This was Handel's penultimate opera - and possibility one of his shortest. As far as I know this is only London's second opportunity to see it during the last 100+ years. And the last time was at the Royal Academy conducted by the then Principal, the great Handelian Sir Anthony Lewis. But this was at the other London Royal conservatory, the Royal College of Music. And it was conducted by one of today's most remarkable Handelians, Laurence Cummings. It is odd, but good, to see the Head of Historical Performance at the Royal Academy conducting at the "other place"!
Imeneo was one of the opening events of the London Handel Festival over which Cummings presides as Musical Director. The collaboration with the RCM is most fruitful, not least for the advanced students of the RCM's International Opera School who have an outstanding opportunity to showcase their work in the Britten Theatre, arguably the finest space in London for the performance of Handel operas.
There were some outstanding performances last night. One was Hannah Sandison, daughter of two distinguished singers Yvonne Lea and Gordon Sandison. They were there last night - it is 31 years since they met at Glyndebourne. It was great to see them looking so terrific. And they must have been proud of Hannah.
And Katharine Crompton confirmed my previous impression of her as a fine singer and performer who is destined for a significant career. And they both enjoyed singing to and playing with the Imeneo, Luke D Williams, who combined personal charisma with talented acting and stylish singing.
The small cast was completed by excellent counter-tenor Tai Oney and bass-baritone Bradley Travis. And there was a terrific ensemble of six mixed voices who dispatched the "chorus" numbers with huge panache.
By the way, I am struck by the fact that so often male singers have no websites whereas the girls invariably do. Come on guys - shape up! Look at Luke William's site which is currently under construction - thats the way to go. Do not underestimate the value of such "promotional material".
With the music in the hands of Laurence Cummings and the production directed by Paul Curran these young people had a great experience I am sure, and the audience were duly enthralled. There is one more performance by each cast, tonight and tomorrow. It is worth the effort to go along to find tickets at the last minute.
Photo: Hana Zushi, Royal Academy of Music
Tereza Gevorgyan (Tatyana) Royal Academy of Music Eugene Onegin March 11 2013
It was a great pleasure to be at the RAM this evening for their really honest production of Eugene Onegin. This was a straightforward bit of story telling, with no pretentious nonsense, delivering the goods as clearly as possible. Which is not to say that the director John Ramster had no original illuminating and thought provoking touches. But there was no imposition of Regietheater nonsense of the kind that one has seen so often, and which is particularly inappropriate for this story!
The RAM has a really strong faculty and student body. I have been going around conservatory opera performances for a good many years now (45 at least) so I think I have my benchmarks quite clear. This was in the top decile (if that is the right word). Whatever, it was one of the best - largely because of the magical performance by the young Armenian soprano Tereza Gevorgyan. You will hear more of her.....
But there was a strong team all round notwithstanding the prevalence of colds and flu. This resulted in a replacement Madame Larina, and a valiant and beautifully voiced Onegin who was, in spite of his suffering, producing gorgeous sounds - the young baritone Ross Ramgobin.
So these are two to watch. And as Monsieur Triquet Stuart Jackson produced a large vignette (is that a vigne?) as M. Triquet - it was a novel idea of Ramster to make him a commedia dell'arte figure.
And finally this was all the the hands of the RAM opera's director, Jane Glover. How fortunate they are!
Tomorrow evening I am at the Royal College of Music for Handel's Imeneo.
Getting opera around England has, over my lifetime, been through a massive number of reinventions. Fom Britten's English Opera Group through the arts Council's Opera for All, Phoenix Opera, Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Opera 80, the Opera Group, not to mention the touring activities of Sadlers Wells Opera, and the regional companies such as Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Opera North, there has been a huge effort to get opera to the furthest corners of the realm. I am speaking of the period of my consciousness of such things - 1950 to the present day.
I was pretty closely involved in all this from the mid-1960s for more than 20 years. Things have come and gone, and now being back in England on a permanent basis having been away for virtually a quarter of a century I see a changed picture. The coverage appears to be better but for some of the larger centres, such as Manchester, they seem to be getting less. And two projects to bring the Royal Opera on a regular basis to Manchester over the last 40 years have had to be aborted. Its all about the money!
Anyway Opera 80, a hugely successful touring operation set up by the Arts Council in 1979 as a successor to Opera for All, morphed into English Touring Opera in 1993. It receives substantial support from the Arts Council for its work. And they bring opera to the parts of the country not covered by anyone else - including such outposts as Bromley, Crawley, Poole, Wolverhampton, Durham, Cheltenham, and Truro.
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Helen Sherman (Aurelio) and Paula Sides (Eleonora) in L'assedio di Calais, English Touring Opera 2013
And also to Hackney (a place more noted for things other than opera) where I encountered them for the first time yesterday evening. And the opera was, of all things, The Siege of Calais by Donizetti. It was a short two hours including interval, and full of beautiful numbers including a striking duet at the beginning of Act 2. I think that it is clear why the piece has not gained wide favour. Nevertheless it is always a treat to hear an opera for the first time. And this was a sentiment clearly shared by the packed out house of inquisitive and discriminating opera lovers, including all the leading critics. They actually made it to Hackney for a start........and were rewarded with an excellent performance of the kind one might expect to encounter in Wexford or Buxton - accomplished singers, fresh and creative direction (by the company's General Director James Conway), and excellent music making all round, in this case conducted by the admirable Jeremy Silver.
I look forward to seeing a more substantial opera, Simon Boccanegra, when they bring it to Cambridge in May - my first available opportunity to get to a convenient location.
I was not able to get to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment concert this evening. So I had the good fortune to attend the "dress rehearsal" at the Queen Elizabeth Hall this afternoon. And that was a real treat, not least for the opportunity to hear Schumann's Symphony number 2 played on gut strings and early 19th century, or earlier, wind and brass. And it was conducted by a remarkable 21st century musician, Marin Alsop, who bridged the "gap" to enlighten and seduce us with a rich romantic performance of this gorgeous piece whilst producing sounds from the orchestra which somehow seemed to reflect so accurately the emotion and mood of the 19th century........
I do not associate Marin Alsop with HIPP - but there is no doubt that she has done really well with the OAE and there is a great deal to be said for 19th century music to be performed in this manner. I look forward to hearing more from her.
Also on show today was the didstinguished English soprano Emma Bell. with some Electra (Idomeneo), Leonora (Fidelio) and Rezia (Oberon) - three hefty arias which she dispatched effectively at this rehearsal promising something pretty stunning this evening. I was on the jury of the Ferrier Prize when she won in 1998 - so I have always kept an eye on her. She has superbly filled her youthful promise - always so gratifying to see that!
Tomorrow is a rarity - Donizetti's L'assedio di Calais which I will be seeing in Hackney! Well that is surely something completely different........I have no doubt that it will be a well attended event with a distinguished audience. It is not every day that one has the opportunity to go to the Hackney Empire. London has changed in all the years I have been away. It is quite exciting discovering these new old things!
My eldest daughter attended a wonderful school in Hampshire, Bedales, from the age of 13 to 17. And now I have two great-nieces, the granddaughters of my late sister, both of who were awarded music scholarships to Bedales. The eldest has now graduated and is studying music at York University. The younger of the two is still at the school and had an important role to play in a delightful lunchtime concert today at St Luke's Church, Chelsea.
It is clear that the music department is inspired by its Head, Nicholas Gleed, who introduced the programme today most eloquently and elegantly. The program was an inspired mix - Edward Elgar, Sir Charles Stanford, John Blow, Engelbert Humperdinck, Giulio Caccini and CPE Bach. And the festivities were started off with the Final of Vierne's first organ symphony played brilliantly by the 16 year old Callum Anderson, on the magnificent instrument of St Luke's.
Their chamber choir, the Cecilia Consort, did the heavy lifting with particularly splendid work in Elgar, Stanford, and Blow. And the string players took on the CPE Bach piano concerto in D minor - played by that same young man who played the opening Vierne. I was proud to see my great niece leading the orchestra! She also sang Hansel in the Prayer from Hansel and Gretel.
I thought that a remarkable young soprano, Olivia Brett, who sang the Caccini song Amarilli mia bella, is clearly marked out for a future career. Here is a fine young voice singing just the right thing in splendid style with a real understanding of the expressive possibilities of this early repertoire. Who knows where she may be in seven years?
I had the special pleasure this evening of dinner with my old friend and colleague, Graeme Jenkins, about to step down after 20 years as Music Director of the Dallas Opera. They are so fortunate to have had him there for so long - some 60 different operas during those years - he is immensely versatile and is that rare animal a real Verdian. My London friends will be glad to know that he will conducting Verdi in London next season!
I have a good afternoon of music tomorrow and a rare treat on Saturday. More about that tomorrow!
I am in Paris for the day, back in London tomorrow morning. It was a grey warm day and so not good for pictures of this beautiful city.
But if you are here, go to the Chagall exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg.
This is lovely small museum. And they are gettng huge crowds for this exhibition so book in advance if you don't feel like lining up for hours. The weekends will be hell.
And then there are the Luxembourg Gardens. A chance to look at Paris life as it has always been - plus ça change.....
Palais du Luxembourg 2:30 pm March 6 2013
I feel somewhat emotionally drained after my weekend of Parsifal and Traviata. So what is better than turning my attention to my US taxes? This will be the last time - I gave up my Green Card on my permanent return to London in September.
In a counterintuitive move the sun came out for what feels like the first time this dreary grey winter.
I am off to Paris tomorrow - the City of Light. I gather the sun will be shining there too.
Corinne Winters and Ben Johnson - La traviata English National Opera
The English National Opera Traviata directed by Peter Konwitschny, which I saw this afternoon, was an extraordinary gripping 110 minute journey, somewhat frightening in its power to dig deep into the psychology of the characters, human beings like us all. He opened many a can of worms as he stuck his knife into the relationships, the passions, the guilt, the raw humanity, assisted in no small way by Verdi and the remarkable commitment of everyone involved. It was deeply disturbing.
There was nothing on the stage but a single chair - and there were curtains. All that was needed to tear us apart. There was no weak link - Corinne Winters has arrived with a huge explosion. If other directors can get such a performance from her then she has a mega future. You can take her wonderful singing for granted. A graduate of AVA in Philadelphia, she has a pedigree. But her performance today, the last of the run alas, takes her to the highest level.
Ben Johnson has been making waves for a year or two. And now he has taken another leap. It is extremely gratifying to see the progress over a couple of years of these young singers fulfilling their promise.
The Germont Père was the distinguished elder statesman Anthony Michaels-Moore. And terrific he was, contributing as much painful psychology to the proceedings as his younger colleagues. This was gripping stuff.
And Verdi's overriding contribution was looked after with passion by the conductor Michael Hofstetter. I suspect much more of him will be seen in the coming years.
I seem to have had two unusually good days of opera. May it continue!
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Jonas Kaufmann and the Flower Maidens
It is only too rare to encounter a production and performance that manages to encapsulate all that one strives for as an opera company director. The total integrity of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Parsifal restores any faith one may have lost in the existence of the pursuit of excellence as an ideal. We start with the remarkable Canadian director designer team of François Girard and Michael Levine, with costumes by Thibault Vancraenenbroeck, and lighting and video by David Finn and Peter Flaherty. We have a master maestro in Daniele Gatti whose intimate knowledge of and love for this work is clear throughout the performance; and the best orchestra in America, that of the Metropolitan Opera, responds superbly.
But then the cast! Jonas Kaufmann and René Pape, Peter Mattei and Katarina Dalayman - well there are none to touch them today or for quite a few years back. The pleasure I got from the performances of Kaufmann and Pape will stay with me a while........visceral!
It is after midnight and I have had a mug of Ovaltine. I should sleep well.
"Our DSO to Go app has not only helped our live webcasts reach tremendous success around the globe, but has been an accessible sales channel for many first-time concertgoers without prior ticket or contribution history."