Saturday, 20 January 2018

Primary colours Verdi

Verdi: Rigoletto

Duke of Mantua Michael Fabiano
Rigoletto Dimitri Platanias
Gilda Lucy Crowe

Royal Opera Chorus
Royal Opera Orchestra
Director David McVicar
Revival Director Justin Way
Conductor Alexander Joel

16 January 2018, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
The plot of Rigoletto is not the last word in subtlety, nor much of a standard bearer for sexual equality.  And Justin Way's approach to the latest revival of David McVicar's Royal Opera production offered no escape.  The Duke of Mantua's court was a lurid place of debasement and sexual exploitation, providing maximum contrast with the innocence of Gilda fresh from her convent.  The sense of dread for her safety was very effectively underlined.  But later her subsequent acceptance and protection of the Duke in all his flaws made little dramatic sense given his plainly horrific behaviour.

Verdi's music is a non-stop delight, clearly one of his most successful scores.  The singing on the whole did not live up to its subtlety.  Dimitri Platanias's Rigoletto was a hugely impressive physical, menacing performance, entirely capable of revenge.  But vocally he projected the more sensitive aspects of the role less successfully.  Lucy Crowe's Gilda had vocal control, but was not fully inside the role. In Caro nome there was no sense of a girl's breathless anxiety, more a singer focusing on her vocal technique.   Michael Fabiano's Duke was by contrast very fine throughout, with a gleaming tone and great command of the stage.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Recorder overload

Vivaldi Concerti La Notte, L'Inverno, La Pimavera, The Gypsy and the Priest, and RV40.
Works by Giovanni Bassano, Dario Castello, Tomasso Albinoni, Baldassare Galuppi, Guiseppe Tartini, Pietry Locatelli, Biagio Marini, Maurizio Cazzati.

Red Priest

Trinity Church Wimbledon, 21 November 2017

Red Priest have been a fixture on the Baroque circuit for 20 years, with their refreshing take on the music and the concert ritual itself.  Red Priest was of course the nickname of the flame haired composer Antonio Vivaldi.
It’s made up of harpsichordist David Wright, cellist Angela East, violinist Adam Summerhayes and Piers Adams on the recorder.  Amongst these Adams is clearly the leader, happily skipping between soprano, alto and bass recorders, fronting repertoire spanning all the Venetian greats from Vivaldi to Galuppi, much of it arranged for the ensemble.

The concert was the “Venice” instalment in this year’s Wimbledon International Music Festival as part of its "Musical Capitals" theme in 2017.  Despite the undoubted brilliance of Adam’s artistry on the recorders, the relentless recorder-led music lacked variety in the first half.  The performances did not seem to achieve either enough polish or enough fun, falling awkwardly in the middle.  It was a relief when Adam Summerhayes’ violin began to take on more solos as the evening continued.

On the whole the second half proved much more successful, featuring the ensembles rendition of the over-famous Spring concerto of Vivaldi with a healthy injection of fantasy, and culminating in a version of the same composer’s "Gypsy" Concerto given a “wild Romanian” take.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Rattle champions Haydn

Wagner Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Bartok Piano Concerto No. 2
Haydn An imaginary orchestral journey

London Symphony Orchestra
Denis Kozhukhin, piano
Simon Rattle, conductor

Barbican Hall, London 11 July 2017
Simon Rattle’s commitment to Haydn’s genius produced a memorable Barbican night.  For him this was a reprise of a concert in Berlin stringing together movements from various Haydn works into “An Imaginary Orchestral Journey”.  This type of thing has also been successfully done to Rameau by Marc Minkowski.
The Esterhazy Palace, Haydn's long-term home

As well as giving a more prominent platform for part of the “7 Last Words of Christ”, Symphonies 64, 6, 46, 60, 45, and 90 were excerpted as well as The Creation, The Seasons and the obscure L'Isola Disabitata. There was some lovely moments of fantasy, not least when the little known mechanical organ took centre stage.  Haydn wrote 17 pieces for mechanical organs, one of which was featured here before Rattle paused proceedings to listen to these little constructions being broadcast unadulterated from various locations around the Barbican Hall. Somehow both arch and evocative all at the same time.
Joseph Haydn

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Michael Boyd's Debussy

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Pelléas Jonathan McGovern
Mélisande Andrea Carroll
Golaud Paul Gay
Arkel Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Geneviève Susan Bickley
Yniold William Davies
Doctor Dingle Yandell
Shepherd Joseph Padfield

Conductor Jac van Steen
Philharmonia Orchestra
Director Michael Boyd

Garsington Opera Festival, 1 July 2017

Debussy's only completed opera is a special one, quite unlike anything else musically in the repertoire.  On an idyllic summer's evening at Garsington Opera on the Getty family estate it was the turn of director Michael Boyd to bring the symbolist opera to life.
Andrea Carroll as Melisande
The setting was an ornate old theatre, seemingly risen again from the bottom of the ocean. Boyd was inspired by old theatres he had seen in Detroit, left in a state of "gloomy, exquisite and overgrown decay".  So, perfect for Pelléas and it provided an inspired setting for a production which was otherwise refreshingly straightforward.

Jac van Steen was a steady hand for the wonderfully atmospheric score with its Debussian take on Mussorgsky and Wagner.  The orchestra had us all entranced, none more so than a woman nearby who spent the entire evening staring at the tympanist's every move.

Andrea Carroll was a very fine Melisande opposite Jonathan McGovern's solid Pelleas.  They were a youthful pairing with excellent support throughout the cast. The production's success was crowned as Acts Four and Five only increased in intensity, and lingered long in the memory.
Garsington Opera's temporary structure

Monday, 26 June 2017

Alexander Karpeyev in full bloom

Recital: "1917 The Final Flowering"

PROKOFIEV Vision Fugitives, Op. 22 Nos. 1, 3, 8-11, 14-15, 18-20
Sonate-Ballade, Op. 27
Prelude Op. 78 No. 1
Lullaby Op. 78 No. 2
Waltz Op. 61 No. 5
Reproche Op. 61 No. 6
Caprice Op. 61 No. 2
‘Nïne otpuschayeshi’ from All-Night Vigil, Op. 37 (arr. Rachmaninov)
Etude-Tableux, Op. 39 No. 7
Three movements from Petrouchka (arr. Stravinsky)

Alexander Karpeyev, piano
Savile Club, London, 22 June 2017
2017 is of course the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution.  A seismic event in so many ways, Russian music was forever changed also. 
Alexander Karpeyev

Russian pianist Alexander Karpeyev here gave a fascinating and satisfying programme built around works from around 1917 by Russian emigres.  All left Russia before or straight after the revolution, and had greatly varying relationships with their homeland afterwards.  

Some like Rachmaninov never returned.  Others like Prokofiev and Medtner did, not that they got along once back in their homeland.  "His playing was good, if a bit boring", the prickly Prokofiev wrote in his diary after a Medtner recital.

No such problems on this night.  Karpeyev has a burgeoning reputation as an interpreter of the period and at a sweltering Savile Club it was not hard to hear why.  Karpeyev's magnificent technique combined with a powerful artistic vision of each piece.  Medtner's Sonate-Ballade benefited greatly from this kind of advocacy and reached an engulfing conclusion.  Karpeyev, amongst other things, is the Artistic Director of the International Medtner Festival.

Rachmaninov, and - a composer new to me - Grechaninov were broadly aligned in their lush late-romantic sound worlds.  Karpeyev strongly characterised each miniature.  A particularly magical moment was a rarely heard piano arrangement of Nyne otpuschayeshi from Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil.  In the original the conclusion requires "octavists", especially low bases customarily found in Russian choirs who sing one octave lower than the normal bass voice.  The piano also concluded deep in its lower registers.

After the pealing bells of Rachmaninov's Opus 39/7 Etude-Tableux, we were left with that most thrilling of 20th century piano showpieces - the Three Movements from Petrouchka.  Stravinsky never thought much of the piano, considering it essentially a percussion instrument.  But what an exercise in rhythm it is, with a stupefying set of technical hurdles for the performer to jump.  Karpeyev's performance was technically spectacular but also brought out its musicality, with transitions particularly beautifully handled.  It was an overwhelming musical experience and brought the audience most deservedly to their feet.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Don Giovanni goes cruising

Mozart: Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni      Ashley Riches
Leporello     John Savournin
Donna Anna      Lauren Fagan
Don Ottavio     Ben Johnson
Donna Elvira     Victoria Simmonds
Il Commendatore     Graeme Broadbent
Zerlina     Ellie Laugharne
Masetto     Ian Beadle

Dane Lam, conductor
Oliver Platt, director
Holland Park Chorus and Orchestra

Holland Park Opera, London, 16 June 2017

As so often at Opera Holland Park, this new production blew all the cobwebs away.  Naturalistic acting, increased contemporary recognition and originality to put many a major opera house production to shame.

The idea here was setting the opera on a luxury cruise ship circa 1910Anyone who has seen Titanic will be familiar with the divisions between first class passengers and those on the lower decks.  This provided the platform for the class divisions that are so central to the plot: aristocrats versus peasants.  Time and again the search and costume change scenes came over as much more dramatically plausible than is normally the case.  It was smart acoustically also, projecting the voices most effectively in a difficult open air location.
Ashley Riches as Don Giovanni
Oliver Platt directed a lean version of the score, not always controlling the orchestra's volume to allow the voices to come across clearly.  One voice that needed no accommodation was Lauren Fagan's Donna Anna, providing the most arresting moments of the evening with her dramatic and thrilling grip on every note.  Ashley Riches and John Savournin were a well-matched pair as Don Giovanni and his servant Leporello.
Lauren Fagan's powerful Donna Anna
Leporello's Catalogue Aria
The Commmendatore was consigned to the cooler after his demise and arrived in full ghoulish form at the climactic dinner scene.  How good to see a genuinely horrible Commendatore instead of the rigid, powdery statue which is the norm.  At the conclusion Don Giovanni is not consigned to the flames but rushes over the ship railings to a watery death. 
Don Giovanni! I've come to dinner
At the very end there were some ill-advised recitative cuts.  Zerlina/Masseto, Don Ottavio/Donna Ana, Donna Elvira and Leporello received no chance to wrap up their plots.   The only genuine misstep in a most enjoyable and stimulating production of Mozart's eternal masterpiece.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960)

Iestyn Davies Oberon
Sophie Bevan Tytania
Jack Lansbury Puck
Clive Bayley Theseus
Leah-Marian Jones Hippolyta
Nick Pritchard Lysander
George Humphreys Demetrius
Clare Presland Hermia
Eleanor Dennis Helena
Matthew Rose Bottom
Andrew Shore Quince
Lawrence Wiliford Flute
Sion Goronwy Snug
Nicholas Sharratt Snout
Simon Butteriss Starveling
Elliot Harding-Smith Cobweb
Ewan Cacace, Angus Hampson Peaseblossom
Adam Warne Mustardseed
Noah Lucas Moth
Willis Christie, Lorenzo Facchini, Angus Foster, Nicholas Harding-Smith, Kevin Kurian, Charles Maloney-Charlton, Robert Peters, Matthew Wadey chorus of fairies

Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra
Netia Jones direction, design, projection
Ryan Wigglesworth

Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 11 June 2017, Aldeburgh

Benjamin Britten premiered his A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1960 and it has been consistently popular ever since.  After the re-opening of Snape Maltings in 1967 a new production was presented, and now Aldeburgh Festival was celebrating 50 years since this event.

Technology has moved on since the 60s and video projections are increasingly common in production design.  Netia Jones is making a name for herself, with imagery which are better synchronised with the action.  No drops were placed in a character's eye without a huge image of a substance being dropping into water on the wall to wall screens that were the backdrop to the stage.
Iestyn Davies mesmerising as Oberon
Ms Jones, production set the play in the Victorian age.  The visual style a homage to dreamy early Victorian photography.  The boy fairies were ghostly figures in sunglasses.  Tytania wore full Mrs Haversham cobwebby dresses.  Oberon a still and sinister apparition in powdered silver outfit. 

Netia Jones' approach of projecting imagery onto the screens created bewitching light and perspective effects at times.  But for much of the afternoon the projections from the front made the poor singers look like someone trying to give a talk with the powerpoint slides shining in their face.

Vocally this was an outstanding cast with no weak links.  Iestyn Davies was mesmerising throughout, physically and vocally, Sophie Bevan's soprano delightfully agile, and Matthew Rose's Bottom dominated the stage.  The Rustics were gently humorous and the four lovers made the best they could with roles that as written are quite impossible to make interesting.  Diction was a problem throughout, with the honourable exceptions of Davies and Clare Presland's Hermia.  Jack Lansbury had a tumbling good time as Puck.

Ryan Wigglesworth directed a finely nuanced reading.  The orchestra were magnificent, not least in the bewitching opening to Act 3.  Never has Britten sounded more like Arvo Paert.  A dream indeed.
Snape Maltings at interval