Posted tagged ‘Royal Opera House’

‘Cinderella’ at the Royal Opera House

April 24, 2011

Lovely dayout yesterday to matinee of Cinderella (Prokofiev ballet) at ROH. Rosie’s 6th birthday treat but we grownups adored it too! Glamour, magic, story clearly told, stunning sets and costumes, great music – reminding us what we go to the theatre for…

Classic Frederick Ashton choreography, with trademark Ashton figures in the hyperactive Jester (James Hay) and of course the pantomime-dame Ugly Sisters (James Wilkie and Thomas Whitehead, extremely funny). Yuhui Choe pretty and touching as Cinderella, Sergei Polunin likewise as her fairy-tale Prince. (But Rosie liked the Fairy Godmother – Francesca Filpi – best of all.)

Nice to see my old chum Mark Jonathan credited with the lighting, which was sumptuous and just right. And what a brilliant score – all the Prokofiev hallmarks of clarity, energy, ingenious and unexpected orchestration (particularly percussion, oboe, bassoon, contrabassoon and trumpet, all working incredibly hard! No ‘easy night off’ playing for the ballet in this one.) And he does that odd trick of putting a tuba on the bass line even in moving or touching passages – shouldn’t work but it does.

Not having seen a synopsis, I was fascinated by the reference to The Love for Three Oranges in the score, paralleled by the appearance of three oranges on stage… is this Prokofiev’s in-joke, or Ashton’s? Any insights welcome.

What a contrast to our dismal evening at The Tsar’s Bride earlier in the week. (No offence to Rimsky-Korsakov’s fine and sometimes amazing music, or to Sir Mark Elder’s equally fine but disappointingly ponderous conducting. But the ballet reminded us, by contrast, what a chore it is to sit through yet another grim updated staging that doesn’t fit the music and has us peering at a room full of dark-suited gents in a gloomy setting, trying to figure who is who and which one is singing. And that was just the first scene. Yes, we were sitting very high up in the Amphi! 😦

See review and photos of Cinderella at http://www.seenandheard-international.com/2011/04/09/prokofiev%e2%80%99s-cinderella-at-the-royal-ballet/

photo (c) Tristram Kenton

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We have arrived in Sussex!

March 8, 2011

Better late than never (having finally got my internet connection back), this is to let you all know that after considerable tribulations, alarms and excursions, Diana and I moved into our lovely ‘new’ house in St Leonard’s-on-Sea on 17 February.

After a couple of weeks we are at last beginning to feel at home, having unpacked at least some of the 300 boxes that arrived from our two previous houses and begun to sort out what goes where.  It’s a lovely big solid 1930s house – with a huge reception hall with room for both our grand pianos (major selling point) and some endearingly quirky features of design and layout, but in great condition and beautifully maintained.

We’ve had a fascinating session with a couple of local architects, and it looks as if we’ll be able to do a certain amount of building to give us more room, better facilities and possibly even more sea views!

And on 24 February, a week after moving in, I took ‘early retirement’ from my job at the Royal Opera House.  So I’m looking forward to continuing with freelance work but also having time to look at the sea, smell the flowers, listen to (and play, or even write) some different music, and generally catch up on all the good things in life that we’ve been too busy to appreciate for the past few years.

Watch this space for more news and pictures as things happen…

Philip Langridge CBE (1939-2010)

March 8, 2010

Another sad piece of news – the passing of Philip Langridge. A wonderful, intelligent English tenor, with a distinctive voice, great musicality and a huge range of repertoire (BBC Radio 3 marked his passing with ‘Comfort ye / Every valley’ from Handel’s Messiah – beautifully sung of course, and repertoire I had never associated with him before. How typical).

Probably my earliest memory of him is as Tom Rakewell in a student production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in Cambridge, probably in 1969 or 70.  (The conductor was Antony Beaumont, director David Pountney, harpsichordist Mark Elder.)   Besides Philip’s voice, I remember his cream-and-brown ‘co-respondent’ shoes (it was a modern dress production).

All I ever want is to be true to the piece, the words and the character; to the whole thing, its meaning and so on. When we are true to what we do that is what makes great art. If you try and nudge it in a certain way to try and make it better for you or make you more famous then that’s boring. The public are not stupid and they may not have studied many hours what you are performing – some have, but many haven’t – but you can always tell when somebody means something and when they don’t.

Communication is also an important thing and if we do not communicate what we are doing – or what the music is doing – what is there left?
[from the interview referred to below]

Modest, unassuming, never a diva, always ready with a smile and a friendly word – Philip was one of music’s gentlemen.  I am proud to have worked with him at Glyndebourne, ENO and the Royal Opera. In the ground-breaking production of Janáček’s Osud at ENO he gave a harrowing performance as the composer Zivny, playing the tricky onstage piano part himself. With his wife Ann Murray he made a memorable double-act in Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict at ENO.

I treasure his recordings of Britten and Tippett and others, and memories of live performances including Schubert’s Winterreise at Blackheath Halls (with David Owen Norris). I also treasure the postcard he sent me from Aldeburgh (a watery watercolour scene with ‘Dawn’ from Britten’s Sea Interludes in a stave across the sky) in response to my congratulations on his CBE in 1994.

Energetic to the end, he could be seen leaping around the stage as Loge in Wagner’s Ring, or in more sedate (but vocally demanding) roles in Berg’s Lulu or Birtwistle’s The Minotaur.  Ever ready to learn new or unfamiliar music, at the age of 70 it seemed he would go on for ever.

Farewell, Philip.  And thank you for the music.

Deepest condolences to his wife Ann Murray, and his children including Anita and Stephen.

Obituary by Barry Millington here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/mar/07/philip-langridge-obituary

and a nice interview with Philip:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2009/jan-jun09/langridge_interview.htm

Gergiev’s ‘Ring’ at Covent Garden

August 3, 2009

rheingoldnatasharaz_228381t[1]So… the circus came to town last week, and now it has departed in a cloud of dust and a hail of booing (some of it mine – never done that before!) amid the storms of applause.

Valery Gergiev, the Ossetian wizard, attempted the impossible – all four operas of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in four days, with his Mariinsky company from St Petersburg (formerly the Kirov) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

I can’t really comment on all four, since for two of them I was behind the glass, working.  But my friend Diana did come to all four and took me to the other two (thank you, D!) so I got the general idea.

Did Gergiev succeed?  No.  Over-hyped, over-conducted, mostly beautifully played;  under-cast and under-sung, with very few honourable exceptions (it does not bode well for a Götterdämmerung when the loudest applause is for the Alberich);  over-designed, over-lit, under-rehearsed;  and, above all, under-directed.

This is surely Gergiev’s fault:  my feeling is that he doesn’t think anything is important except what he thinks is important, namely his conducting and the fact that he has ‘achieved’ this impossible feat at all.  He is quoted in interviews as saying that he wants to get away from the tyranny of the opera director:  having evolved his overall concept with designer George Tsypin (master of the enormous stage-cluttering useless object:  remember the giant cracked glass bottles in his Theodora from Glyndebourne?), Gergiev proceeded to sack or alienate at least four directors along the way (including Johannes Schaaf – ‘too German’ – and Opera Factory’s brilliant David Freeman). 

Finally he has brought in a fifth director, Alexander Zeldin, who has a Russian name but is British and as far as I can tell speaks not much Russian;  worst of all, he is only 24.  With the best will in the world, nobody aged 24 can have more then the haziest notion of how to direct this Everest of the operatic repertoire, which countless directors, conductors, scholars and analysts have spent whole lifetimes trying to understand.

I fear he is not really a director, but a ‘crisis manager’ and director of traffic, brought in to salvage what is left of previous attempts to make the original concept work.  By the time we got to the end of Götterdämmerung, it was impossible to discern any attempt at understanding the piece or the drama, or even listening to the music, for heaven’s sake.  Of all composers, Wagner tells you in every bar precisely what is going on, dramatically and emotionally;  just open your ears and listen (and read his stage directions!).  And please, try sitting out front and reading the surtitles, and then you will understand why the audience sniggered at things that were clearly in the text but were not happening on stage.  Ho hum.

Gergiev’s original concept was a fascinating one:  finding parallels between the Nordic myths that Wagner drew on and his own native Ossetian Nart sagas, he gets Tsypin to fill the stage with 30-foot effigies of Nart gods, and tries to get away from conventional Teutonic readings of the cycle by finding links with other mythologies.  Well yes, fine.  But (as my boss, Judi Palmer, said) it might have been a nice concept if anyone had done anything with it.  There were interesting ideas, such as making the ‘gold’ and the ‘Rhine’ out of shimmering masses of actors’ bodies;  but these ideas were not thought through or related to Wagner’s text, so failed to take off. 

Moreover, (more…)

Sorry, chaps

November 1, 2008

So many wonderful things since I last wrote – pressure of work and other activities has prevented me blogging them, much as I wanted to.  So here is a list of what I should have written about, for your edification and delight…

Covent Garden Chamber Orchestra concert, Saturday 4 October – especially the Schumann Konzertstück for four horns, magisterially played by Richard Lewis, Jo Towler, Duncan Gwyther and Liz Kadir.  Wow.

Haydn’s Creation at the Korean Full Gospel Church in Raynes Park, Sunday 12 October – lots of fun, the Koreans charming and lovely, my contra bottom B flat much appreciated!

The English Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, Wednesday 15 October – Tippett, Britten (Les Illuminations with stunning young soprano Mary Bevan), plus some works by Arab composers including the brilliant and hilarious Saxophone Concerto by Waleed Howrani – a perfect Last Night of the Proms piece?

Celebrity Recital at Cadogan Hall, Sunday 19 October – Emma Johnson, Julian Lloyd Webber, John Lill, surprisingly not a full house:  a treat of Beethoven and Brahms clarinet trios, the Weber Grand Duo Concertant, Julian playing two of his father’s pieces (with Andrew in the audience), and John Lill scorching our eyebrows off with the Chopin C minor Nocturne and the amazing Prokofiev Toccata

Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran at the Opera House, with Juan Diego Florez

Our very own Phoenix Orchestra concert (see previous post) on Thursday 23 October, especially the wonderful and inexhaustible Tom Poster in the Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto

The Esbjerg Ensemble at Cadogan Hall, Sunday 26 October:  Nonet by Louise Farrenc, Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and wind (fantastic), the Schumann Piano Quintet (wonderful as ever).  Slightly dour Danish group, lifted to a higher plane by the tiny, sparky, beaming and incredibly accomplished pianist Marianna Shirinyan (who she??)

And the Brodsky Quartet at Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 29 October – Beethoven Razumovsky No. 1 (what a wonderful piece), Tchaikovsky Quartet No. 1, and two little Stravinsky numbers (Concertino and Three Pieces) which were spellbinding.

Now I’m off to rehearse contra in Boléro (don’t ask)…

Normal service one of these days!

thanks for the picture, Diana…

Harrison Birtwistle, ‘The Minotaur’

April 16, 2008

Harrison Birtwistle

Last night was the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s opera The Minotaur, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Breaking my rule about not commenting on performances I am involved in… I have to say it was amazing:  hugely powerful, great production, simple and dramatic (designed by Alison Chitty, directed by Stephen Langridge, lit by Paul Pyant), charismatic performances – Christine Rice warm, communicative and unbelievably accurate musically as Ariadne, John Tomlinson giving the performance of his life as the eponymous ‘Man-beast’, Johan Reuter giving his all as Theseus despite not being totally at home with the English language (for once I imagine there won’t be any complaints about having surtitles in English).  And Antonio Pappano supremely in control of this vast and difficult score.

Birtwistle’s music polarizes opinion – remember the rumpus about ‘Panic’ at the Last Night of the Proms a few years ago?  I was at ENO when we put on The Mask of Orpheus, and operas don’t get much more monumentally complicated or unapproachable than that was.  But The Minotaur seems to me one of his finest scores, with many of his hallmarks – lots of noise, two growling tubas, screams and shouts, angular lines, stomping rhythms, strange sounds such as cimbalom and contrabass clarinet – but focused, singer-friendly, often very still and beautiful.

The text is by David Harsent (who also did the libretto for Birtwistle’s previous ROH opera, Gawain).  As soon as I read the libretto I got shivers up my spine, and they really haven’t gone away since!  He absolutely captures the essence of the Minotaur story – the duality of half-man, half-animal, the resonances of his conception and birth, the fact that he is locked in the labyrinth away from human eyes, the whole story of Ariadne and the thread that enables Theseus to get out of the labyrinth… Harsent doesn’t flinch from the brutality of sacrifice and murder – the Minotaur’s sacrificial victims, the Innocents, are raped and killed on stage (watched by an excited chanting crowd of spectators), and vulture-like Keres descend to disembowel the dead bodies.  Not for the squeamish!

this is on my wall!
I have felt a very personal link (more…)

Southbank Sinfonia (twice)

March 14, 2008

sbs2.jpg The Southbank Sinfonia is a brilliant idea – a ‘semi-professional’ orchestra employing young instrumentalists between college and a professional career.  To judge by their list of alumni now in orchestral positions, it works.

The orchestra is the brainchild of conductor Simon Over.  It has no state funding (surprise surprise!) and is maintained by a large roster of generous supporters and huge amounts of goodwill, particularly through partnerships with ‘grown up’ orchestras such as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, who provide coaching, playing opportunities and ‘sit-ins’ alongside professional players.  And imaginative sponsors like accompanist Malcolm Martineau who provides free refreshments at concerts – hooray!

Monday’s concert was part of the lunchtime recital series at the Royal Opera House, though moved into the spacious (and echoey) surroundings of the Paul Hamlyn Hall (formerly the Floral Hall).  A slightly rum programme…

It began with a Vivaldi Concerto for Two Trumpets, bravely performed without a conductor.  The soloists (Christopher Seddon and Rob Wallace) were two cool dudes to whom evidently nothing was a problem – they enjoyed every minute and played faultlessly, stationing themselves antiphonally either side of the band.

Two quibbles:  how could anyone think it’s OK to perform any kind of baroque concerto without a keyboard continuo??  Just because it ‘sort of’ works to have just a cello and bass accompanying the soloists, that doesn’t make it right.  And no, the slow movement is not just ‘a mere six bars long… a passage of modulation played by the strings alone’ – which is how they played it, earnestly and meaninglessly:  no, it’s the basis for something – keyboard improvisation?  Violin improvisation?  (Probably not the trumpets, as they need the rest.)  Something has to happen, and somebody has to take a decision about what.  Awful sinking feeling that STILL nobody in the music colleges is taught anything beyond the received nineteenth-century ways of playing things.

They need to read a certain series of helpful books…

The orchestra was joined by Australian soprano Anita Watson, a rising star in the ROH’s firmament and a radiant smiling presence (I previously enjoyed hearing her in Donizetti’s Rita – read more here).  Her choice of arias – Mozart’s ‘Nehmt meinen Dank’ and the ‘Et incarnatus’ from the C minor Mass, and Richard Strauss’s ‘Morgen’ – suited her to perfection.  Lovely violin solo in the Strauss, from leader Tatiana Byesheva.

In between Anita Watson’s items, Graham Sheen conducted his arrangement of five Danzas Gitanas by Joaquin Turina.  The rather vague programme note did not describe the individual movements or even tell us what forces Graham had arranged them for.  As far as I could see, it was a wind decet (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns) with extras – piccolo, cor anglais – plus two trumpets and a double bass.  Smashing arrangements, full of vivid colours and rhythmic life.  I slightly felt that the clarinets had a raw deal – perhaps because the trumpets had grabbed their share of the melodic interest?  Very nice anyway, and must have been great fun to play.  I hope they’ll be published.

And a definitely rum item to finish – Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs, but with no singer!  Hamlet without the Prince?  I am reliably informed that it was never intended that Anita Watson should sing these.  But they sounded distinctly ‘so-what’-ish in their orchestral guise.  Ah well.

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stjohnswaterloo.jpg

Then yesterday (Thursday) – (more…)