queen in an expanded and elaborated version by Peter Sellars with some splendid performances from Lucy Crowe, Julia Bullock, Noah Stewart (a COT graduate!) and the remarkable Luthando Qave, one of our Neue Stimmen finalists who has been in the Met's Lindemann programme these last few years.
And on Wednesday the Guildhall School of Music's opera department put on two rarities - Donizetti's I pazzi per projetto and Malcolm Arnold's The Dancing Master. I am not entirely convinced of the wisdom of presenting these pieces with students. They are really hard to bring off - but full marks to the Guildhall for their curiosity and enterprise!
I have had a leisurely Saturday - a glorious day and early spring weather got me on a bike to ride up to the embankment in Battersea Park late this afternoon. It was a stunning evening.
I am off to Berlin this morning for the annual Neue Stimmen prize winners concert. More about that later - and also a report on the ENO Indian Queen and last night's Double Bill at the Guildhall School of Music. But for now off to Gatwick to confront the joys of Easyjet........
Yes, for the first time Le roi de Lahore, Massenet's somewhat Kitschy oriental exotic, of irresistible charm, has been heard in London, yesterday evening in a real fun concert performance by the fearless Chelsea Opera Group at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. And I would not have missed it for anything.
With the splendid Michael Spyres in the killer title role they could not go wrong. The rest of the cast requires considerable heft as well and we had heroic efforts from the excellent William Dazeley, young Jihoon Kim, splendid Joshua Bloom, an old colleague from Chicago days, as well as two of the best young women from the Royal Opera House Jette Parker programme, past and present, Justina Gringyte and Anush Hovhannisyan. And the whole enterprise was welded together by the Royal Opera's exceptional chorus master Renato Balsadonna, no mean feat and evidence of his considerable distinction as inspirational force.
The COG's next outing will be on July 3 at the QEH for Ernani. That should not be missed since it stars Helena Dix and Gwyn Hughes Jones which is as good casting as you can reasonably expect.
This evening I am off to The Indian Queen at the English National Opera - another collectors item!
I must apologise to all my friends and colleagues for my absence from the cyberworld. I really did not think that you would miss me - so it is, in a way, gratifying that I have had so many messages of concern!
I am very much alive and enjoying London and family life and not putting too much pressure on to cram in too much given that from next month onwards until the end of this round of Neue Stimmen in October I will be non stop.
© Catherine Ashmore/ENO
Iain Paterson (Hans Sachs) in ENO Mastersingers
Last night was almost six spectacular hours at ENO's Mastersingers, following a long enjoyable lunch with Matthew Epstein. So it was quite a day - enough to fill a normal week! And the joy of settling down at 5pm for Mastersingers knowing that we would not be done until a little before 11 pm was as great as ever - having heard from all what a superlative show ENO has once again put on. The depth of casting quality was as exceptional as it usually is with this fine company - there was star quality in the smallest of roles, a wonderful new David in Nicky Spence, veteran Andrew Shore gloriously accomplished as Beckmesser, reminding me of Olivier in the many cameo roles he gave us at the National Theatre in the early days........a Walther who would shine in the role on any stage on the world - Gwyn Hughes Jones, and Rachel Nicholls a warmly touching sympathetic Eva. And presiding over all this, but never over dominating, the glorious warm persona of Iain Paterson (our Don Giovanni at COT back in 2008).
Richard Jones has come up again and again with superb work for ENO - and this is another triumph of intelligence and execution from a master. And with Edward Gardner in the pit the glow and pace of this marvellous opera was in supreme hands. So all in all an evening to treasure.
ENO has another new production this evening - Purcell's Indian Queen. I hope to be there next week.
One other thing this week was the excellent Hong Kong Philharmonic at the Cadogan Hall on Tuesday evening. Michael MacLeod, former General Director of Glimmerglass, has been in charge in Hong Kong for the last four years, and it was a great pleasure to see him for this, the first concert of a European tour. The excellent Chinese violinist Ning Feng, a graduate of London's Royal Academy of Music, gave us the Beethoven concerto, and Prokofiev's 5th symphony showed of the virtuosity of this orchestra and its particularly outstanding strong sections. Jaap van Zweden is the orchestra's music director - his considerable strengths are know to the Dallas audience and of course we got know him in Chicago. He is a force of nature!
It is a horrible wet day here in London. I am staying in and catching up for the time being.........
It is with a profound sense of sadness, sorrow and shock that we must announce that our dear friend and colleague, Andrew Patner, passed away this morning after a very brief battle with a bacterial infection that overwhelmed his body.
The news came to us from Tom Bachtell, Andrew’s long-time partner who said, “Our Andrew is no more.” Andrew’s voice, keen intelligence and great spirit will be sorely missed at this radio station, which was part of his professional life for many years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tom and to Andrew’s family. When details about services are announced we will provide them to you. Rest in peace dear friend. Your many contributions to WFMT and to this community will never be forgotten. - Steve Robinson, General Manager
I have much to say about the remarkable Andrew, friend and colleague and passionate advocate for all we did in Chicago.......he will be so missed.
On Friday evening I was at the RAM again - this time for the graduate students not yet in the Royal Academy Opera, but doing some operatic exercises nevertheless. And rightly the emphasis was put on Mozart - no less than four scenes, one each from from Così, Idomeneo, Zauberflöte, and Entführung. All very important and challenging stuff! This is fundamental to the education and training of singers of course..........
As one would expect there were some striking young talents on display - and invidious though it may be to mention them in particular, there were three that stood out for me. They included the Ilia - Verity Wingate who somehow seemed to emerge from the pack, as it were. Interesting. A vocally beautifully endowed baritone Robert Garland was an impressive Demetrius in the excerpt from Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, and Lorena Paz, also in the Britten, once again showed special promise as Helena.
It was very good news that included in the programme was an excerpt from Jonathan Dove's Flight. This was an entertaining end to an ambitious evening - with special mention due to Dutch mezzo Liza van der Peijl - a big personality, natural performer, and of vocal distinction.
Last night the Andrea Chenier from the Royal Opera was relayed live on BBC Radio 3. It was a thrilling performance in every way, with Jonas Kaufmann extraordinary in the title role. Having seen Bergonzi, Carreras and Domingo in this opera over the years I can say confidently that this is as good as it gets. I will try to get to the performance on Tuesday - sold out so I will have to go on bended knee - probably without success!
Photo ©Johan Persson / National Theatre
Damien Moloney (Spike) and Olivia Vinall (Hilary)
It is always a delight, too rare alas, to get to the theatre and dispense with singers and music for a change. So an evening at the National Theatre at the final preview of a new play by the mercurial witty Tom Stoppard - directed by the NT's outgoing director Nicholas Hytner, and a superb cast led by the magnetic Olivia Vinall and Damien Moloney - it was a treat indeed.
The press night is tonight and the play is sold out. But it is to be extended with tickets on sale from February 12, and will no doubt go to the West End in due course. But try to grab it now while still in the perfect little Dorfman Theatre at the NT.
Photo: Royal Academy of Music
Gwilym Bowen (A novice) and Henry Neill (Billy Budd)
Royal Academy Opera put together a varied and challenging programme for their "scenes" evening this week. I was there last night. So early in the term it is quite a task to prepare such a thing - but the large and enthusiastic audience, which always attends such events at the performance rich Royal Academy of Music, were treated to a good sampling of the talent in the Royal Academy Opera with excerpts from Elektra, Hänsel und Gretel, Don Carlo, Carmen, Billy Budd, Eugene Onegin, Iphigénie en Tauride, Maria Stuarda, and La clemenza di Tito - an impressive range by any standard!
For me the most successful of these was a really impressive pair of performances from Gwilym Bowen and Henry Neill in Billy Budd - perfect casting of two very gifted young artists. And one could not help noticing again the exceptional Chinese baritone Haobin Wang who impresses on each apprearance with RAO. His Rodrigo and Cecil showed off a very valuable "Italian" baritone in the making.
The show was directed with imagination and skill by Victoria Newlyn and Julian Reynolds took charge in the pit with piano, occasional harpsichord, and sundry woodwind and horn for the Tchaikovsky, Humperdinck, and Mozart.
Next week the RAM vocal faculty have a scenes programme.........it is non stop for singers at the Royal Academy!
The National Opera Studio is just down the road from me in Wandsworth - well a 15-20 minute bus ride door to door. So its relative distance from central London is not an issue for me. But for others it is - nevertheless there was a splendid turn out in Wandsworth yesterday evening for an excellent and fascinating evening of French song, curated by the distinguished authority on all art song matters Iain Burnside.
The benefit to budding opera singers of having opportunities for detailed work on the song repertory is firmly understood now and needs no further advocacy from me. It is particularly gratifying that the NOS pursues the French repertoire so seriously, and it is here that the benefits of working on mélodie are so striking.
With groups of songs by Debussy, Honegger, Fauré, Chabrier, Ibert, Messiaen, Bizet and Poulenc, there were few notable stones unturned. And there was distinguished work showing much understanding of the importance of this repertoire from the young opera singers. Chosen as they are from the very best talent around nationally and internationally, the vocal quality was exceptional throughout. And there were particularly striking contributions in this magical but elusive repertoire from Matthew Durkan, Katharine Crompton, Roisín Walsh and Gyula Nagy. But there were revelations from all, and it is truly pleasing that the NOS director, Kathryn Harries, displays such passionate commitment to the French musical landscape.
There was an intriguing partner for the evening, the Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation - they could become a valuable player in the noble mission of promoting knowledge and understanding of French poetry and song. This is an excellent start!
This evening I will be at the scenes programme of the Royal Academy Opera..........another opportunity to keep an eye and ear on the abundant emerging talent.
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