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Intermezzo
opera and concerts in london and beyond
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ENO today announced
the appointment of Henriette Götz as Executive Director.

At first glance it looks like she's a replacement for Loretta Tomasi, who stepped down as Chief Executive at the end of 2013.

But no. Read on.  

John Berry, currently the Artistic Director "will lead the executive team, as well as continuing to lead on the company’s ambitious artistic programme". So this change places him in charge of everything. As Executive Director, Götz will only be responsible for operational matters.   

Whether or not you think Berry himself is the cause of ENO's artistic and financial malaise, there's no question he has failed to resolve it. Will the increase in his powers make things better or worse? Guesses welcome.

9 days ago | |
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The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra were today announced as the third-ever winners of the $1m Birgit Nilsson prize. In case you're thinking that sounds a lot, it only works out at about £4,000 per player - and it's more likely to be put towards educational or social work in any case.

But perhaps the most surprising fact to emerge from a report by Rupert Christiansen, a member of the prize jury, is that the Wieners employ only 12 permanent backroom staff. Yes, 12. For a pool of 148 players. I understand additional people are taken on tour, but the numbers are not huge.

In comparison, the LSO, only two-thirds the size, has a staff of more than 80. That includes a sales and marketing headcount of 12 - yes, the same size as the entire administrative workforce in Vienna. And I'm not picking on the LSO - other London orchestras employ similar numbers, as do their US counterparts.

How do the Wieners manage it? Well, they don't bother with social media for a start. In fact sales and marketing generally is low profile. There's no press department. If questions are asked of the orchestra, it's likely that first violinist (and orchestra president) Clemens Hellsberg will answer them. Ultimately the musicians manage themselves in many respects.  Go back a few years and it's how most orchestras operated.

It doesn't seem to do them any harm. The Vienna Philharmonic remain, arguably, the most successful orchestra in the world. They sell out pretty much everywhere they go. And regardless of whether you think they're artistically the best, the second best or the 17th best, they are undeniably pretty good, with conductors of all stripes regarding an invitation from them as a career pinnacle.

Less outlay on admin means more left over for the musicians. Something other organisations might like to chew over.

10 days ago | |
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Through his Teeth - Linbury Studio, 7 April 2014

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The laws of statistics suggested that if the Royal Opera House tried out enough new operas, sooner or later one would work. After an endless train of inept, underbaked or just plain boring efforts they've finally hit paydirt with Luke Bedford's Through his Teeth. If there's one thing you need to see this week, this is it.

The taut hour-long thriller doesn't waste a note. Loosely based on the true story of a sometime car salesman who conned a string of women out of their savings, it boldly explores the complicity of victims in their deception.

Bedford tunes in to the almost comic banality of David Harrower's libretto with conversational ease. The little eight piece Chroma ensemble are deployed inventively and sparingly. The plentiful pauses are as meaningful as the sounds that separate them in this Zen garden of a score. A sprinkling of quarter tones work their unsettling effect. The tension mounts almost imperceptibly; Harrower is a dramatist and he knows exactly how to tell a story. A single bass drum points the way to the denouement.

Anna Devin is frighteningly plausible as the the confident young career woman drawn in and dragged down by Owen Gilhooly's manipulative conman, even if the key scene where he first lies to her isn't quite convincing. Lightning wig and wardrobe changes enable Victoria Simmons to play interviewer, sister and fellow victim - each role musically delineated with precision.

The CCTV backdrop elegantly underlines that surveillance is a weapon used by both sides. Creaky, clanky sliding screens play a less successful part in Bijan Sheibani's production.

This is not the first opera from Luke Bedford (a composer who, incidentally, this blog has followed from the start).  But it is easily his most impressive - and I hope the comparative ease of staging the score will lead to further productions in future, perhaps from students.

I am baffled that the ROH have given this brilliant nugget virtually zero publicity. Perhaps they are piqued by its loose fit to the 'Faustian' brief plaguing their current commissions (what composer with half a brain is going to be inspired by Gounod?)

Anyway, the result is that there are still tickets left for the last two performances, on Wednesday and Friday. Believe me, it will be money well spent.

*UPDATE* as reader Richard points out in his comment below, the 30%-off Guardian mentioned in a previous post is still valid.

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12 days ago | |
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Jonas Kaufmann Winterreise - Royal Opera House, 6 April 2014

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While opera squeezes itself into pubs, clubs and underground bunkers, could piano recitals take over its abandoned theatres? Jonas Kaufmann's sold out the Royal Opera House instantly. Some may have come for the Schubert; I suspect most were after the man.

The darkest song cycle in all of liederdom sits uneasily with the velvet and glitz of the ROH, even with the austere Act 3 set from La traviata drafted in as a backdrop.

But with a new album to promote and 3,000 eager fans who'd swoon if he tackled the telephone directory, it was the obvious choice. Having disappointed both opera buffs and lieder lovers last year when he pulled out of ROH and Wigmore dates, it could also be seen as a compromise offering.

Despite a punishing Reise of his own, which sees him in a different city (if not country) every other night, Kaufmann sounded in terrific health.  The sheer beauty of his timbre is unquestionable and his range of vocal colours remarkable.

With only a piano to compete against, we heard sounds too light to dare normally in an opera house - plus the odd unidiomatic sob that we already have. You might call Kaufmann's approach 'operatic' - in the melodic not the melodramatic sense, meaning rooted in musical line rather than text. None of the declamatory tones considered permissible in Lieder passed Kaufmann's lips. There were simply no ugly sounds.

There was no place for the oversized gesture either. This was a cool and self-contained performance, an armchair journey free of the burgeoning desperation, anxiety and even insanity that many singers bring to the cycle.  Kaufmann's reflective, inward style treated the text as metaphor for a memory, not lived experience. While many singers might be tempted to scale up the story in a big theatre, Kaufmann took the opposite approach, drawing the audience in instead of reaching out to them.

If the final result had a monochrome tint, that was largely down to Helmut Deutsch's self-effacing and unvaried accompaniment. Whether this was an attempt to link the songs stylistically, or simply his way of dodging Kaufmann's spotlight it is hard to say. I was however impressed by his cunning page turning trick; by having two copies of the score, one turned over to the next page, he made sure he never missed a note.

The marathon was greeted by prolonged silence,  in marked contrast to the stentorian coughing and throat-clearing that had peppered every pause in the previous 80 minutes.  No encore, of course,

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And the applause, with thanks to Kyoko ( and for the better photos above, too):