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Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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Reuter© 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.  

Tomlinson© Clive Barda

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!

4 months ago | |
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CorbelliAlesssandro 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!

BurgerstaytonBjörn 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.

DenieseDanielle 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

4 months ago | |
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Maeqcrdw9ehsby6llldt© Glyndebourne

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!

4 months ago | |
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May 17 V-L

It was another glorious day in Villeneuve-Loubet yesterday - a perfect opportunity for what for me is a rather long walk.  Three years ago I could not walk more than 300 yards without excruciating pain.  The surgeons said - give him a new knee!  Well I did not have time for that what with Neue Stimmen and all my other fun activities.  So I thought I would try something the doctors did not dare to suggest - lose weight!  So I did - thirty pounds and not a painkiller has passed my lips for more than a year.  And I walked my 8km/5 miles yesterday without a problem!

There is an excellent new park walk from the old village of Villeneuve-Loubet (birthplace of Escoffier) down to the beach which plays host to the hideous blocks of flats you see looking like beached cruise ships as you fly into land at Nice Airport.  But the beach itself is lovely, quite quiet yesterday as you can see above.  And there are decent cafés and bars to visit for a breather before turning and walking back.

And walking back gives another view inland to the hills and eventual Alps that hover over the Côte d'Azur. 

May 17 V-L-2Château de Villeneuve-Loubet from the south

I left for Paris quite early this morning on the ever more efficient and comfortable EasyJet which by virtue of our membership of the EU can fly between French cities, and indeed from France to many other places other than the UK.  I arrived at the Bastille in very good time for my auditions at the Bastille Opera Academy (formerly Atelier) which is under the Artistic Direction of Christian Schirm.  There are some exciting new singers there - recent graduates are Andreea Soare who snag Fiordiligi at Garsington last year and Oleksiy Palchikov who will be Lensky in Garsington's Eugene Onegin which opens on June 3.

One of the young sopranos seems to be making her Glyndebourne debut in 2017.  And very good indeed she is.  And they all seem to be going on to good work in other places.  I will see them all again tomorrow in their production of Monteverdi's Orfeo.  

I will be back in London on Friday late morning for a quick turnaround before leaving for the weekend in Sussex for the opening of the Glyndebourne season.

4 months ago | |
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May 16 V-L-2And the Côte is in the distance - paradise

I am having a couple of days off with my friends Errol and Susie Girdlestone in their pretty village of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice.  I have been trying to get down here to see them for the last twelve months but somehow it was never convenient.  However at last I have made it!  It brings back so many happy memories of my three year sojourn on the Côte d'Azur between my years in Toronto and my arrival in Chicago.  I spent that time as Artistic Adviser to the Nice Opera during the Jean-Albert Cartier years.  Good times!

May 16 V-L-3
We drove over to Grasse yesterday and made our way up to Gourdon (seen above top) and to the hamlet of Caussols where the excellent eponymous Auberge (above with Errol and Susie) provided superb simple lunch - snails, braised beef cheek, tarte aux mirabelles........

And then back to lovely Villeneuve-Loubet and siesta - and eventually a wake up walk to prepare for more eating!  Altogether a lovely day.  And there will be more of the same today before I leave tomorrow morning for Paris.

May 16 V-L

17 Traverses des Roches, Villeneuve-Loubet

4 months ago | |
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Philanderer cast

There is a splendid cast at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond for a revival of Shaw's second play The Philanderer.  Left to right they are Rupert Young (Leonard Charteris) Dorothea Myer-Bennett (Julia Craven) Helen Bradbury (Grace Tanfield) and Michael Lumsden (Colonel Craven).

The Orange Tree has been in the hands of Paul Miller for a couple of years now, and on last night's evidence he is doing a transformative job. It is so easy to get to - in my case a quick 8 minute ride from Clapham Junction and a two minute walk from the station.  It is surrounded by a pub and a couple of Italian restaurants, the theatre is a delight, and the quality of this production in the super "in the round" space was as good as it gets, yielding nothing to the West End.  Last night was a preview - I can imagine that this will be a huge success - it runs to June 25.  Thereafter you can see Terence Rattigan's French Without Tears until the end of July.

In haste now I am off to Gatwick for a flight to Nice - I will be there until Wednesday, then to Paris to catch up with the Paris Opera Atelier - Young Artists' Programme - and back home on Friday.

4 months ago | |
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The Royal Philharmonic Society can organise a great party - and this we had at The Brewery on Tuesday evening.  There was a full house of some 500 passionate music people there to pay tribute to the rich variety of organisations that contribute to the diversity and excellence of musical life in the UK.  And there was also the opportunity to hear Graham Vick encapsulate that passion with a fiery speech! 

There was long list of winners - thirteen awards in all.  They ranged from Multi-Story to Glyndebourne, conductor Sakari Oramo to baritone Roderick Williams, the Tri-Borough Music Hub to King's Place.  The winners made graceful speeches, notably the wonderful composer, pianist, and artistic director Kate Whitley for Multi-Story, and Roderick Williams treated us to song as well, with Roger Vignoles a magical partner.  There was much good food and wine, wide ranging conversation, and so many shared enthusiasms.

This seems to be awards week as the International Opera Awards are on Sunday evening.  But by then I will be on the Côte d'Azur with my old friends Errol and Susie Girdlestone.  That will be a nice spring break!


4 months ago | |
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Since I returned from Berlin on Wednesday evening here in London we have enjoyed glorious warm weather, and it continues into the beginning of this week.  As I look out of my window, from my desk on to Battersea Park, the lake has disappeared behind the newly leaved trees. Let there be no turning back - but our climate is fickle......

Polling station
Last Thursday was dominated by the local elections and I duly made my way just two hundred yards up the road to perform my citizen's duty.  The polling station was guarded by a fierce Tory lady with whom I had a robust though perfectly peaceful altercation.  Our politics now is so governed by the decidedly uncivil war between the loony so called Brexiters, and the sane majority among our political class who understand the vital importance of our collaborating with our friends at every level in this tricky world of ours. 

The Conservative candidate, the amiable but ineffectual Zac Goldsmith, committed two serious vote losing mistakes - supporting Brexit, and following the advice of the awful Lynton Crosby's firm to conduct a repellent racist campaign.  He lost by a thumping margin and his political career is consigned to history.  Our new mayor is the excellent Sadiq Khan - a good man.  But my vote went to the Women's Equality candidate, the eloquent and persuasive Sophie Walker.  But I guess she came last, or near to it!

Other than that Thursday included a visit to the Garsington Opera's rehearsal room in Southwark where the season is in the first stages of preparation.  Eugene Onegin looks good - a special cast and the former director of the RSC, Michael Boyd, in charge of a production that promises much.  Early days........I look forward to keeping in touch with Garsington as a member of their advisory committee.

FfjPhotograph: Nick Wall

The weekend was busy - not the least entertaining event being Florence Foster Jenkins, the new movie on the strange story of "the worst opera singer in the world", starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.  It was rather touching and the singing appropriately frightful.   Do I recommend it?  Well yes - but if you can not bear it it is your fault not mine!

Yesterday, Sunday, was so hot that a trip to the country was called for.  The destination was the National Trust property Polesden Lacey - a real treat in many respects, near enough to London but in the rolling Surrey Hills which left the huge city far behind.

Polesden Lacey

The owner of this place was a certain Mrs Greville, who seems to me have been a pretty deplorable personality, a society hostess straddling the Edwardian years and into the reign of King George V.  The house is not huge by National Trust standards and it has one room in it which might have been decorated by Donald Trump, so vulgar is the ubiquitous gold.  For me the real pleasure of the place is the setting, and the gardens.  It was good to have got there at 10 am before the crowds arrived.  If you do this it is highly recommended as a nearby pleasure just 45 minutes from London.

Polesden Lacey-2

It will surely be particularly lovely a month from now as the herbaceous borders fill out and the wonderful rose garden is in full bloom.  So make for there in the second half of June and, if you can, go in the middle of the week and early in the day for it is surely one of the most popular of National Trust properties.

Polesden Lacey-3

The final pleasure of the day was the LSO concert at the Barbican last evening, in particular the peerless Leif Ove Andsnes in Mozart's K 466.  In the absence of Daniel Harding who was replaced for the rest of the concert by Claus Peter Flor, Andsnes took charge of the orchestra as well.  Here, as is invariably the case with this artist, was music making of the highest order.  You can see and hear more of Andsnes over the coming weeks as the LSO proceeds with its "Artist Portrait".

Tomorrow evening I will be at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards presentation and dinner.  I had a small part to play in the opera awards - top secret for another 30 hours!  Then all will be revealed............

4 months ago | |
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There was a distinguished gathering yesterday evening in Bertelsmann's elegant Berlin headquarters at that special address Unter den Linden 1. And the greatest distinction was on the platform where four of last year's prizewinners gave a delightful programme of mixed song and opera, with a bit of West Side Story thrown in for good measure.

We had the French soprano Elsa Dreisig, Italian mezzo Miriam Albano, South African tenor Lukhanyo Moyake, and Belorussian bass Anatoli Sivko.  They were heard first in preliminary auditions in Berlin, Prague, Cape Town, and Vilnius and were just four of the 44 finalists chosen at that stage of the process.  They then went through a week of further examination in Gütersloh in October - and each came out as prize winners.

It was so good to hear them again - all are doing brilliantly in their burgeoning careers and we were proud of these four young people.........

I am off to the Staatsoper (in their temporary home at the Schiller Theater) to hear the studio members this afternoon.  Then home to London.  That is enough travelling for the moment.

4 months ago | |
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I am in Berlin today and tomorrow, primarily for the Neue Stimmen Winners’ concert this evening, but also for meetings about Neue Stimmen 2017 including the itinerary that I will be undertaking for the preliminary selections.  This will take me to Asia, South Africa and Latin America as usual, as well as the usual variety of European cities and two in western Asia (technically) in Turkey and Georgia, two beautiful countries with wonderful partners there and really excellent singers.  

We make some adjustments each year, adding the odd city and leaving some out so as to ring the changes.  26 cities is as much as we can manage I think - up to now, since 1999, I have undertaken the majority of them.  I hope to keep it up but can not go on for ever!

I was at a preview yesterday evening at the excellent Hampstead Theatre of Howard Brenton’s new play, Lawrence after Arabia.  A preview is by definition a work in progress.  Lawrence is a difficult subject with Peter O’Toole and Ralph Fiennes irritating shadows for any actor undertaking the role!  We are also treated to Bernard Shaw, Prince Faisel and Allenby.  I hope it does well - the press night is on Thursday.

Now for a nice 30 hours in Berlin!

4 months ago | |
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