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!
I was at the remarkable and seriously disturbing production by Amsterdam's superb Toneelgroep of Kings of War at the Barbican yesterday afternoon - a 4 hour 45 minute completely riveting marathon, in Dutch with English surtitles. An intimidating prospect? Well we were gripped....
It was disturbing because of the vividness in the display of ruthless exercise of power and the vileness of those portrayed - and we are there again as we look at what is going on in the US, in the UK and through some of Europe. Not to mention the middle east......
Should we not expect more from our political leaders nearly six centuries on from the Wars of the Roses? In my 60 years of adult life I have never seen such vicious egoistic activity as we are witnessing at the present time in the UK. We deserve better as the deeply unpleasant and pretty mediocre individuals from the extremes of our main parties, Conservative and Labour, seek to "decapitate" their fellow party members who show more sane and balanced views.
They need to look in the mirror. I wonder how many of these ghastly people went to see Kings of War at the Barbican. Alas yesterday was the last performance but I doubt that they would have bothered anyway!
This evening I am at the last preview of Howard Brenton's new play, Lawrence after Arabia, at the Hampstead Theatre. And I leave early tomorrow morning for a two day trip to Berlin. More in due course!
The Burial of Santa Cecilia by Francesco Francia in the Oratorio di Santa Cecilia, Bologna
There are some rather less visible glories in Bologna which I sought out yesterday morning before leaving. For musicians Saint Cecilia is rather important, not just because Benjamin Britten was born on her day, November 22. The patron saint of music is gloriously celebrated in the Oratorio di Santa Cecilia in Bologna. Seek it out if you are in Bologna - a richly rewarding discovery. There was no one else there apart from a sleepy old guy selling postcards.
I then went to the Palazzo Magnani which is now the headquarters of Uni Bank in Emilia-Romagna. Pretty well unadvertised, there is a room on the piano nobile with astonishing Carracci frescoes - Histories of the Foundation of Rome. I rang the bell of the palazzo's front door and persuaded them to let me see them. Try it - it worked!
Romulus and Remus Suckled by the Wolf - Lodovico Carracci. Palazzo Magnani, Bologna
My next stop was Tamburini. Of course there are many places to buy ham and cheese and other Italian specialities in Bologna. But this place has an aura about it of being "the best". So of course I invested in an enormous piece of parmigiano of some maturity. I have little doubt, when I dare to bite into it, that it will indeed be the best. So my friends, if you get to Bologna you need to go and have a look, a sniff, and a taste.......and there is much more there than cheese.
And my final stop before flying back to London yesterday afternoon was a very simple and completely authentic Bolognese family restaurant. This was da Bertino on the Via delle Lame, not in the old part of the city but convenient to the station and that area. Bologna is a small city so wherever you are you can do it on foot.......go for the tortellini in brodo, go for the semifreddo al mascarpone, everything homemade by the family that still runs it since 1957. And you can even ask to take away portions of the delicious tortelloni to enjoy back in London. As long as you can devise yourself the right broth from a boiled capon!
So I am back in London - sunny and stormy, rain.........I have some nice things coming up this weekend. But I will let you know about those on Sunday!
Teatro Rossini, Lugo
My trip to Bologna this week was prompted by my dear old friend and colleague Valerio Tura who is working with the Teatro Rossini and Rinaldo Alessandrini on a new festival devoted to baroque repertoire in this delightful city of Lugo . The theatre, with some four hundred seats, is a perfect place for such a thing - so they have made a small beginning with their festival in December this year - marking the thirtieth anniversary of the reopening of the theatre after a major restoration project. Thereafter they will set it in September - and a very promising idea it is.
It is called the Festival Purtimiro. The brand new website will have a full English version in due course but meanwhile full information about the 2016 Festival is in the Italian section - most interestingly for the opera world will be the performances of Alessandro Scarlatti's Gli equivoci sembiante.
Domenico Randi was mayor of Lugo at the age of 30 and was responsible for the great restoration project - and he is now the CEO of the Teatro Rossini - a wonderful visionary and a gentle wise man still quite young! He is also a generous host so having had a detailed tour of the theatre we took the next step in the gastronomic survey of Emilia-Romagna. This was the unassuming but superb restaurant in the hotel Ala d'Oro which is an essential part of any visit my readers may make to Lugo. And I assume that some of you may make it to the Scarlatti opera! And there we were joined briefly by the current mayor Davide Ranalli, a young man who has achieved some celebrity for having tripled the arts budget for the city of Lugo. So wise in this age of austerity!
Teatro Communale, Bologna
Earlier in the day I was a t the Teatro Communale in Bologna for a rehearsal of their production of Il barbiere di Siviglia, much performed always of course but particularly this year of 2016, the 200th anniversary of its astonishing debut! I had hoped to see and hear two young people known from Neue Stimmen in one case and Chicago in the other.
These were Aya Wakizono who is the first cast Rosina, and René Barbara the first cast Almaviva. Aya was a finalist in Neue Stimmen 2013, a remarkable young woman whom I heard in Yokosuka, Japan in the preselection auditions. She subsequently came to study in Italy and now has a beautifully flowering career. And René was in the Ryan program at Chicago Lyric Opera during my Chicago years - he too has developed a successful international career. Alas Cast 1 was not rehearsing yesterday morning but I did pop in to hear just a little bit of the afternoon rehearsal, at which they appeared, before leaving for Lugo. They will surely have considerable success.....
I also managed to cram in some auditions of some exceptional new singers in their early 20s. Maybe things are looking up in Italy. We have had some difficulty on finding strong candidates here for Neue Stimmen. I hope that the tide has turned and that we may be back here for Neue Stimmen in 2017.
I am now back in London but not before having had an enjoyable morning in Bologna. I will return to that tomorrow morning. It is now 11:15 pm and I have had enough!
I am running rather behind thanks to weak internet connections.......so irritating! And I have had a full schedule, of non-stop enjoyment being here in Emilia-Romagna for these two days. My affection for this country is undiminished.
On Tuesday afternoon, arriving in Parma after the excellent meal stop in Rubiera, Valerio Tura and I made our way to the Auditorium Paganini, the quite small concert hall that is home to the Filarmonica Toscanini as well as being host to a varied concert season that serves the city of Parma. This is the work of Renzo Piano and is an ingenious use of an existing complex of buildings to create a sympathetic space - a most elegant room for music making with generous daylight from glass walls at each end of the building.
Filarmonica Toscanini rehearsal in the Auditorium Paganini Tuesday April 26 2016
We attended a rehearsal of Mozart's Requiem conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini in preparation for three performances, firstly In Piacenza on Saturday, then in Pesaro and finally back in Parma on Tuesday. But we were far from being done for the day - there was a rare and fortunate opportunity to visit the glorious Teatro Farnese, open on Tuesday afternoons and pretty well deserted. It was badly damaged in WW2 but meticulously restored more than fifty years ago - apparently the first proscenium theatre built anywhere (1618). Do not miss any opportunity to see it. I was led by the hand into the theatre with my eyes closed, and once inside was turned around and opened my eyes to the breathtaking spectacle. Try it if you get the chance!
There is much else to see in the comparatively compact city of Parma. The cathedral is magnificent, as well is its adjoining baptistry. And of course this is Verdi land - with a noisy and passionate audience for his works at the Teatro Regio. There was nothing on so we did the next best thing, a fine dinner at which we were joined by Rinaldo Alessandrini and Luigi Ferrari, a fellow former Artistic Director of the Wexford Festival and now boss of the Filarmonica Toscanini. As usual when in the company of Valerio Tura I can recommend his choice of restaurants, always simple and invariably outstanding. In this case we went to the Ristorante Cocchi. Do go and discover something remarkable!
So that was Tuesday. Yesterday was another full day which I will write about when I get home to London this evening..........I will then be up to date.
I am safely in Italy and had a wonderful trip to Parma from Bologna yesterday with Valerio Tura, a friend and colleague from many years of experience together in this crazy opera world of ours.
Being in Emilia-Romagna meant a stop on the way for lunch - in the charming little town of Rubiera where there is a wonderful restaurant worth a detour and more. This is the Clinica Gastronomica! This is just the place to be if you are on a pilgrimage to the land of Rossini and Verdi........
The rest of the day was hectic and demands a longer description the I have time for just now. I have to rush now to the Opera back here in Bologna for a rehearsal of Barbiere, then auditions, then a trip to Lugo. I hope to get more time before the end of the day to bring this up to date.....and hoping for a faster internet connection!
I am off to Italy on a 6:50 am flight out of Gatwick - so up at 3:30 ready to get the bus to Victoria and then the train..........I will be in Bologna, Parma, and Lugo during the next 72 hours.......
Lots of news and pictures to come no doubt!
I had a good walk on Tuesday on a glorious day - and made my way to the recently reopened Rodin Museum on the Rue de Varenne, just south of Les Invalides. The lovely gardens are a peaceful pleasure on such a day - here is another jewel in an already richly adorned array of attractions in the "City of Light". This was really just a good way to relax and clear my mind for the concert at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées that same evening. If you are in Paris do not overlook it......
Douglas Boyd, Garsington Opera's artistic director is music director of the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris - an ensemble with a gratifyingly good number of young players who play with just the freshness of spirit and warmth of heart that Schubert requires. So we had two delightful performances of his symphonies 4 and 8. And the filling in the sandwich was a substantial performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto from the as ever remarkable Viktoria Mullova - really good stuff. The orchestra divides its time between the central, and extremely convenient, Théâtre des Champs Élysées, and the more topographically challenged Philharmonie de Paris with the superb acoustics. Take your pick!
I am now back in London of course but on the road again next Tuesday with a short visit to Bologna, Parma, and Lugo......meanwhile much admin work to catch up on!
Paris has Frank Ghery in the shape of the Louis Vuitton Foundation building which opened 18 months ago to an enthusiastic welcome. I saw it yesterday in a rather modified form as it prepared for the Daniel Buren exhibition which opens on May 11. Buren has introduced coloured filters which seriously change the character of the building. I assume that Ghery is ok with it......! In any event the building, whether in mono or coloured versions, is spectacular - an exhibit in itself whatever the nature of the special exhibitions which it houses.
There is an excellent recital room which will should present exciting opportunities for musical events - yesterday a string quartet from the Seiji Ozawa International Academy was rehearsing a Mendelssohn (I think) string quartet - an impressive group of young players.
It was a swiftly changing day - sun-rain-sun........but a good afternoon of discovery. This evening I am looking forward to seeing Dougie Boyd for dinner - he is here for a concert tomorrow evening at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées.
I am back in London! And here we have a spectacular exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery off Duke of York's Square in Chelsea - an exhibition called Exhibitionism!
I guess I don't have to explain who the Rolling Stones are! They started out their professional lives the same year as I started out on mine - 1962. We are all still going but their energy remains remarkable, almost it seems undiminished. If only......!
This is a totally excellent show, superbly curated and mounted, and you HAVE to see it if you are in London. The best bit is at the end - Room 9 - mind blowing!
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