Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
After seeing Purcell's masterpiece in Birmingham, in the Graham Vick production, arriving in Chicago to find a very different version was stimulating - and such a fine confirmation of the enduring and indestructible quality of the piece.
Mark Morris' exploration and revelation of Dido and Aeneas, created in Brussels in 1989, is a modern classic. The performance at the Harris yesterday evening was "adopted" by Chicago Opera Theater and added to the company's austerity offering for the current season. But of course this is a dance show primarily - the chorus and principal singers are all in the pit. This makes for a terrific ensemble while however putting the focus of the audience on the quite wonderful Mark Morris dance creation. Now Morris is a consummate musician as well as a choreographer of genius. So it was intriguing to find him on the podium - a complete success I must say. Good for him!
It was a show of considerable beauty and eloquence and is a valuable addition to our experience of this piece. But I am an operatic animal so rather hankered after having the singers enmeshed in the performance - and then of course one needs the finest singers and for a nationwide tour of this production it is a matter of decisions, decisions, decisions........and priorities.
The house was completely full and the cheers were long and loud! It was so good to see so many old friends com Chicago days there. And this evening it is the CSO.
My photo above from five years ago makes my heart skip a beat - I am so happy to be going to Chicago today. This evening it is Mark Morris and his company doing Dido and Aeneas at the `Harris Theater, tomorrow Muti and the CSO with Berlioz Roméo et Juliette, and on Friday I will be in Omaha for their new production of Semele. There will be full reports in due course. Meanwhile I had better get off to Heathrow!
Firle Place and the South Downs 2pm April 2 2016
I had a really nice trip to Sussex yesterday, some glorious sunshine, lunch in the village shop and then to Firle for a walk with six of my grandchildren and their parents. That was a good peaceful end to the week, insofar as the company of so much exuberance can be!
Anyway this is a good time for me to get ready for my week in Chicago and Omaha from Wednesday - there will be lots of good stuff to report. And this evening I have a supper party. Mario Batali's short ribs are done and will improve over the day. And some good Barolo might go down well.........
© 2016 ROH - Photo Stephen Cummiskey
Paul Curievici as John, Benedict Nelson as Algernon, Alan Ewing as Lady Bracknell, Claudia Boyle as Cecily and Stephanie Marshall as Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest
I missed Gerald Barry's quite stunningly entertaining version of The Importance of being Earnest when it was first performed at the Linbury in 2013. Its huge success then encouraged the Royal Opera to bring it back, this time to the excellent theatre in the Barbican. And they have been rewarded by sold out houses and the week's hottest ticket.
The performance succeeds on every level. First of all the piece itself is of startling originality with splendid musical surprises at every twist and turn - just glorious stuff. And the performances by the cast and production by Ramin Gray go outside any box with which you might be familiar.....it just has to come back and could run and run. The whole affair is best described by Barry Millington in his Evening Standard review.
I am off to Sussex today on family business!
© Richard Hubert Smith
Marie Arnet Susanna and Alan Oke (The Major) in WNO's Figaro get a Divorce
The Welsh National Opera, under the superlative leadership of David Pountney, is doing increasingly exciting work and we in London are grateful that they visit the reasonably accessible Milton Keynes. So I made the trip yesterday to that town some 35 minutes on the train from Euston, having vowed last time I was there that I would never do so again. But it is worth navigating that urban desert to get to a more than decent theatre and to a really classy production of a very fine new opera by the hugely gifted Elena Langer.
I believe that this new opera has legs and I look forward to seeing it again - the only opportunity for my dear readers to to get to Plymouth on April 7. By then I will be in Chicago so no chance for me. But I trust that many companies will take it up, and if they can share Pountney's marvelous production, in designs by the enduring nonagenarian Ralph Koltai with costumes by Sue Blane, they will be getting an extraordinary piece of work.
But of course they will have to cast it - and to do so as strongly as the WNO did will be a challenge. The stand out performances were from Marie Arnet and Alan Oke - but in truth there was not a weak link in the team which included such stalwarts as David Stout (Figaro) and Mark Stone (the Count), Elizabeth Watts a very fine countess, Andrew Watts as the middle aged Cherub(ino), and excellent relative newcomers Rhian Lois and Naomi O'Connell as the Almavivas' grown up children.
And a conductor as accomplished as the Karlsruhe opera's music director, Justin Brown, will be needed to reveal the splendours of Langer's score and balance stage and pit as well as he did. This was high class music making all round.
© Richard Hubert Smith
There is an excellent pub theatre in Islington with a longish history - going back to 1970. And I was there last night for Così fan tutte in an enjoyable economical production with piano and no chorus and some good singing. And it was a scant two hours so there were cuts......
The production team was led by Paul Higgins, a busy assistant and revival director around town currently at the ROH but due at Glyndebourne again for the coming season. He made the most of his forces and produced a fresh and greatly enjoyed show in the back room of the pub. He had a splendid music director in Elspeth Wilkes who had clearly prepared the cast supremely well and whose playing provided a really strong musical foundation for the performance.
Standouts were the women with the excellent Fiordiligi, Stephanie Edwards, and the versatile Despina Caroline Kennedy. And Ailsa Mainwaring was a fine Dorabella who has greatly impressed at the Guildhall during her time there. These young people show the depth of talent around and the King's Head, with a tiny budget, did well to engage them.
There was a full house (100 seats?) of Islingtonites mainly as far as one could determine. Clearly the King's Head continues to have a passionate following and it is good that they put on opera - first tried out there, most successfully, in 2010.
I have an interesting operatic week - Figaro Gets a Divorce on Thursday in Milton Keynes, and The Importance of being Earnest at the Barbican on Friday.
Chrystal Williams (Dido) and Eric Greene (Aeneas)
Graham Vick has created something unique (I do not use that word lightly) in Birmingham, England's "second city". I was at the remarkable version of Khovanshchina that he created two years ago. And I was there again last year for his characteristically bold choice of Michael Tippett's Ice Break.
And again we were there last night for something completely different, the thrilling realization of Purcell's masterpiece Dido and Aeneas. Here was the glorious passion of our opera world, the fusion of music and singing and drama taking all participants, performers and audience alike, to an ecstatic level......to a level of suspension of disbelief that is all too rare.
Alas it s over so you have missed the boat. But believe me, what Graham, and his extraordinary team of associates, is doing is taking our faith in this art form to another level. We had an exceptionally gifted cast - of course, this company always makes fine choices. We had an orchestra directed by Rob Howarth which was at the highest level with the very best of our British early music players in the band. And we had a community chorus that overwhelmed us with their commitment and passion - and musical ability too!
Rozanna Madylus (Second Woman) Tai Oney (Sorceress) and Natalie Montakhab (Belinda)
Do try to get to one of their shows next year - it is an experience that will give you huge pleasure......I will certainly be there. And from what I have heard through the rumour mill it will be worth whatever it takes!
I am off to Birmingham this afternoon for my annual pilgrimage to the shrine of the brilliant Graham Vick whose Birmingham Opera Company will give its final performances of Dido 'n Aeneas this evening. I will be at the 7:15 performance ready to get the train back to London afterwards. More later.....!
We all gathered together at Glyndebourne yesterday to celebrate the life and work of our dear Nikolaus Lehnhoff, a true member of the Glyndebourne "family" who made such a major contribution to the place for over two decades. I wrote "all" - but of course not quite all for we missed Andrew Davis, his musical partner on the tree Janácek operas they did together, and Tobias Hoheisel, Klaus' design partner for those three remarkable productions, was sadly missing too. But there was nevertheless a large turn out of devoted colleagues including a fine gallery of the best of British singers who worked with Klaus both at Glyndebourne and around the world. It was great to see John Graham Hall, Kim Begley, David Rendall and Ryland Davies - Diana Montague, Sue Bickley and Sue Bullock - and John Tomlinson.........and so many other Glyndebourne-ites that have played such a part in our lives.
Klaus's long time assistant Danny Dooner devised and presented this tribute to Klaus - and it included an entertaining contribution form Klaus's elder brother Fritz giving us insight into a Klaus that we of course never knew. It was a happy occasion - he will be remembered with enormous affection.
The enormously enjoyable performance of Berenice yesterday evening was at St George's Hanover Square, just 400 yards from Handel's home in Brook Street. The church was built a dozen years before the first performance of Berenice in 1737. So Handel would have known this place well, and would have been thrilled no doubt that this neglected work should be given a successful outing in Mayfair 280 years later. The opera was performed a mere four times in 1737 and never again in his lifetime.
And a successful outing it was thanks to the sparkling leadership of David Bates and his group La Nuova Musica. He had assembled a truly excellent cast with five little known but hugely promising young singers. This is really difficult stuff to cast - where to begin? Well it is something of an achievement to have two such excellent counter tenors in Michal Czerniawsky and the brand new exciting Timothy Morgan. And young Emma Stannard, from the RAM, is a mezzo to watch. And the two sopranos, the Israeli Anat Edri as Allesandro, and Charlotte Beament in the title role, are absolutely a match for the usual suspects in this repertoire. And with so many performances these days of Handel and other Baroque work we certainly need more classy singers - and David Bates has "come up trumps" (if you will excuse the expression!)
Now for the weekend and time for reflection. I will be at Glyndebourne on Sunday for an event to celebrate the life of beloved Nikolaus Lehnhoff who died last year. I am sure his many old friends and colleagues will join together to recall the happy times we had together.
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