Aldeburgh Parish Church
It is such a pleasure to be back in Suffolk - the Aldeburgh Festival provides unique pleasures since it is so immersed in the community. The feel of the festival can not be duplicated elsewhere.
I arrived yesterday by train from London's Liverpool Street station via Ipswich and Melton. We went to the Aldeburgh Golf Club for a quick beer and sandwich lunch before popping up the road to Aldeburgh Parish Church for the Bernarda Fink Masterclass recital. Typical Aldeburgh - the wonderful bass Matthew Rose was in the club after a round of golf - a brief pause for him before returning to London for the next Tristan at the Coliseum on Wednesday!
The recital was, I assume, the culmination of a process during which careful selected singers worked with Bernarda Fink on song repertoire - in this case exclusively "Slavic Song". This was a good opportunity for Dvorák and Martinu, as well as one Janácek item, and some more obscure composers, the Czech Vitezslav Novak, and the Slovenians Anton Lajovic, Lucijan Marija Škerjanc and Fran Gerbic. We also had some Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff.
The singers were all either sopranos or mezzos - not a man to be seen and heard! Well that is fine but resulted in a degree of monotony given that this was a parade of different singers and pianists with the programme itself seeming random. But it was a splendid opportunity for the audience to discover some new jewels of the repertoire - altogether enjoyable.
The singers were Polish, Macedonian/Canadian, French, German, Irish, Mexican, English, and American. The pianists Welsh, Irish, Japanese, American/Czech, English, and one citizen of Europe who has studied in France and London's RCM and is active in Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Israel.
So it was a splendid mix of gifted young artists and it may be invidious to single any one out. But I will anyway! The German mezzo Silvia Hauer and the Irish pianist Killian Farrell seemed to me to have something extra special! But all round it was an invigoratingly high standard and must have been a wonderful experience for all the participants.
There is a return to Aldeburgh Church this afternoon for Violin and Viola duos with Zehetmair and Killius. Only in Aldeburgh!
The great David Cairns has just celebrated his 90th birthday - and in energetic style conducting his Thorington Players and Singers in St Mary's, Putney yesterday evening.
This was a warm coming together of music lovers and friends from every generation, to enjoy a musical outpouring of affection for the great man - and to remind us of how good it is to get away from our trivial issues how ever important they may seem to us. Mendelssohn, Bach, Mozart and Berlioz do more for us than any of these transient politicians currently plaguing us!
Tomorrow I am off to Orford and Aldeburgh for three days for some further pleasures thanks to the Aldeburgh Festival which opened this weekend. My first event will be the Bernarda Fink masterclass recital in Aldeburgh Church tomorrow afternoon. More about that, and further excitements, as and when!
For now it is a rainy day in London - an unwelcome respite from our few last sunny days....
Garsington's Opera Pavilion from the garden
Garsington Opera has just announced its 2017 season having opened ten days ago with a wonderful production of Eugene Onegin. Full of justified confidence the season will expand a little in 2017 - ticket sales are up and the new team have now settled in and are doing wonderful work. I have pasted in the Press release below. The pictures are mine!
"In 2017 Garsington Opera will extend to an eight week season from Thursday 1 June – Sunday 30 July. The main season will expand from three to four opera productions annually, and will see the start of a partnership with the Philharmonia Orchestra. In addition, next year there will be a large scale, newly commissioned community opera.
Douglas Boyd and John Cox
"The season will open with a new production of Handel’s Semele to be conducted by Jonathan Cohen with Annilese Miskimmon directing. The Philharmonia Orchestra will be joining for a new production of Pelléas et Mélisande with conductor Jac van Steen and director Michael Boyd. John Cox’s celebrated production of Le nozze di Figaro will be recreated for the Wormsley stage, conducted by Douglas Boyd, and Martin Duncan’s acclaimed production of Rossini’s Il turco in Italia will be conducted by David Parry.
David Parry and Martin Duncan
"Silver Birch, a new commission by composer Roxanna Panufnik and librettist Jessica Duchen, uniting professional artists with 170 members of the local community, will be presented by Garsington Opera’s Learning and Participation programme. It will be conducted by Douglas Boyd and directed by Karen Gillingham."
I will be back to Garsington next weekend for a performance of Eugene Onegin, the ten days later for Idomeneo and L'italiana in Algeri.
Just one of the many pleasures of the English operatic summer scene.
English National Opera are opening a splendid new production of Tristan und Isolde on Thursday and I was at the Dress rehearsal yesterday afternoon. Here will be another affirmation of the huge importance of this beleaguered company; and evidence that it is still in the finest of artistic health and things are looking good! And above all sounding good - an understatement. The cast for the Tristan is vocally magnificent, and Ed Gardner is back in the pit - how he is missed in spite of the excellent work done by his successor (but now resigned!) Mark Wigglesworth.
The title roles are in the hands of Stuart Skelton, a latter day Jon Vickers in the scope and range of what he excels in, and the formidable voice and presence of Heidi Melton who is is more than a match for him. There is an outstanding Brangäne in Karen Cargill, and a glorious King Marke - the ever more remarkable Matthew Rose. I often think back to that day in or around 2001 when he auditioned for me at Curtis in Philadelphia- this amazingly gifted young man from Brighton, England! He is the best.......
ENO's new Artistic Director, Daniel Kramer (left), is by chance thrown in at the deep end just as his appointment is announced - poor man! But he will surely have a success with this - aided and abetted by Anish Kapoor and his design team who provide a stunning set of solutions for this five hour masterpiece. This wonderful artist was responsible for our beautiful "Bean" in Chicago........!
So another magnificent achievement by ENO which you MUST see! I have the impression that the place is settling down very happily now that Daniel Kramer is in place. In him they have a wonderful communicator and advocate. And the CEO role is in the immensely capable hands of Cressida Pollock, overcoming the huge legacy of obstacles she inherited with courage and spirit - and above all, it appears, with success. And she is supported by a board led by real personality - Harry Brunjes, full of energy, enthusiasm, wit, determination, and persuasiveness! The key members of the artistic and technical management teams which have brought such distinguished work to ENO is recent years are still in place - they should be very proud of this Tristan!
And so this morning I switched to Mozart, attending a Sitzprobe of the forthcoming Garsington Idomeneo. All the ingredients are there for another success for Garsington which opened its season with Eugene Onegin, to great acclaim, last Friday. I am yet again overcome by this glorious work - so much part of my life having lived through three productions of it at Glyndebourne, and been involved with others elsewhere. So something else to look forward to!
Photo Daniel Kramer © Bethany Clarke
DAS LAND OHNE KULTUR?
By the Editor
Will sanity prevail, or will it be midsummer madness? Set for the eve of Midsummer Day, the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union looks likely to reveal that the kingdom is anything but united, with a vote that is possibly too close to predict. What’s absolutely clear is that serious damage will be done to this country’s arts if the Brexit camp wins and if ties are cut with the EU. A vote to leave would be to declare that Britain is an island not just physically but culturally—and all for a dislike of top-heavy bureaucracy. No one can deny our place in European culture, and not believing that we are all responsible for it—especially as southern European member states, the cradles of our civilization, depend on EU funding for preservation of that culture—is just as foolish as not recognizing the idealism of the European project that has sustained peace in 28 member states, and ensured progress in practically every area of our daily lives.
But no, we live in a country where the culture secretary was the first cabinet minister to declare his support for Brexit: John Whittingdale, indulging his petty Euroscepticism rather than standing up for culture. He is of course a mere cadet on that Ship of Fools captained by Michael Gove, with a motley crew mostly playing the immigration card. At a time when 3,000 child refugees are stranded at Calais, it’s worth remembering that the last mass immigration to this country brought us such names as—to pick a few—George Weidenfeld, Walter Goehr, André Deutsch, Rudolf Bing, Carl Ebert, Fritz Busch, Paul Hamlyn, Ernst Gombrich, Nikolaus Pevsner, Claus Moser, Georg Solti, Gerard Hoffnung, Arthur Koestler, Berthold Goldschmidt, George Steiner, Else Mayer-Lissmann, Karl Rankl, Lucian Freud, Egon Wellesz, Mátyás Seiber, Karl Popper, Erwin Stein, Helene Isepp, Vilém Tausky, Hans Gál, Ilse Wolf, Hans Keller, Ida Haendel and the Amadeus Quartet. These names might not mean much to Eurosceptics, but they are names that have defined our culture. The Sceptred Isle party also seems to have forgotten that what has long been thought of as British culture was often created by migrants (Handel, anyone?), and that most of the contents of our National Gallery are not national in any sense. At a time when state funding for the arts is declining, it’s also worth noting that the immigration of 80 years ago laid the foundations for much of today’s cultural philanthropy.
Since we are talking money, and since the economy is the other great fear card played by the Brexiters, let’s pause to consider the UK’s net contribution of £8 billion to the EU in the context of total government expenditure of £760 billion. For all that Britain invests, it gets plenty in return. On the arts scene, cutting ourselves off from the EU would affect Britain’s eligibility to receive funding from Creative Europe, the European Commission’s programme for support in the cultural sector. The positive impact of the EU is certainly acknowledged in Liverpool, to take one example, which as European Capital of Culture in 2008 found its profile radically improved, thanks to 9.7m additional visits that generated an extra £753.8m.
Cross-pollination is vital to the health of our arts, as any of our co-producing companies and venues know. London’s status as one of the world’s cultural capitals depends on free movement of ‘labour’, and EU citizens are likely to choose to perform elsewhere if they need to start applying for work visas here. Equally, do we want British artists to be subject to corresponding restrictions? A vote for Brexit would be a vote for cultural shrinkage and make us look again like not just Das Land ohne Musik, but a land without culture.
Opera, June 2016
I had a lunch date today with an old friend and colleague at a place of his choosing - The Troubadour - in the Old Brompton Road not far from Earls Court Road. I was last there around 56 years ago when I was a student at Trinity College Dublin and my sister lived in a rented house with friends on nearby Redcliffe Street. So I thought it worth discussing the matter with the nice waiter who brought me a glass of wine while I waited for my friend to arrive. On hearing that I was last there in 1960 he announced that he had only been there for 9 years.
"Where did you come from?" I ask.
"Swindon" is what I thought he replied.
"Really? You don't sound as though you came from Swindon" says I.
"No SWEDEN! Gothenburg - much quieter than London"
Without the EU such a conversation would never have happened. Vote REMAIN!
View from the Upper Terrace of the Opera Pavilion
The Garsington season opens next weekend with new productions of Eugene Onegin and L'Italiana in Algeri. Idomeneo follows later in June. I was there yesterday afternoon to see colleagues and also some of the early stage and orchestra rehearsals of Onegin. I will say no more than I feel sure we are in for a treat!
It was a gorgeous afternoon for much of the time in the beautiful Wormsley Park, near Stokenchurch down the M40 in the direction of Oxford, which has for the last five years or so has been the home of Garsington Opera. For those of you who have never been there do try to get to the opera, or failing that to the cricket - click the link for the schedule. Wormsley has one of the prettiest cricket grounds in the country. So there is something for everyone in this beautiful corner of England, only 40 odd miles from London.
© Clive Barda
Johan Reuter (Oedipe) at the Royal Opera House
As the performance of Enescu's Oedipe was beginning at the Royal Opera House yesterday evening my mind wandered back to 1962 when Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande was first given in that miraculous production at Glyndebourne, at a time when that piece was as rarely performed in the opera houses of the world as Enescu's is these days. Would this be as big a break through moment for Enescu's neglected "masterpiece" as that Glyndebourne production was for Debussy's?
Well time will tell - touch base in a decade or so!
Anyway this was a remarkable evening, the Royal Opera at its very considerable best. The central performance of the marathon title role was taken by the indefatigable Johan Reuter, a singing actor of riveting presence - superb. And the rest of the cast, right down to the smallest role, was chosen from the finest of our singers - Sarah Connelly, the timeless John Tomlinson, Alan Oke, Sophie Bevan, Claudia Huckle.....and a striking contribution as Thésée from young Samuel Dale Johnson, an artist to watch.
John Tomlinson (Tiresias)
Covent Garden's production is the co-production created by the Brussels Monnaie and the Paris Opera - a superb piece of work by the Fura dels Baus's Àlex Ollé and members of his team in Barcelona. And Leo Hussain controlled the massive forces on stage and in the pit with a very sure hand indeed. An most impressive ROH debut for him then!
I urge you to go for a very moving evening of discovery. Who knows when you will get another opportunity? And by the way the Royal Opera has priced the tickets to sell - and its beginning to look sold out so hurry!
Alesssandro Corbelli, a delicious Dr Bartolo
There is a long history of Rossini at Glyndebourne, dating back to the 1950s when the great Vittorio Gui delivered so many graceful performances, a good few of which are on record - notably Le Comte Ory, La Cenerentola, and Il barbiere di Siviglia. Over the years Il turco in Italia, L'italiana in Algeri, and La pietra del paragone have also been seen in the house, as well as a single "serious" title, Ermione, in 1995 long after Vittorio Gui had left us. Rossini's most popular opera I suppose is the Barber, and this had not been seen at Glyndebourne for 34 years until last night. So it was time!
Björn Bürger (Figaro) and Taylor Stayton (Almaviva)
Glyndebourne's new production by Annabel Arden had some charming performances by the young German baritone Björn Bürger and as Almaviva young American tenor Taylor Stayton (who was in COT's Mosé in Egitto very early in his career in 2010). The peerless Alessandro Corbelli, Glyndebourne's Dandini in 1985, returned after his recent Pasquale to give us a wholly winning Bartolo. Danielle de Niese, who has delighted audiences world wide with her Handel, Mozart, Monteverdi and Donizetti, undertook her first Rosina - and it was good to hear it for a change with a soprano, especially one as winning a stage performer as Danni.
Danielle de Niese (Rosina)
There was a splendid larger than life Basilio from Christopheros Stamboglis, and a show stopping Berta aria from Janis Kelly. Here was another example of what can be done with small part by a major artist.
Glyndebourne have the good fortune to have an outstanding Rossini (and much else) conductor in Enrique Mazzola - and he is fortunate in having had the superb LPO switching from Wagner on Saturday evening to Rossini with perfect ease. Mazzola's happy smiling demeanor infected the whole evening - just what is needed for Rossini!
I should also mention the debut of a young baritone, the 22 year old Huw Montague Rendall, as Fiorello, with the daunting task of getting the opera off to a fine start. And so he did to his enormous credit. More will be heard of him in the coming years.
So it was a great weekend in Sussex with so many old friends and colleagues. Now I am back in London for the week - and looking forward to a rarity, Enescu's Oedipe, at Covent Garden on Thursday evening.
Photos © Glyndebourne/Bill Cooper
I did not see the David McVicar production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg when it was first performed at Glyndebourne in 2011, nor when it subsequently went to Chicago since I had already left by then. But at last I caught up with it at the opening of Glyndebourne’s 2016 season yesterday evening. And it was certainly worth the wait to see a production, with Gerald Finley in the central role of Hans Sachs, which has ripened to be one of the great achievements of the house. For me it is one of a handful of productions which confirm without question the enduring standards of the house, as had the revival of Billy Budd in 2013, and the Saul last year which won the RPS Opera award for 2015 as the outstanding production seen in the UK that year. That production contributed to the International Opera award of best festival which Glyndebourne won last week.
Gerald Finley is a phenomenon - as fresh after his marathon performance as he would have been after a stroll in the park. The glory his singing was there to the end and the glowing humanity of his performance bears witness to his years of living with Hans Sachs. And he is surrounded by a most distinguished array of other masters - many of the finest British artists of the middle and older generation, led by the Pogner of Alastair Miles, a fellow Glyndebourne chorister of Gerry’s thirty years ago precisely. And they were joined by the outsider master, Beckmesser, taken by the excellent and original Jochen Kupfer.
Gerry’s fellow Canadian, Michael Schade, accomplished his first Walther, a successful transition for this outstanding Mozartian - reminding me of the late Gosta Windbergh’s striking Walther of 25 years ago. Eva was Chicago’s Amanda Majeski who has flowered, since she first caught my attention as a 20 year old undergraduate at Northwestern, into the confident glorious voiced young soprano who makes the ideal Eva as well as much else. She is also a fine Mozartian - always a good path to follow for a young singer! David was another former Chicagoan - David Portillo who has likewise developed in just a few years into a most valuable and likeable artist. Amanda and David are both proud former members of the Lyric Opera’s artist advanced development program at the Ryan Centre.
There are no small parts, only small artists - and a fine artist can transform a small role into a major one. And this was Hanna Hipp, a most striking Magdelene, a marvellous voice and an attractive assertive presence matching her splendid colleagues note for note.
The famous Glyndebourne Chorus, no doubt including a handful who will be seen back here in thirty years in major roles, played a starring role too - 70 or so top notch young voices working together for the last 8 weeks with values and attitude which are not easily found elsewhere these days.
And this great evening was piloted in masterly fashion by Michael Güttler, Music Director of the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, who took over at rather short notice from the indisposed Robin Ticciati. He must have beed thrilled to be there, and with the superb London Philharmonic in the pit and what was going on on stage he was free to mould the performance of the piece, which he clearly knows inside out, with complete confidence and authority. He is someone special and I feel sure we will be seeing more of him.
So all round a wonderful evening in the theatre and, on the side, many encounters with so many old friends and colleagues. I will be back this evening for the opening of the new production of Barbiere. Another kettle of fish - and shorter!
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