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Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

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A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

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Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Ryan Molloy as Gabey (ENO -- On The Town)
09 May 2007

On The Town – English National Opera

In a season that will conclude with a new production of Kismet, ENO has once again come under criticism for the number of non-operatic works on the bill.

Leonard Bernstein: On The Town

English National Opera, 23 April 2007
All photos by Laurie Lewis, courtesy of English National Opera


Jude Kelly’s energetic production of Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 musical was originally seen here in 2005 to an extended run of full houses, so it can at least be said to have already proved its worth.

Let loose for 24 hours of shore leave in New York City, three young sailors go in search of some sightseeing and, more importantly, some female company. Small-town boy Gabey (Ryan Molloy) falls in love with a picture of the subway beauty queen (‘Miss Turnstiles’) Ivy Smith and sends his two friends out on a mission to make his romantic dream a reality. En route, virginal Chip (Sean Palmer) and the more worldly Ozzie (Joshua Dallas) quickly manage to land themselves a pair of nymphomaniacs, the taxi-driver Hildy Esterhazy and the archaeologist Claire de Loone – and the group set out ‘on the town’ for the evening before returning to ship.

June Whitfield as Mme. Dilly and Helen Anker as Ivy Smith (ENO -- On The Town)That’s basically it, as far as the plot goes. For all its brass, sex and comedy, the show is a vignette depicting the transience of pleasure in a world where any or all of the young sailors might soon lose their life in battle.

It’s a difficult piece to categorise, almost as much a ballet as it is a musical; the high-octane comedy numbers are balanced by romance and poignancy in songs including ‘Lucky to be Me’, ‘Lonely Town’ and ‘Some Other Time’. The dance numbers didn’t work too well in 2005, but this time Stephen Mear’s choreography is slick and energetic. Simon Lee’s conducting also seems snappier and more together than on the first hearing.

Coney Island scene (ENO -- On The Town)The three ladies all returned from the previous run. Caroline O’Connor’s Hildy was a ballsy dominatrix with a voice to match. As Claire, the American Lucy Schaufer, a very versatile performer (she’s also a Handelian mezzo) combined slinky dance moves with a glorious vocal range including some terrific operatic high notes, and Helen Anker’s Ivy was sweet, graceful and ingenuous. Conversely, the three male leads were new to the production and, despite energetic performances and some attractive singing, were left somewhat in the shade of the ladies – in fact the only really memorable performance came from ENO regular Andrew Shore as Lucy’s long-suffering fiancé, Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework.

Also new was the veteran British comic actress June Whitfield, in a memorably brilliant performance as Ivy’s bohemian alcoholic voice teacher Madame Dilly, while Janine Duvitski returned to give a touching comic account of Lucy Schmeeler, Hildy’s homely roommate who eventually finds a perfect match of her own.

Robert Jones’s ingenious sets rely mainly on outline forms to capture every situation - the dockyard, Hildy’s cab, the subway, the Museum of Natural History, Hildy’s and Claire’s tiny apartments crammed together in typically urban style, the sequence of night-spots, Coney Island.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

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