Classical Music Buzz > Brian Dickie
Brian Dickie
Life after 50 years in opera and still counting......
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I was at a fascinating debate on Wednesday evening organised by The Spectator magazine.  The chairman was Andrew Neil, and is seen above with his panel (left to right) Simon Jenkins, Colleen Graffty, James Forsyth, and Ben Page.  And this all took place on an evening, as it turned out, of maximum political excitement here in the UK - the day that Teresa May took over from David Cameron, the evening when her top four cabinet picks were announced, and the day on which it appeared that the Labour Party was reaching the climax of its suicide mission.

Nominally the debate was about the question "Is party politics broken?".  But proceedings were overshadowed by the context.....and the greatest moment was when Andrew Neill interrupted to announce that Boris Johnson had been appointed Foreign Secretary.  Is this a joke the panel asked? Well it may be - but a German joke - No laughing matter. We must wait and see how this turns out. Maybe he will end up like that other Boris - Yeltsin.

Boris is a former editor of the Spectator which is a poignant coincidence.  And he is the recent winner of the Spectator's offensive poem competition prompted by the much publicised sensitivities of Turkey's President Erdogan. 

Boris has a fine record of insulting remarks about world leaders and countries.  How will he manage all this I wonder?  Quite a job for British diplomats ahead I assume.

So the silly season is getting sillier.

4 months ago | |
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Aix Richelme
Aix-en-Provence is a perfect festival city - up there with Edinburgh and Salzburg for beauty and charm, and wide ranging programming though it is smaller in scale in that regard than its illustrious colleague cities. But nothing can compare with the Sunday morning aperitif in one of its places, in the case above Place Richelme.  Go there if only for the Plane trees!

But the music is the thing.  And I was at a run through on Saturday afternoon of the performance that the Académie were doing the same evening, but clashing with the performance near by of Handel's Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno.Their Résidence Mozart is an invaluable opportunity for young professional singers in the early stages of their careers to get down to the fundamental challenge of Mozart for a few weeks.  This is so healthy and it was good to see some gifted young singers meeting the challenge so successfully.  One of the most notable beneficiaries I thought was the Swedish soprano Cornelia Beskow.  She is a striking young singer with the beginnings of a major career in progress - she is someone to watch.  On Saturday she made a great impression as Donna Elvira....then the American soprano Angela Vallone, not yet so far in her career (she is still at Juilliard), will be a personality for the future - casting directors get first in line! 

I will not cover them all - but there was a consistent quality there and it was a great pleasure to have had the opportunity to see them at work. I should however also just mention the excellent young Irish pianist, Killian Farrell, whom I had noticed in Aldeburgh a couple of weeks back.  It is good for him that he is doing the rounds this summer.  What wonderful experience for this gifted young man. Opera companies should take a long look at him.

A full list of the participants is available here on the Aix website.

Trionfo© Pascal Victor / Artcomart

Sabine Devieilhe (Belezza) Franco Fagioli (Piacere) Sara Mingardo (Disinganno) and Michael Spyres (Tempo)

Saturday evening at 10 pm in the greatly loved Théâtre de l'Archevêché provided the opportunity to hear a splendidly sung and marvelously conducted performance of Handel's 1707 oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno. It was not intended for the stage of course but Aix provided an elaborate theatrical framework for it from the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski and his large team of creative colleagues.  This is his first opera production as far as I can make out - but then it is not an opera so we will have to wait and see.  It caused some controversy but nothing could take away from the achievements of the cast and Emmanuelle Haim, with her most excellent and expanded orchestra Le Concert d'Astrée.

And so that was Aix this year for me.  This is a most hospitable city with a terrific team managing and directing the festival.  I look forward to their next year's exciting programme!

I am now back in London for what might normally be expected to be a quiet time.  But we have our very public theatricals going on in our political world just now - and this is likely to spin out for many weeks, and even months, more.  Few are coming out of this farce with any credit.  Theresa May, the new prime minister, gets nearest to that!  Well so far anyway but I am not holding my breath.  I am sure there will be many more twists that no one has yet mentioned as possibilities.

4 months ago | |
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Aix marketYes the fruit and the sunshine, the heat.  Paradise after the miserable June in England.

I was first in Aix in 1961 - Così, Zauberflöte, and Poppea - the latter in a version by Malipiero conducted by our beloved Chicago friend Bruno Bartoletti.  There were some memorable performances - Teresa Stich-Randall, Teresa Berganza, and Luigi Alva each appeared in two productions.  The luxury of having such hard working singers!

I have visited this beautiful festival city pretty often over the years but this is the first time for a bit - not I think since I went to Chicago in 1999 though that seems like yesterday........

Yesterday evening there was a remarkable, unforgettable, deeply disturbing performance/production of Pelléas et Mélisande.  You can only see it here - though you MIGHT have a chance to see it in Warsaw or Beijing two plus years hence.  It would be good if the Royal Opera could bring it to Covent Garden, as they did Katie Mitchell's remarkable production of George Benjamin's Written on Skin.

There was the cast of the half-brothers du jour - Stéphane Degout as Pelléas and Laurent Naouri as Golaud. There was a Mélisande of extraordinary vocal, musical, and intellectual strength in Barbara Hannigan. And Esa-Pekka Salonen was in charge of an opera that he is completely committed to - and which I saw him in charge of in London and Chicago in the last 18 months.

Suffice to say it was overwhelming in its success in conveying a recognition of the psychological torture of these characters - what happened to Mélisande before she was found in the forest by Golaud?  It is too much pain to wonder........


4 months ago | |
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Garsington onegin© Sarah Playfair

On Monday evening at Garsington Opera there was a really excellent event, a performance of Eugene Onegin by the cover/understudy cast for an audience of school children aged 11 to 18, together with a sprinkling older ones.  It may be an exaggeration but it occurred to me that the average age of the audience was 18 compared to the average age of 80 that a regular performance would see!  At any rate it was hugely refreshing both in the auditorium, and on the stage where the young artists, more used to being rank-and-file choristers, became principals for an evening.

Above you see the curtain call acknowledging the applause of a loudly enthusiastic young audience who appeared to be riveted throughout the complete and unabridged performance of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece.  There was a not a weak link in the cast - and for that we have to thank to Garsington team that recruits these young singers, Laura Canning, Susie Stranders, and Sarah Playfair.  Thanks, Sarah, for the photo!

Kirsty Taylor-Stokes was a vocally formidable Tatyana, managing both thrilling and tender as needed.  Elgan Llyr Thomas was a powerfully lyrical Lensky with great beauty of voice, and Benjamin Lewis a vocally totally authentic Onegin.  All other roles were amazingly strongly taken down to the smallest parts - James Way made a particular mark with his keenly observed M. Triquet, and his ability and courage to produce the finest possible pianissimo.  Amazing!

I am sure that this must become a fixture in Garsington's annual calendar.

I am off to Aix-en-Provence this afternoon.  Watch for reports from there......!

4 months ago | |
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Willard-White-and-Cynthia-015© Ira Nowinski

Cynthia Haymon and Willard White - in rehearsal for Porgy and Bess at Glyndebourne 1986

Yes, today is the 30th anniversary of the first performance of Porgy and Bess, an occasion etched in the memory of all who were there, faithfully recorded in the New York Times some three days later.  The project that Simon Rattle, Trevor Nunn, and I dreamed up one morning in my office during the summer of 1983 arrived at the finishing line after a long and thrilling journey.

Trevor was rehearsing his very first opera production, Idomeneo, and Simon was conducting the revival of the Sendak/Corsaro production of The Love for Three Oranges.  I felt that this pair would be a perfect match - and out of our first conversation together there eventually emerged this, for the time and place, groundbreaking project.

Gershwin family members were there, including Ira's widow Lee.  The next day she sent me a telegram (yes, they still existed in those days!) saying "Brian, at last George and Ira's dream has been realised".

It was indeed a remarkable evening and I can't believe it was thirty years ago.......

5 months ago | |
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Deh vieni© Robbie Jack

If there is a single opera that represents what Glyndeboune has been all about it is Le nozze di Figaro.  It opened the house for the first time on May 28 1934; opened the 50th anniversary season on May 28th 1984; and opened the new theatre on May 28 1994.  So is it the touchstone or litmus test for the health of the institution?  Maybe that is expecting too much! But we certainly always look forward to seeing the piece at the lovely Sussex opera house.

I think that the casting of Susanna sets the pattern and mood of the performance.  Susanna is the most lovable character in opera and is on the stage at all times when there is more than one singer on the stage.  It's a long long evening for her. My first Glyndebourne Susanna was the young Elisabeth Soderstrom in 1959, the next Mirella Freni in 1962, and then Ileana Cotrubas in 1973.  Thereafter there were so many distinguished singers of the role in both Festival and on tour including Lillian Watson and Gianna Rolandi. 

Glyndebourne this year has a splendid Susanna in Rosa Feola (seen above) - delivering as beautiful a performance of the 4th Act aria Deh vieni non tardar as one could dream of.  Maybe she is not the most adorable of Susannas we have seen down the years, but possibly the best sung!

It also featured as good a Bartolo as you could hope for in Carlo Lepore, and a wonderful new Countess in Golda Schulz, two artists who would have adorned any of the many casts seen down the years - in my historical best First Eleven.  Best ever Figaro and Susanna?  Maybe Gerald Finley and Mirella Freni?  But there are so many candidates........thats another story!

Jonathan Cohen has followed in the footsteps of Fritz Busch, Vittorio Gui, John Pritchard, and Bernard Haitink and a few other distinguished ones over the years!  Daunting task.  But he did well, a sprightly performance with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the pit.

Michael Grandage's production of Billy Budd has to be one of the highlights of the last 6 years.  But he lost his way with this Figaro and it appears that he has given up opera.  But it was a full house and hugely enjoyed by all.

This afternoon I am making it back to Garsington for a schools performance of their hugely successful production of Eugene Onegin.  The understudies are taking on the principal roles.  This will be most interesting - there is a great deal of young talent in this company and it is so great that they have the opportunity to display their quality.

5 months ago | |
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Parenthesis© Bill Cooper

Peter Coleman-Wright, Alexandra Deshorties and company - the WNO In Parenthesis at the Royal Opera House

We have a strange clash in London this week with two of our fine out of London companies in town simultaneously - Opera North showing off their Ring in a semi-staged version at the Royal Festival Hall, and the Welsh National Opera at Covent Garden.

I have given the Ring a miss, regrettable though it is - one can not do it all!  But I was at the Opera House yesterday evening for the outstanding production by David Pountney of Iain Bell's In Parenthesis, an extraordinary powerful and moving opera, about war, conflict, suffering, the pointless and futile objectives that power hungry politicians have, and the desperate suffering that they inflict on their people.  It is set in 1916 - but could be any time.

This production needs to be seen by anyone who still does not get the point of the European Union.  Only opportunity is at Covent Garden tomorrow evening.

This is a most excellent company performance, let by Peter Coleman-Wright, Alexander Deshorties, Marc Le Brocq, Donald Maxwell, and veteran tenor Graham Clark as The Marne Sergeant.  And there was a heroic performance from Andrew Bidlack as Private John Ball.  The whole package was the thing though, David Pountney producing yet another grand piece of work of immaculate detail and impeccable integrity, and the company's former music director Carlo Rizzi marshalls the considerable forces with his usual authority.

It is an engrossing evening with all its resonances as we struggle with the aftermath of this foolish referendum last week!

Next up will be the opening of Le nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne on Sunday.

5 months ago | |
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Tate Britain view

We swing from grey misery to the occasional ray of sunshine.  Sunday from the top of the new Tate Modern building was depressing, Monday at Garsington was glorious, in no way reflecting the character of the opera, Idomeneo - and yesterday for a dose of sunny, frothy, hardly very serious Rossini (Italiana in Algeri) the umbrellas were back, and out came the blankets in the draughty pavilion.

Garsington rain

Never mind - we perked up when David Parry launched into the overture - but I am bound to say that, after the considerable substance in superb performances of Eugene Onegin and Idomeneo at Garsington this year, Italiana had a mountain to climb. However the audience that came fresh to it revelled in this "trivial comedy for serious people" - Oscar Wide's assessment of his own Importance of being Earnest.

Garsington Opera L'italian in Algeri 2016 credit Johan Persson © Johan Persson

There were some delicious performances. The title role was splendidly sung by the Turkish mezzo Ezgi Kutlu, Mary Bevan was an enchanting Elvira and Katie Bray is a real find as Zulma.  Amongst the men the standout was Riccardo Novaro bringing complete authenticity so valuable in these Rossini comedies a great pleasure.

Will Tuckett's colourful production is suitably riotous and all in all it was a happy evening - but if only the sun had shone!

This evening I am at the Royal Opera House for the Welsh National Opera's In Parenthesis.

5 months ago | |
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Garsington Opera 2016 Idomeneo© Clive Barda

Robert Murray (High Priest) Toby Spence (Idomeneo) Caitlin Hulcup (Idamante) and Louise Alder (Ilia)

Idomeneo has long been a favourite of connoisseurs of Mozart's operas but has still not found favour amongst the populus!  If anything can make them wake up then a visit to Garsington's new production should do the trick.  I needed no such conversion having been in love with the piece since I first saw it conducted by Colin Davis at Sadler's Wells on October 24 1962 in the production by Glen Byam Shaw with designs by Motley.  The cast included Elsie Morison, William McAlpine, Rae Woodland, and Ronald Dowd in the title role.  Unforgettable.  By the way on that same evening the other company of Sadler's Wells Opera (they had two) was performing Tosca at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland.  Those WERE the days!!

Two years I renewed my "vows" when we the last run of performances of the Carl Ebert production at Glyndebourne in 1964 with Gundula Janowitz, Enricheta Tarrès, Luciano Pavarotti, and Richard Lewis, the great lamented and blessed John Pritchard in the pit.  During my time at Glyndebourne there were two further new productions, in 1974 by John Cox, and in 1983 by Trevor Nunn.  So it is a continuous thread of pleasures for me.

And last night's performance made as persuasive case as any of the above for the piece.  So beg or steal a ticket for it.  And all the other pleasures of Garsington will enhance the engrossing experience of this masterpiece, splendidly sung by cast and Garsington's magnificent young chorus, commandingly conducted by Tobias Ringborg, in Tim Albery's effective new production, telling the story as clearly as ever it can be.  Very good stuff indeed and another feather in Garsington's cap.

I will be at Italiana in Algeri this evening. I hope it look as lovely as it did yesterday evening - the cricket ground above, and the lake with deer below! Wormsley-2

5 months ago | |
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ENO-Jenufa-Laura-Wilde-and-ENO-Chorus-Donald-Cooper© Donald Cooper/ENO

Laura Wilde (Jenufa) and the great ENO chorus

Since the 1950s the English National Opera (name changed from Sadler's Wells Opera in 1974) has been a ferocious advocate for the operas of Janácek, initially and most importantly thanks to the passion of Charles Mackerras and Norman Tucker.  And we all hope that the new slimmed down ENO will continue to produce these wonderful pieces which have become core to the repertoire in opera houses around the world, in great part due undoubtedly to the work of Mackerras, not only in London of course!  

The current production of Jenufa, yet another superb piece of work from David Alden, runs to July 8 and is a "must see". In addition to two of our finest tenors, Peter Hoare as Laca and Nicky Spence as Števa, there are some most interesting artists new to ENO - most notably an exciting American soprano from the ranks of the Ryan programme at Chicago's Lyric Opera, Laura Wilde.

ENO's casting department have had good success in recruiting the best from the USA, and Michaela Martens is another fine import! And with Mark Wigglesworth in the pit, not I hope for the last time, there was a pretty shattering performance musically.  A wonderful evening in the opera house......more Janácek please!

5 months ago | |
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