"It is the use of expressive dissonance combined with exquisite French classical clarity and balance that sets Charpentier's style apart, and makes it at once so sensuously satisfying and so emotionally expressive."
The emphasis is mine, the words are of the excellent writer of the programme note, Susan Harvey, provided for the performance of Charpentier's La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers at the Wigmore Hall last night. And indeed Christian Curnyn, and the remarkable group of singers and instrumentalists gathered for the occasion, produced sensuousness and emotion and expressiveness in overwhelmingly satisfying doses. An evening to remember.
Christian was responsible for our Charpentier Médée on Chicago in 2012. And had given us Cavalli the year before. These were two of our greatest hits - so to see him as often as we do in London is a great blessing. He is a man of the theatre as well as being an outstanding keyboard player and conductor. Above all he has the charisma to attract the finest practitioners to work with him.
Ed Lyon sang Orphée so movingly and completely "into it" - the finest of the younger crop of tenors tackling this repertoire. And he was surrounded by a group of splendid artists taking the other roles as well as singing the many ensemble parts of this beautiful work. Notables were Sophie Junker, Katharine Manley, Marie Elliott and Callum Thorpe - all with growing careers. Slightly more seasoned perhaps, and each equally high class, were Zachary Wilder, Daniel Auchinloss and William Berger.
I was delighted to see Catharine Martin, who led our little band in Chicago, leading the Early Opera Company Orchestra - and they have a remarkable young theorbist Thomas Dunford - as fine a contribution as any to this great evening of passionate music making.
The evening ended with prolonged cheers - completely deserved.
Any of my friends and readers, and fellow enthusiasts in England should make their way to Iford in July for the EOC's production of Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria. Christian conducts, and Justin Way, another COT "veteran", directs.
Thomas Arne's The Cooper I seem to remember having seen 50 years ago! And recall nothing of it so I suppose it was good to see it again. But actually I would prefer to go for Dibdin! Arne and Dibdin were contemporaries (though Dibdin was 30 years younger) but I guess that because of Arne's "masterpiece" Rule Britannia the older composer is more embraced by the establishment. And he was an Etonian which David Cameron overlooked when asked recently who wrote Rule Britannia - and he was a don't know!
The Cooper has charming moments and was delightfully performed by some of the best young singers on the Guildhall School of Music Opera Course. Anna Gillingham was the fetching Fanny, tenor Gerard Schneider once again showing huge promise as her ardent suitor, and Piran Legg the Steptoe-like Martin, Fanny's guardian. All quite excellent - and the spoken cameo role of Mr Twig was brilliantly taken by Frazer B Scott.
I don't think the opera has sufficient content to fill its 55 minute length. But great to see and hear it so well done.
The Stradella San Giovanni Battista was another matter. It is a great discovery and uncompromisingly directed by Rodula Gaitanou it makes its gory effect most potently. This is the Salome story anew - with bloodied corpse as well as severed head. You have been warned.
There was a very fine young counter tenor Meili Li in the title role. A hugely attractive voice promises much for his future. The Herod was Joseph Padfield who also appeared briefly in The Cooper. His stamina in this testing role was remarkable, and he commanded the stage outstandingly by any standard - he must be marked out for a good future. The bloodthirsty Salome was convincingly taken by Lauren Zolezzi, coming through the test of playing a somewhat wayward and complex character with flying colours. And singing it all so well too..... The casting throughout showed depth of quality in the current vintage at the Guildhall.
There is more baroque opera this evening - Marc-Antoine Charpentier's La descente d’Orphée aux enfers at the Wigmore Hall with the heroic Christian Curnyn and his Early Opera Company. A must see - and there are still a few tickets available.
Yes, a curious mix - but it will make an unusual and interesting evening at the Guildhall this evening, in the theatre in their new Milton Court building.
I will report in full in due course. But in any event it is an opportunity to keep up to speed with the latest vintage of GSMD singers.
Do not forget that the Garsington season is well under way with successful openings of Fidelio and Vert-Vert. And the third opera in this cleverly designed repertoire is The Cunning Little Vixen. It opens in a week's time.
I am reminded of this because I was with my younger son for Father's Day and he had a specimen of the Garsington mug, designed by his cousin and my nephew Zeb Helm. You can only buy it on the spot - no mail order as far as I can see. Last year's was a huge hit - also designed by Zeb. And here is the 2014 edition - for Garsington's 25th anniversary.
© Zebedee Helm 2014
The White Horse, Parsons Green 9:50 pm June 14 2014
That was the scene at the pub opposite last night seventy minutes before the kick-off of England v Italy. And there was noise there for the next two hours - which grew more subdued as England went down 1-2. A lovely evening otherwise......
Happy Fathers' Day all you kindred spirits!
I smashed the back of my iPhone a couple of weeks ago and have been going around in fear that the little bits of shattered glass would fall off. So I went to buy a cover. But NO! I discovered iSmash and they replaced the back of the phone in less than five minutes for £19.99 - less than a nasty cover would have cost.
And all in a pretty blue. But you don't have to smash your phone in order to bling it up a bit. Just go along to iSmash - in the Kings Road, in Canary Wharf (where most if the potential customers are already smashed) or to High Street Kensington.
Apart from that it is a quiet day - in anticipation of a late night to watch England v Italy.
Buskers playing Mendelssohn South Kensington Station 12:30 pm Friday June 13 2014
I came across this splendid group on my way home from some errands........all in aid of WorldBusk. There was one brat of a shopkeeper who intervened but he was put to flight. They went on with their Mendelssohn quartet (though there were five of them) - and we chipped in with generous tips.
Last night Mark Elder displayed his mastery of, and affection for, Dvorák with a thrilling account of the 8th Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican. Wonderful playing and total authority from Sir Mark. Really great stuff. And the evening began with a contribution from two very promising young men - an enjoyable short piece from young Alastair Putt, conducted by Ben Gernon, before Nicola Benedetti came on with Mark to give a characteristically brilliant account of Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy.
It ended up as a very long evening with a dinner by generous hosts - the LSO, a good opportunity to let Mark and Nicola know how much they were appreciated!
Earlier in the day was a delightful lunch in Glyndebourne's Nether Wallop - preceded by that quick look at a rehearsal of Finta giardiniera which opens at the end of June. There is going to be some lovely singing of remarkable music from the 16 year old Mozart. I hope to see the full show in due course.
It is super hot in London today.......not complaining - yet!
When I left for Chicago in 1999 most of my furniture went into storage, or was distributed to various family members. It has been really tricky to keep track of it all. So I took a lovely trip yesterday to Brandon on the Norfolk Suffolk border - entailing a non stop train to Cambridge, then a 30 minute ride via Ely to Brandon on the line to Norwich. The excellent network of trains in England makes getting around a real pleasure. They are frequent fast and comfortable. And with advance booking and concessions for the elderly (!) not too expensive.
London is impossibly expensive so it makes sense to store ones stuff as far into the countryside as possible. And Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk are in the very essence of English countryside.
Anyway I was delighted to meet up with my early Victorian dining table, perfect for my Battersea flat. Alas my enormous one from Chicago is a foot too large in every dimension.......so I am beginning to get everything sorted out. All quite time consuming.
I will be in Sussex again today - a short visit to Glyndebourne for lunch and a sneak peek perhaps at the rehearsals for the new production of La finta giardiniera. And then this evening I will be at the LSO Barbican concert. This will include Dvorák's 8th, and the conductor is Mark Elder whose Dvorák credentials were demonstrated indisputably in Chicago with the CSO a season or two back.
There was a huge and totally absorbed audience at the Royal Opera House for the splendid performance of Poulenc's great work. It is not short evening - but the audience stayed and gave a resounding standing ovation. The star of the show for me was Sally Matthews, a completely convincing performance of the complex Blanche. And another star was the Rattle led orchestra. But with a cast which included Thomas Allen, Yann Beuron, Deborah Polaski, Anna Prohaska, Sophie Koch and Emma Bell it was a remarkable evening, to be relished and remembered - stars all of them! And Robert Carsen's beautiful spare and sensitive production provided the perfect framework.
It was great to be up in the amphitheatre/gallery even in the not so comfortable armless seats. But it is full of opera nuts, knowledgeable and discerning. So there is now, as there always was years ago, a lovely enthusiastic community up there.
So after that good evening I have something completely different coming up - Matthew Epstein is dining with me at the Garrick. We will probably ramble on until late. And speaking of old friends and colleagues - it is good to see Sarah Billinghurst in town. She was at Benvenuto Cellini last Thursday, and we met up again yesterday evening at the Carmelites. Always someone nice visiting London!
©ROH/Stephen Cummiskey 2014
I saw the first performance of the Carmelites in London in 1958. It made a huge impact then and on the good many occasions that I have seen it since it has always made a powerful evening in the theatre, most memorably in John Dexter's production at the Met in 1977. That production has been regularly revived - one of the great monuments to a rich period in the Met's history where Dexter reigned supreme from 1974 to 1981.
And so I will be at the Royal Opera House this evening, sitting up in the amphitheatre where I sat 56 years ago! Then the conductor was Rafael Kubelik - this evening it is Simon Rattle. Only the best for this wonderful piece! And the production is Robert Carsen's, created for the Dutch National Opera, which I last saw in Chicago where it made a huge impact. It has done the rounds triumphantly touching down in Toronto and La Scala. It is good that London is seeing it. I will report tomorrow!
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