September 29, 2015

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

Director Woody Allen has devised a wonderfully dark comedic point of view for the Puccini that began the night. Mr. Allen gets us in a laughing mood by preceding the opera proper with a film clip, rolling production credits for a 50’s black and white movie, which playfully (and shamelessly) incorporate well-known Italian foods and phrases.

When the curtain rises, it reveals a marvel of a design that carries on the film noir theme, with all elements in shades of black, white, and gray, mixed with a few earth colors. Santo Loquasto’s imposing, sprawling set design features a wrought iron spiral staircase to a balcony level, a kitchen, a sitting room, and of course, as well as the requisite bed-with-a-corpse. Mr. Loquasto’s equally effective costumes were by turns characterful, sleek, sexy, and all perfectly designed to enhance the personality of the character. York Kennedy’s moody lighting design completed a “look” that could be somewhat sinister one moment and wittily playful the next.

The show has been expertly staged by Kathleen Smith Belcher with some contemporary inventions that play against expectations. Lauretta is not the usual dutiful daughter but rather a sexed up vamp who brandishes a knife before daddy forcibly disarms her. The knife shows up in another surprise moment that was perhaps not Puccini’s intention, but it sure created a memorably different ending.

GS-15232-101.pngLeft to right: Liam Bonner as Marco, Peabody Southwell as La Ciesca, Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa, Meredith Arwady as Zita, Craig Colclough as Simone, Stacy Tappan as Nella and Greg Fedderly as Gherardo.

The bickering, calculating relatives were all well drawn, tightly focused, and commendably specific. Blocking was neatly motivated, character relationships were clear, and fluid stage pictures provided a satisfying visual realization. The invention of propping up dead Buoso outside the door as a sleeping beggar (into whose cup visitors plunked coins) was fresh and clever. I was less sure about Lauretta and Rinuccio’s overt sexual behavior, especially their going up to the balcony to disappear on the floor (shagging?) at the end. It was not only untrue to the parameters of 1950’s film concept, but deprived the pair of the sweetness that balances the others’ comic malice. Still, Woody’s concept pleased the capacity audience, and was (mostly) consistent in its commitment.

The strong cast was evenly matched and completely immersed in effective ensemble playing. Each took focus when it was their moment, and deferred when it was not. Meredith Arwady seems to get better and better with my every encounter, which is to say, her solid contralto is as good as it gets. Her steely, imperious Zita ruled the roost, and she had many amusing moments as she cooked in the kitchen almost throughout. Andriana Chuchman was a striking Lauretta, although her poised, limpid singing of “O mio babbino caro” was so lovely it seemed a bit at odds with the she-devil impersonation the director gave her. Sweet-voiced tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz was boyishly appealing and wonderfully secure. When he started Mr. Chacón-Cruz was a mite underpowered but he grew in stature as the evening progressed, morphing into a heartfelt performance that was marked by warmth of tone and fine musicality. Liam Bonner and Peabody Southwell made for an unusually frisky Marco and La Ciesca, respectively, he singing with burnished tone and she zinging her lines out there with a ripe, round soprano. Greg Fedderly has developed into a fine character tenor, and he lavished Gherardo with pointed, ringing phrases. Stacy Tappan’s delightful Nella was clear-voiced and distinctive. Craig Colclough’s blustery Simone was sung with great gusto, and Philip Cokorinos made every moment count as he put his rolling bass to full effect as a hang-dog Betto di Signa. Young Isaiah Morgan was an audience favorite as the lad Gherardino, whether belting his lines securely, or getting belted around by his rather ‘old school’ Italian parents.

GS-15232-331.pngE. Scott Levin as Maestro Spinellocio (center, facing front) with the cast of Gianni Schicchi.

E. Scott Levin was a daffily doddering Maestro Spinelloccio, sporting a lively baritone deployed with sharp comic timing. Former Young Artists Daniel Armstrong was entertaining as a blind “witness” Pinellino, and intoned his few lines with a smooth baritone. Gabriel Varmvulescu chimed in effectively as Guccio, and best of all, firm-voiced bass (and Young Artist) Kihun Yoon was an inspired Notary. In the pit, Grant Gershon kept the evening percolating with a reading that found just the right balance of forward motion, comic accents, and veristic elasticity. The orchestra played with an assured panache.

One common denominator between the evening’s two one-act operas is the decidedly “uncommon” Plácido Domingo. Mr. Domingo is a remarkable phenomenon, like no one else in the entire history of the operatic art form. In addition to his celebrated career as one of the greatest tenors in history, with countless “firsts” and “mosts” and “bests” in its footnotes, the impresario heads LA Opera itself, conducts performances with regularity, operates one of the world’s most prestigious singing contests, and oh yes, is still singing opera at 74 years young in the baritone “Fach.”

PAG-15231-323.pngAna Maria Martinez (right) as Nedda

Small wonder that the adoring public cheers his every appearance — first as the title role in Schicchi and then as the Maestro in the pit for Pagliacci. Plácido Domingo is an unparalleled factotum, the likes of which has never been seen before and will surely never be seen again. His local public knows that he IS Los Angeles Opera, and they rightly celebrate him accordingly. His is a remarkable package of achievements including a remarkable career as one of the finest singers of his generation.

As Schicchi, he sang intelligently, musically, and with good comic delivery. He did the bass-baritone role very competently, but . . .as a tenor with a decent baritonal tint to his core voice. Did he eclipse (or even challenge) the likes of a Bryn or Sherrill or Cornell in the part? No. On the podium, Maestro Domingo was clean and well organized, and he kept things moving along with good rhythmic pulse. But there were subtle occasions when he seemed out of touch with his Canio, perhaps helming certain phrases as he used to sing them rather than as a collaborative effort with the artist on stage. Did he challenge the conducting accomplishments of a Jimmy or Riccardo or Lenny? No.

And therein lies a conundrum. While his other achievements are uniquely remarkable, his “baritone” and his conducting, while pleasantly agreeable, are not in the same league as the rest of his legend. But only he can decide when being a living legend is simply enough, especially when his public keeps coming back for more.

PAG-15231-844.pngMarco Berti as Canio

Pagliacci was an over-the-top, eye-filling Franco Zeffirelli production that rivaled Cecil B. DeMille for its Hollywood overstatement. It was nothing if not colorful, bustling, and crowded with mini-dramas and character details that extended down to the last chorister. The trouble is, while Mr. DeMille could focus in on the key characters and isolate important moments with a close-up, stage director Stefano Trespidi could not figure out how to direct our attention to the important players at key exchanges. His creed seems to be: “Nothing exceeds like excess.”

Even with the “performance stage” erected stage right, and the thrice familiar drama being played out upon it, there was so much bustle from extraneous street performers that the visual effect was distracting at best, and damaging at worst. Ironically, the gyrating, frenetic extras were urging the “spectators” to look at the stage all the while they completely stole focus from our doing just that.

Ana Maria Martinez was an ideal Nedda, her urgent soprano showing real urgency and passion. Full-bodied in all registers, Ms. Martinez especially shone above the staff where her gleaming delivery gave much pleasure. Her “Stridono lassù" was a lovely outpouring of longing and lush tone. Too bad then that she was largely upstaged by milling town folk, and had to hold hands with, and sing her thoughts to a group of school girls.

PAG-15228-548.pngGeorge Gagnidze (top) as Tonio, with Ana Maria Martinez as Nedda and Brenton Ryan as Beppe

George Gagnidze was in fine form as Tonio, firm of voice, and unctuous of delivery. His prologue was commanding if a bit calculated. In the opera proper Mr. Gagnidze found more spontaneity and color in the more conniving and lecherous statements of his character. Liam Bonner was all that could be desired as Silvio, tall and handsome, and possessed of a mellifluous lyric baritone with persuasive warmth.

Young Artist Brenton Ryan’s Beppe found his vocal stride in a beautifully judged serenade. Earlier, he took time to warm to his task and was a little light in vocal presence.

Of course, Pagliacci is nothing without a potent Canio, and LAO was very fortunate in its leading man Marco Berti. Mr. Berti knows every nuance in this iconic role and his substantial tenor has an ideal heft and ring. If the tenor sometimes pushes his pitch sharp, and sometimes overdoes sobbing portamento effects, he nevertheless captured the empathy of the audience. “Vesti la giubba” was the rich emotional journey it need to be, and Marco knew just how to make each syllable count, prompting enthusiastic audience response. But did they need to beak the spellbinding illusion Berti created by giving him an out-of-character bow in front of the curtain right after it?

But really, that sums up this Pagliacci: satisfying singing that succeeded in spite of a whole list of questionable staging choices that kept yanking us away from the honest emotion and the tragic interaction of some highly gifted performers.

James Sohre

Casts and production information:

Gianni Schicchi:

Gianni Schicchi: Plácido Domingo; Lauretta: Andriana Chuchman; Zita: Meredith Arwady; Rinuccio: Arturo Chacón-Cruz; Gherardo: Greg Fedderly; Nella: Stacy Tappan; Simone: Craig Colclough; Betto di Signa: Philip Cokorinos; Marco: Liam Bonner; La Ciesca: Peabody Southwell; Maestro Spinelloccio: E. Scott Levin; Ser Amantio di Nicolao (Notary): Kihun Yoon; Gherardino: Isaiah Morgan; Pinellino: Daniel Armstrong; Guccio: Gabriel Vamvulescu; Conductor: Grant Gershon; Director: Woody Allen (staged by Kathleen Smith Belcher); Set and Costume Design: Santo Loquasto; Lighting Design: York Kennedy


Canio: Marco Berti; Nedda: Ana Maria Martinez; Tonio: George Gagnidze; Silvio: Liam Bonner; Beppe: Brenton Ryan; First Man: Arnold Geis; Second Man: Steven Pence; Conductor: Plácido Domingo; Director and Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli (staged by Stefano Trespidi); Costume Design: Raimonda Gaetani; Lighting Design: York Kennedy; Chorus Director: Grant Gershon; Children’s Chorus Director: Anne Tomlinson

image= image_description=Placido Domingo as Gianni Schicchi, with Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa and Andriana Chuchman as Lauretta. [Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera] product=yes product_title=Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles product_by=A review by James Sohre product_id=Above: Placido Domingo as Gianni Schicchi, with Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa and Andriana Chuchman as Lauretta

[Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera
Posted by Gary at 1:15 PM

September 24, 2015

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

The hall was set with tables rather then theater seats so that the audience could enjoy dessert and beverages as they listened. The program featured sopranos Isabella Ivy, Marcie Ley, and Sheronda McKee; mezzo-soprano Erin Gonzalez; tenors John Tsotsoros, and Johar Hernandez-Carr; along with baritones Daniel Sutin and Eugene Richards. Daniel Sutin is a regular at the Metropolitan Opera. Isabella Ivy, formerly an Opera Las Vegas artist, sings at Opera San Jose, while John Tsotsoros sings with various regional U.S. opera companies. The other artists are active at Opera Las Vegas.

Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876), who worked more closely with the composer than any of the others, wrote the texts for five of the operas from which we heard selections: Ernani, Macbeth, Rigoletto, La traviata, and La forza del destino. Termistocle Solera wrote the libretto for Nabucco; Salvatore Cammarano, Il Trovatore; Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier, I vespri Siciliani; Antonio Ghislanzoni, Aida; and fellow composer Arrigo Boito, Falstaff.

Soprano Sheronda McKee opened the program with an aria that showed her fluent high register. She sang Elvira’s plea to her lover Ernani involami (Ernani, fly away with me) with silvery brilliance that put the audience in the mood for the fireworks to come as Lady Macbeth tried to make sure that she and her husband would not be blamed for murdering the king. Marcie Ley was a conniving Lady and Eugene Richards an easily led Macbeth as they sang the dramatic music that described their deadly deed. John Tsotsoros ended the segment with a poignant rendition of Banquo’s lament on the death of his wife and sons.

For a complete change of pace, Erin Gonzalez sang Preziosilla’s thoroughly rousing but rarely heard military recruitment aria from La forza del destino: Al suon del tamburo (At the sound of the drum). Marcie Ley then exchanged her murderous character, Lady Macbeth, for a saintly hermit, and rendered a touching, dynamically alert version of Pace, pace, mio dio (Peace, peace, my God). Daniel Sutin sang the Count’s memorably melodic aria from Il trovatore, Il balen del suo sorriso (The radiance of her smile), with variations of vocal color, spinning tone and a most expressive interpretation. To end the first half of the program, Isabella Ivy and Johar Hernandez-Carr sang of La traviata’s thoughts on love and freedom. They ended with the charming Libiamo ne' lieti calici (Let’s drink from cups of joy), a toast to life and opera in which the whole audience joined in.

After a twenty-minute intermission during which food and drink were served, the entire group of singers entered from the back of the auditorium singing the composers’s beloved Va pensiero, sull’ali dorate, (Go, thought, fly on golden wings) from Nabucco. Then the evil machinations continued. Amneris, Erin Gonzalez, needed to know if her rival for Radames’s affection really was Aida, sung by Sheronda McKee. Amneris offered a bit of pretended friendship until she found it to be true. Then she turned on the slave with a vengeance. The two young artists gave us a short but fascinating drama. After the duet, Isabella Ivy regaled the audience with a lilting rendition of Merce, dilette amiche, (Thank you dear friends), from I vespri Siciliani.

Turning to the darker side, Ley, Gonzalez, Sutin and Richards combined their outstanding abilities in the difficult Giustizia quartet from Don Carlo. Sutin then sang the monumental aria from Rigoletto, Cortigianni, vil razza dannata (Courtiers, vile, cursed rabble), after which Ivy, Gonzalez, Tsotsoros and Richards returned with an impressive version of the quartet from Rigoletto. To end the evening on a happy note, the group presented the closing fugue from Verdi’s last opera and his second comedy, Falstaff. Tutto nel mondo è burla (Everything in the world is a joke).

Pianist Spencer Baker accompanied all of this fabulous music with great musicality while paying a great deal of attention to the needs of the singers. The young artists from Opera Las Vegas all showed abundant promise. Some of them are ready to start their careers now while others still need to do some growing, but all have tremendous talent. This delightful evening of Verdi’s music left the audience in a fine mood and, after a good bit of applause, I could still see the smiles on many faces as people left the building.

Maria Nockin

Cast and production information:

Sopranos:Isabella Ivy, Marcie Ley, and Sheronda McKee; Mezzo-soprano: Erin Gonzalez; Tenors: John Tsotsoros, Johar Hernandez-Carr; Baritones, Daniel Sutin, Eugene Richards; Pianist, Spencer Baker; Producer, James Sohre.

image_description=Isabella Ivy [Photo courtesy of Opera Las Vegas]

product_title=Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas
product_by=A review by Maria Nockin
product_id=Above: Isabella Ivy [Photo courtesy of Opera Las Vegas]

Posted by maria_n at 8:36 PM

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

The Balboa Theater, a refurbished 1924 cinema with a seating capacity of 1600, was filled with people representing a wide range of ages and ethnicities. It seemed that California opera fans already knew the tenor from his appearances in La Cenerentola in San Francisco, The Barber of Seville in Los Angeles and San Diego Opera’s Fiftieth Anniversary Concert. Cheryl Cellon Lindquist of Opera San Antonio was Barbera’s most able accompanist.

Casually dressed for the occasion, Barbera opened his program with the aria “Vieni fra queste braccia” (Come to these arms) from Gioachino Rossini’s La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), an opera he had sung at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy, the previous month. The piece demonstrated his phenomenal ability to sing florid passages that included huge intervals and treacherous high notes. He followed it with four tenderly romantic songs by Vincenzo Bellini.

From Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) he sang “Je crois entendre encore” (“I think I hear her voice again”) with warm tones and total ease of delivery. Switching to Spanish, he sang of various kinds of love and its joys before returning to Donizetti’s French opera, La Fille du Régiment, for “Ah mes amis,” the famous aria with nine high Cs. Barbera showed impressive vocal control throughout his entire range and never seemed to tire singing to this grateful and responsive audience.

After a short intermission Barbera returned with a dramatic interpretation of Leandro’s aria No puedeserfrom Pablo Sorozábal’s 1936 zarzuela La tabernera del puerto. Alberto Ginastera’s Cinco Canzones Populares Argentinas (Five Popular Argentine Songs) combine the colors of Latin folk rhythms with twentieth century harmonies. While Lindquist played with the utmost virtuosity, Barbera conveyed a great deal of emotional density with his understated vocal line. The song Zamba says “If you have stolen my heart, you must give me yours.” Barbera stole all our hearts with these songs and the affecting works that followed.

A long time ago a tenor named Jan Peerce was known for his impressive technique. Peerce did not have the biggest voice at the Metropolitan Opera, but when he sang, one could hear him in the farthest reaches of the house’s back offices. I think Barbera’s voice is equally well focused. The Texas tenor is an intensely musical singer and a true stage creature with the ability to get the meat of a story across the footlights. He provided the San Diego audience with a most enjoyable evening of aria and song. Hopefully, it won’t be long before he again returns to regale Californians with more of his fine art.

Maria Nockin


Gioachino Rossini, La gazza ladra, “Vieni fra queste braccia”; La danza.

Vincenzo Bellini: Dolente immagine di Fille mia, Malinconia, Ninfa gentile, Ma rendi pur contento, Vaga luna, che inargenti.

Georges Bizet: Les pêcheurs de perles “Je crois entendre encore”.

Fernando Obradors: Con amores la mi madre, Del cabello más sutil, Al amor.

Gaetano Donizetti: La Fille du Régiment “Ah mes amis”; L’elisir d’amore, “Una furtiva lagrima”.

Pablo Sorozábal: No Puede Ser.

Alberto Ginastera: Cinco Canzones Populares Argentinas.

Paolo Tosti: Ideale, Malia, Non t’amo piu, L’alba sepàra dalla luce l’ombra.

Soutullo and Vert: Bella Enamorada.

Augustin Lara: Granada.

Encore: Giuseppe Verdi, Rigoletto: “La donna è mobile”.

image_description=René Barbera [Photo by Kristin Hoebermann courtesy of Askonas Holt]

product_title=Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego
product_by=A review by Maria Nockin
product_id=Above: René Barbera [Photo by Kristin Hoebermann courtesy of Askonas Holt]

Posted by maria_n at 8:18 PM

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

This production by British stage director Lee Blakeley (same sets, costumes, stage direction) was originally done at Paris’ Théâtre du Chatelet in 2011. The Chatelet is a 2500 seat horseshoe theater that has hosted much revered and some esoteric music theater over the years, like for example Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac as a flashy vehicle for Placido Domingo that was brought to SFO. Director Blakeley in fact has staged four Stephen Sondheim musicals at the Chatelet — Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and A Little Night Music.

Chatelet productions are big and lavish and loved by Parisians.

The original Sweeney Todd 1979 Broadway production by Hal Prince was fairly modest with even a bit of avant-garde (for the time) theatricality, a reaction to the then customary razzle dazzle of musicals. The first opera company to take on Sweeney Todd was the Houston Opera in a Hal Prince production in 1984. This was the period when there was a concerted rapprochement of opera and musicals, Hal Prince directing a Madama Butterfly for Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1982, a production San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley revived not so long ago in San Francisco.

SweeneyTodd_SF2.pngProduction design by Tanya McCallin

Hal Prince went on to stage Phantom of the Opera in 1986 and the bloated production scope of that show changed forever what we now consider a Broadway musical.

The 2011 Chatelet Sweeney Todd was big, and in San Francisco perhaps even bigger from the first moment when splendid digital technology recreated the huge acoustic of a pipe organ exponentially amplified to actually shake the War Memorial Opera House. And thus to get our attention in a reversal of the oft used theater trick of focusing attention ever smaller to make one aware of even the tiniest sound.

So we were warned that it was going to be a loud three hours in the opera house, and indeed it was. All the voices were hugely amplified thus creating an unrelenting loud, flat soundscape for the duration, embellished by some shattering electronic ringing when throats were slit. It was sometimes disconcerting when you were unable to place a voice you heard in the general sonic melee with a face you knew was somewhere — but where — on the stage.

Perhaps the orchestra sound was electronically manipulated as well, if so it will have served well to let us in on the subtleties of the orchestrations by Sondheim’s musical collaborator Jonathan Tunick, and onto the compositional complications that raise the level to what seems to be seriously sophisticated big music.

Biggest of all in San Francisco was the Sweeney Todd himself, baritone Brian Mulligan who is often miscast in secondary baritone roles at SF Opera. Here Mr. Mulligan fully inhabited the role wrenching every possible nuance within the limited emotional confines of the role and finally moved us. Equally big was the pie baker Mrs. Lovett, a star turn performance by veteran mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe. Big is not the correct word — it was a huge performance in which her relish at pushing her chest voice was deliciously apparent.

The romantic lead Anthony Hope was sung by baritone Elliot Madore who knew how to take the postures of the cardboard musical comedy lover to the extremes of ardent, melodramatic (caricatural) proportion, and of course exactly the same may be said of Johanna, the damsel in distress, sung by soprano Heidi Stober.

SweeneyTodd_SF3.png TMatthew Grills as Tobias Rogg, Stephanie Blythe as Mrs. Lovett

Of special interest was the role of Tobias Rogg sung by tenor Matthew Grills. He earned the biggest ovation, and it was huge, for his song “Not While I’m Around.” This song is the one moment in the musical where what might pass for real feelings or emotions seemed to enter the catalogue of occasions for a musical number. Mr. Grills sang it softly and sweetly indeed, and the human scaled volume seemed to say that he meant it.

The gamut of casting was perfect to voice and character. One wishes that this degree of care would extend itself to the casting of the operas at San Francisco Opera.

Houston Opera’s artistic and musical director Patrick Summers was in the pit, taking the orchestral proceedings very seriously indeed. Mo. Summers is a singers’ conductor, his care in supporting these opera singer artists in music that requires more conviction than technique contributed enormously to the success of their performances.

This day included the announcement of David Gockley’s former Houston Opera assistant Matthew Shilvock as the new General Director of San Francisco Opera. Mr. Shilvock has been a part of the San Francisco Opera’s administration during David Gockley’s entire tenure.

And thus the Houstonization of San Francisco Opera continues.

Michael Milenski

Casts and production information:

Sweeney Todd: Brian Mulligan; Mrs. Lovett: Stephanie Blythe; Johanna: Heidi Stober; Beggar Woman: Elizabeth Futral; Anthony Hope: Elliot Madore; Adolfo Pirelli: David Curry; Tobias Ragg: Matthew Grills: Judge Turpin: Wayne Tigges; Beadle Bamford: A. J. Glueckert. Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Patrick Summers; Stage Director: Lee Blakeley; Production Designer: Tanya McCallin; Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher; Choreographer: Lorena Randi. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, September 23, 2015.


product_title=Opera Theater Around San Francisco
product_by=A review by Michael Milenski
product_id=Above:Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd. All photos copyright Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Posted by michael_m at 7:20 PM

Sondra Radvanovsky Stars in the Title Role of Anna Bolena

David McVicar’s production, opening September 26, also stars Jamie Barton as Giovanna Seymour, Tamara Mumford as Smeton, Stephen Costello and Taylor Stayton as Lord Percy, and Ildar Abdrazakov as Enrico VIII. Radvanovsky will also sing the title role in Maria Stuarda and Elizabeth I in Roberto Devereux this season, a feat not accomplished on a New York stage since Beverly Sills in the 1970s.

New York, NY (September 24, 2015) – This Saturday, September 26, American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky will begin her season-long quest to sing all three of the principal heroines in Donizetti’s “Tudor trilogy,” being presented in its entirety for the first time at the Met this season. In the first opera, Anna Bolena, Radvanovsky stars as the young queen Anne Boleyn, grasping to hold onto the throne of England. Later this season, Radvanovsky will also star as the devout and doomed Mary, Queen of Scots in Maria Stuarda and as the conflicted Elizabeth I in the first-ever Met performances of Roberto Devereux. Radvanovsky will be the first soprano since Beverly Sills in the 1970s to sing the lead roles in all three operas in the course of a single New York season.

Anna Bolena also stars rising American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Giovanna, Anna Bolena’s lady-in-waiting turned rival, along with Tamara Mumford as Smeton, Stephen Costello as Anna’s first love Lord Riccardo Percy, and Ildar Abdrazakov as King Enrico VIII. In later performances, American tenor Taylor Stayton sings the role of Lord Riccardo Percy. Marco Armiliato conducts all performances of Anna Bolena at the Met this season.

Further information, including biographies of principal artists, is available in our online press room here.

Performances: September 26mat; October 1, 5, 9, 13; January 5, 9mat. Curtain times vary: complete schedulehere. Running time: 3 hours, 22 minutes, including one intermission.

Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting

Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of Anna Bolena are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met’s Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. To enter, click here.

image= image_description=Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role of Donizetti's Anna Bolena. [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.] product=yes product_title=Sondra Radvanovsky Stars in the Title Role of Anna Bolena product_by=The Metropolitan Opera Press Release product_id=Above: Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role of Donizetti's Anna Bolena. [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.]
Posted by Gary at 4:02 PM

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall's unique reputation springs from "the experience of music made by supremely gifted musicians for listeners open to what they may have to say", to quote John Gilhooly, the Wigmore Hall's Artistic Director. Simple words, but radical words in the current cultural climate where compromise means more than quality. The real way ahead for serious music is to treat it seriously. Excellence is by definition, "elitist" or it wouldn't be "excellent". But that basic ideal is simple. "The intensity of emotions, the concentration, the joy, the spiritual highs and lows, and the sheer vitality of what happens at the Wigmore Hall", Gilhooly continues, "all combine to create a sense of living art, renewed and refreshed in the moment of every performance".

"Don't let the song recital become an endangered species", Gilhooly writes in Classical Music magazine (August 2015). Great as it will be, the Schubert series is only part of the 96 song recitals this season. Head-on, Gilhooly confronts the fashion for marketing Lieder other than on its own terms. "If your experience of a song recital is of someone bluffing their way through pieces they barely know, why should you go back for more?" Lieder is fascinating because it connects to sources deep in European culture. Perhaps it's not an easy sell in a non-intellectual age, but the Wigmore Hall meets these challenges by providing the best, aiming to "open minds to this vast imaginary world", the ocean of creative experience unleashed by the Romantic revolution. Capital "R", Romanticism, not lower case.

This inaugural concert featured Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson, both icons in Lieder circles. It also started with a rarity to pique the interest of the Wigmore Hall's core Lieder audience, who were out in force. This was Schubert's Lebenstraum D1a, a fragment written without text, only recently and somewhat controversially identified with Lebenstraum D39. Here we heard a version created for performance by Reinhard Van Hoorickx. Johnson played the original part for piano, followed by the new arrangement based on the poem by Gabriele von Baumberg, which formed the basis of the later song. Bear in mind that the fragment was writen in 1810, when Schubert was 13. Boesch and Johnson followed this with a set of Goethe songs from 1815, Der Fischer D225, Erster Verlust D226 and Der Gott und die Bayajadere D 254. The first two displayed Schubert's fascination with driven, repeating rhythms, the last with his fondness for long declamatory ballads, both styles he would continue to explore.

Boesch and Johnson then moved to a set of songs from 1816 to poems by Johann Georg Jacobi (1740-1814), a theologian, jurist and academic. These were perhaps the treasures of this recital, since they are relatively underperformed. An Chloen D 462 and Hochzeit-Lied D 463 were delivered with graceful purity, the masculinity of Boesch's voice gently modulated to bring out their charms. The greater depth of In der Mitternacht D464 and Trauer der Liebe D 465 suited Boesch's characteristic timbre. Trauer der Liebe was particularly effective, as it's a very good poem. Although Jacobi employs typically Romantic images like mourning doves, dark forest foliage and whispering winds, the poem deals with unsentimental emotional strength. "Freiden gibt den treuen Herzen nur ein künftig Paradies" (Happiness is given to loyal hearts only in a future Paradise) Boesch sang with pointed dignity, suggesting the intellectual rigour in Jacobi's poetry. In Die Perle D 466, the text refers to a man who can't see the joys of Springtime because he's lost a pearl he found on a pilgrimage in distant lands. Schubert's music is jolly enough, invoking "Birke, Buch' unde Erle" (birch, beech and alder) but Jacobi's punchline is altogether more understated. "Was mir gebricht", sang Boesch quietly, "ist mehr als eines Perle".

The Jacobi set concluded with Lied des Orpheus, als er in die Hölle ging D 474. Johnson played the long piano introduction, so it felt like an overture to a miniature drama. Schubert chose to set only the section of the very long poem, in which Orpheus battles flames, monsters and shadows to enter Hades. Almost schizoid frenzy contrasts with eerie stillness. Jacobi and Schubert knew full well what the story of Orpheus symbolizes. Orpheus doesn't interact much with other characters, so the drama is, by its very nature, an inner monologue rather than a narrative. Orpheus doesn't save Eurydice but in the process, discovers the power of creative art.

oesch and Johnson continued with three settings of poems by Matthias Claudius, An die Nachtigall D497 1816, Der Tod und das Mädchen D531 (1817) and Täglich zu singen D533, 1817), then five songs to texts by Schubert's strange companion, Johann Baptist Mayrhofer Der Schiffer D 536 1817, Memnon D 541 1817, Auf der Donau D553 1817, Aus Heliopolis 1 D 753 1822 and Aus Heliopolis II D 754 1822. Mayrhofer's poems reference Classical Antiquity to mask the inner demons the poet faced. How he must have dreamed of an "unbewölktes Leben" (a life without clouds) To some extent, Schubert may have intuited what lay beneath the shimmering surface calm.

Then, on to Der blind Knabe D833 1825, and Totengräbers heimweh D842 1825 (Jacob Nikolaus Craigher de Jachelutta), the latter performed so well that it set off spontaneous applause - genuine applause, totally sincere, not daft "audience participation". Boesch beamed with appreciation. It's a marvellous song, and was done so well! Then, back to "Happy Schubert", Das Lied im Grünem D 917, 1827, (Johann Anton Friedrich Reil). Schubert and Reil, an actor, were friends, so the song may be a memory of good times in the countryside, in the past. We know , now, that Schubert was already ill with the disease that killed him 16 months later, but Schubert didn't, and nor did Reil. It is enough that we can enjoy this lovely song for itself and revel in its freshness.

Anne Ozorio

product_title=Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series - Boesch and Joihnson
product_by=A review by Anne Ozorio

Posted by anne_o at 6:29 AM

September 21, 2015

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

At first, there are so many things going on in Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher score that watching it performed on a concert stage is disconcerting. The dense texture, the full chorus, the singing soloists, and the speaking actors—it’s a lot to take in at once. Arthur Honegger called Jeanne a “dramatic oratorio,” which really just means that there are actors with speaking roles, but as a listener it really hits home the feeling you get when watching this production. The score, singers, and actors are so compelling and affective that I felt that I could close my eyes and see it all play out in my head.

For this, the production is indebted to conductor Marc Soustrot. Under his direction, everything is in perfect balance. The nuanced playing in the orchestra is exquisite. Emotions live and die not only in the sweeping full drama of a forte moment, but also in the simple melody of a flute solo. Lest this be mistaken for some kind of late Romantic sweeping oratorio, Honegger’s signature modernist style is reflected by the inclusion of the ondes martenot. At the original 1938 premiere of this work, Jeanne would have been heralded in by the strange synthesized call of the ondes martenot, but in 1944, a prologue was added to the beginning of the oratorio, which chillingly begins “All France was without form and void,” a poignant post-war addition. It recalls the fractured identity of France in both post-war 1944 and 1431 in the wake of the Hundred Years War.

After the prologue follows eleven scenes that, though they are independent of each other, rise in intensity and action ultimately culminating in the burning of Jeanne. A cast of supporting players both sung and spoken anchors these scenes. Of these, Xavier Gallais as Frère Dominique and Yann Beuron as Porcus stand out. Gallais’ spoken Dominique is the only earthly character sympathetic to Jeanne’s cause. His sympathy is plainly heard and demonstrated in his superb dramatic acting sequences with Jeanne. Yann Beuron’s Porcus, the president of Jeanne’s trial, is well sung and his range is impressive. The Porcus scene is a part of an ongoing animal theme during Jeanne’s trial. Porcus, Latin for “swine,” is a particularly interesting figure in the narrative in light of Jeanne’s historical judge, who was Pierre Cauchon, his last name being a homonym for the French word for pig “cochon.” When Porcus sings, “Je suis le cochon,” he could just as easily be singing, “Je suis le Cauchon,” and the audience has no way of knowing. Other animals named in the trial include The Tiger, The Fox, The Serpent, the jury of sheep, and the clerk—an ass.

Jeanne’s mystical abilities are exemplified in the figures of La Vierge (The Virgin), Marguerite, and Catherine played by Maria Hinojosa, Marta Almajano, and Aude Extrèmo. They frequently call to Jeanne in well-balanced harmonies. Eventually forming a trio toward the end while Jeanne is on the pyre preparing to die, they attempt to calm her with words and consonant harmonies. They are the only characters that do not speak at any point. Their sung voices are associated exclusively with heaven and Jeanne’s visions.

Of course, no review of this recording would be complete without mentioning the incomparable Marion Cotillard. Her Jeanne serves as the heart of this production. In the beginning, she just seems unsure of the things people are saying about her. When Frère Dominique relays the charges against her (“Heretic! Witch! Apostate! Enemy of God! Enemy of the King! Enemy of the People!”), her voice shifts into anxiety and confusion. She clearly believes what she hears from heaven, and also believes in her cause. She refuses to recant her beliefs at her trial resulting in her conviction and sentencing to death. Her sentencing is Jeanne’s dramatic turning point in the work. She experiences regret and fear, at one point screaming, “I don’t want to die! I’m afraid,” but then being reassured by her trio of saints, refuses her last opportunity to recant, finally proclaiming “I’m coming!” as she burns. Cotillard sheds tears at both of these emotional peaks and it is so compelling that it is very hard not to be emotionally affected.

Cotillard has performed this role now three different times—once before this recording in Paris and then after in New York. Both of these other performances were more theatre (complete with animal costumes) than this strict concert presentation of the oratorio. The closest thing to a costume is Cotillard’s simple dress and little to no makeup. Though, as evidenced by the audience’s standing ovation, little to nothing is lost in terms of emotional affectation, due in large part to the Soustrot’s direction. Honegger’s work is magisterial and deserves more attention than he gets as one of the lesser-known composers of Les Six. This production serves his memory well and has breathed life into his work again.

Alex Wright

image= image_description=Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher product=yes product_title=Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher product_by=A review by Alex Wright product_id=Alpha Productions 708 [DVD] price=$26.99 product_url=
Posted by Gary at 4:09 PM

September 19, 2015

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Remarkable because it is not the Giuseppe Verdi of his masterpieces, but it is a transitional Verdi who was leaving behind the blood and thunder of political strife to embrace the social tensions brought about by the revolutions of 1848!

Luisa Miller is a play by Friedrich von Schiller premiered in 1784, as was, by the way, Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro — speaking of social tensions. Note that only later Schiller’s play was renamed Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love), the title under which it is now obsessively studied as a theatrical masterpiece.

Luisa Miller by Verdi is not a theatrical masterpiece, nor is it even competent theater. Schiller’s dense play was reduced by Verdi’s librettist Salvadore Cammarano (who returns later this SFO season as the librettist of Lucia di Lammermoor) to a series of commonplace operatic situations that are easy to sing about but very hard to construe into a comprehensible story much less constitute a Figaro-like social document.

You do hear the Verdi of Traviata and Rigoletto, even some Boccanegra but mostly you hear the thunder of Nabucco, Attila and Macbeth (or maybe just now it was the conducting). It is music that in itself is foreign to the Verdi’s emerging dramatic interests, enthusiasms hardly supported by this poor libretto. Nonetheless it is Verdi and this a priori makes it great music waiting for a production that might at least try to make it make dramatic sense.

It is an essentially bel canto libretto thus Luisa Miller is about singing. Unfortunately the San Francisco Opera bar was set very high back in 1974 when Luisa was sung by Katia Ricciarelli (a prompter from La Scala was brought in for these performances remarked “che scuola! “ or “what stylish singing” about la Ricciarelli). Furthermore the Rodolfo was the young Luciano Pavarotti.

LuisaMiller_SFO2.pngLeah Crocetto as Luisa, Michael Fabbiano as Rodolfo

For this Luisa Miller SFO cast its Verdi soprano prodigal daughter Leah Crocetto who acquitted herself very well and sang a quite beautiful “Tu puniscimi, o Signore.” Miss Crocetto has little spinto (push) therefore little drama in her voice, and I missed the soprano voice sailing over the top of the opera’s almost magnificent finales. Rodolfo aka Carlo was the Met’s prodigal tenor son Michael Fabbiano whose lighter lyric voice makes him choose his Verdi roles carefully. I would have wished for a somewhat larger and richer voice capable of more colors to relieve the vocal monotony of this long role.

Both Mr. Fabbiano and Miss Crocetto are fine, well prepared singers who embellish their performances with lots of acting. Here the acting seemed more like flailing as there was no apparent context. Ukrainian baritone Vitaliy Bilyy was Miller, Luisa’s father (in Schiller he is a musician, in Verdi an old soldier). Mr. Bilyy too is a quite fine singer who did only what he is supposed to do — sing! He offered little musical or dramatic personality, nor was any evidently expected or needed in this production.

Bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang Wurm who along with baritone Daniel Sumegi as Count Walter were the villains of the opera. Mr. Silvestrelli’s black colored voice and threatening presence have established him as the perfect Sparafucile (Rigoletto). As a bel canto villain I would have wished for a smoother, more beautiful voice. Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semechuk was the villainess Federica, the production itself made little demand of her and musically she was trounced by the conducting.

San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti was in the pit imposing his usual extreme tempos. He gave no freedom to his singers for stylistic expansion, thus he was free to drive his musical points, points that were in fact seldom singerly. As usual his finales were noisily magnificent, but by then it was hard to care.

LuisaMiller_SFO3.pngProduction by Francesca Zambello, Set design by Michael Yeargan

San Francisco Opera revived the fifteen year old production (2000) created by Francesca Zambello and designer Michael Yeargan. Both Mme. Zambello and Mr. Yeargan have had long careers in which they have perused virtually every passing fashion to the degree that it is hard to identify an individual style for either of them.

In the case of this Luisa Miller designer Yeargan created a hard edged, highly artificial environment in which Verdi attempts to challenge long established social mores. It is hard to know if the long, thin aluminum truss thrust towards the audience was the rigid arm of an antiquated social structure, or what. It is hard to know if the vertical and horizontal separations effected from time to time in the cyclorama were fissures that portended change, or what. The horse? It was all lovely to look at, but Luisa Miller is hardly a lovely opera.

Michael Milenski

Cast and production information:

Luisa Miller: Leah Crocetto; Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano; Miller: Vitaliy Bilyy; Count Walter: Daniel Sumegi; Federica: Ekaterina Semenchuk; Wurm: Andrea Silvestrelli; Laura: Jacqueline Piccolino; Peasant: Christopher Jackson. Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Production: Francesca Zambello; Associate Director: Laurie Feldman; Set Designer: Michael Yeargan; Costume Designer: Dunya Ramicova; Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough. War Memorial Opera House, September 16, 2015.

product_title=Luisa Miller in San Francisco
product_by=A review by Michael Milenski
product_id=Above: Ekaterina Semechuk as Federica
All photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Posted by michael_m at 7:58 PM

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

In fact, it was Hofkapellmeister Salieri — teacher of Beethoven, Czerny, Schubert, Meyerbeer and Liszt — who was the ‘celebrity’, enjoying elevated social standing and the artistic esteem of his contemporaries, including, to judge from this superb production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio by Bampton Classical Opera, Mozart himself. For, as scholars such as John Rice have noted, the latter does not seem to have been averse to a little musical and dramatic ‘borrowing’ from Salieri.

The plot of La grotta di Trofonio blends conventional buffo merriment and entanglements with darker supernatural currents. The aristocratic Aristone has two daughters: Ofelia is serious and solemn with a penchant for philosophy; Dori is frivolous and fun-loving, with — in this production — a partiality for amateur dramatics. They are due to wed their beaux, having chosen suitors whose personalities perfectly match their own: the pensive Artemidoro and the playful Plistene respectively. However, an encounter in a magical wood with a meddling ‘master-of-ceremonies’, who tempts first the men and then the girls into his enchanted cave, results in radical transformations of personality which lead the lovers to question the very nature of love itself.

Nicholas Merryweather (Plistene) and Aoife O'Sullivan (Dori).pngNicholas Merryweather as Plistene and Aoife O’Sullivan as Dori

As well as an echo of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream there is also obvious foreshadowing of Mozart’s Così fan tutte and, in its mixture of comic mundanityand the blackly macabre, Don Giovanni. Research by Rice suggests that the network of cross-fertilisation and derivation was complex. In his somewhat unreliable Memoirs, Da Ponte described Salieri as ‘a most cultivated and intelligent man […] whom I loved and esteemed both out of gratitude and by inclination’; but their first collaboration, Il ricco d’un giorno, flopped in 1784 and the composer wasted no time in blaming his literary partner, declaring that he would sooner cut off his own fingers than accept another libretto from Da Ponte. Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio was first staged at Vienna’s Burgtheater in 1785, shortly before Figaro was premiered there, with a libretto by Da Ponte’s main rival, Giambattista Casti. However, the success of Mozart’s Il nozze di Figaro in May 1786 seems to have encouraged Salieri to reconsider his assessment of Da Ponte’s literary skills, for two extant trio drafts discovered by Rice in the National Library in Vienna suggest that Salieri began work on a setting of the Così libretto in the late 1780s. The work was, for reasons we can only speculate, abandoned, and it was Mozart who was to pick up the discarded text. How ironic, then, that Salieri’s La Grotta di Trofonio seems to anticipate the satirical artifice of Mozart’s comedy of 1790.

Both operas possess a meticulously wrought symmetry; moreover, there are striking similarities between some of the ensembles. Even the casts overlapped: having taken the role of Aristone in La Grotta, four years later the veteran buffo bass Francesco Bussani stepped into Don Alfonso’s shoes, while Francesco Benucci swapped the role of Salieri’s magician, Trofonio, for Mozart’s Guglielmo. Cast as the contemplative Artemidoro by Salieri, tenor Vincenzo Calvesi was Mozart’s first Ferrando; restored to his serious self, Artemidoro sings a cavatina, ‘Sognai, o sogno ancor?’, which has much in common with Ferrando’s ‘Un’aura amorosa’.

This first UK-staging in modern times by Bampton Classical Opera was first presented in July, in the Deanery Gardens at Bampton, Oxfordshire. The outdoor setting and summer sunshine lent the evening a light-hearted ebullience which perfectly matched the directorial tone; the latter maintained an admirable balance between irreverent wit and musical sincerity. I wondered how the production would translate to the more sombre Baroque setting of St John’s Smith Square with its monumental pediments and Corinthian columns. But, in the event, with some slight tweaking of the set placement to fit the new dimensions, Trofonio’s ‘cave’ seemed quite at home amid the lofty spaciousness.

In this production, director Jeremy Gray once again demonstrates an impressive ability to employ parallels and allusions which, as well as providing visual wit and invention — both entertaining and erudite — offer fresh, thought-provoking ideas about an opera’s essential ‘meaning’. The opera opens in Aristone’s library, a post-Edwardian domain whose dusty shelves of lofty tomes conceal the patriarch’s secret stash of gin: clearly all is not what it seems, and the young lovers’ demure boaters and bodices will soon give way to less sedate attire. For, with their father’s blessing assured, the engaged couples make the mistake of wandering into the wood, and into the conjuror’s clutches; and, it is not just their personalities which will be translated but Time itself. The bookcases swivel to reveal a blue 1960’s Police Box from which materialises a Tom Baker look-a-like — long stripy scarf, grubby blue frockcoat and a fondness for jelly babies: a slightly down-at-heel Edwardian gent turned eccentric apothecary of the emotions. A spin in the Tardis turns Artemidoro into a long-haired rocker, sporting bandana and flares, flamboyantly strumming air-guitar; a dash through the decades transfigures the demure Ofelia, a flash of a knee-high white boot anticipating her metamorphosis to bopping 60s wild-child in thigh-high A-line shift dress (costumes, Vikki Medhurst).

Christopher Turner, Nicholas Merryweather and Matthew Harrison (Aristone).pngChristopher Turner as Artemidoro, Nicholas Merryweather as Plistene, and Matthew Harrison as Aristone

But, the absurdity and impudence of the staging never got in the way of high musical values or dramatic authenticity. Salieri’s arias were treated with respect, and sung and staged with refinement; similarly, the numerous inventive duets and ensembles were crafted to create dramatic pace and variety. Remarkably, the cast, apparently so suited to their primary manifestations, were equally convincing when subject to Trofonio’s subversive spells, demonstrating impressive diversity and range.

As the spirited Plistine, baritone Nicholas Merryweather was a strong vocal and stage presence, using the text (an amusing and deft translation by Gilly French) with characteristic discernment, and demonstrating a wide range of vocal colours as Plistine’s temperament evolved and revolved. Swapping his stylish blazer for a slightly-too-small, homely cardigan, on exiting The Doctor’s Tardis Merryweather tempered the ardour in his voice to deliver a gently lyrical reflective air, his new-found and utterly convincing gravity and self-possession further reinforced by the rich, low woodwind accompaniment.

Tenor Christopher Turner had no difficulty with the considerable vocal challenges of Artemidoro’s tenor arias: the evenness of tone and colour was impressive during the expansive phrases of his long Act 1 aria; and, if his boogying and grooving was a touch gauche post-transformation, it only added to the charm, reminding us of Artemidoro’s former solemnity.

Irish soprano Aoife O’Sullivan was vivacious as the gregarious, high-spirited Dori. O’Sullivan’s voice is pure and well-centred, and has a lovely sheen which perfectly captured Dori’s joyful breeziness. She and Merryweather were a beguiling comic duo, but the dull and dowdy Dori was just as convincing.

Writing of Bampton’s July performance at the Deanery, I admired the singing of Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Anna Starushkevych, in the role of Ofelia, commenting that her voice seemed to be ‘growing in richness, depth and allure’. It was disappointing to learn, therefore, that problems with a visa meant that Strarushkevych was stranded in the Ukraine (evidently, having the Prime Minister as one of your company’s patrons is no advantage in the face of the administrative intractability of international bureaucracy). The role of Ofelia was ‘split in two’, with Catherine Backhouse singing from the side of the platform and French-born actress Marieke Bernard-Berkel acting the part. Any misgivings were immediacy swept aside, however; and, oddly but somewhat neatly, in an opera whose central trope is the ‘split-personality’, this bipartite presentation was a piquant addition! Backhouse studied on the Opera Studies course at the Guildhall School of Music, and her eloquent, engaging vocal performance demonstrated why she has now been awarded a Fellowship at the GSMD. Her bright, vibrant sound projected well, seeming to emanate from the heart of the drama; she coped with the demands of the role — the rapid, large leaps, for example, in the central section of Ofelia’s first aria — and had the stamina and diversity of tone required in the long aria sung upon Ofelia’s transformation in Act 2.

Bernard-Berkel had been the Assistant Stage Manager for the production (which, in addition to performances at Bampton in July, was also presented at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, at the end of August). But, even so, given that she had had only a single rehearsal in which to familiarise herself with the details of the intricate stage choreography and timing, her self-assurance and total credibility in the role were noteworthy and outstanding. Apparently, Bernard-Berkel has some experience in silent movies, and this evidently served her well; Ofelia’s shock, in the Act 1 Finale, when confronted with an Artemidoro who has abandoned his bust of Plato for an air-guitar was a perfect picture of disapprobation and distaste.

As the debonair Aristone, baritone James Harrison demonstrated a sharp eye for potential drollery, and an attractive voice. The second Act, in which the female characters’ personality-switch follows that of the men in the preceding Act, might have been repetitive, but Harrison’s strong singing at the start of the Act, when he tries to reassure his daughters, and Aristone’s urgent, compelling appeal to Trofonio at the close, offered a neat dramatic frame for the psychological merry-go-round on which the young lovers spin. Trofonio’s richly scored aria of self-congratulation was also a highpoint of the Act. In the outdoor setting at Bampton I found Matthew Stiff’s Trofonio a tad underwhelming; the role was lyrically sung, and the diction in the recitatives was excellent, but that touch of dark menace was missing. Here, at St. John’s, Stiff made much more of an impact — he created a mysterious amalgam of whimsy and brooding. Trofonio’s first aria, half-way through Act 1, was an alarming invocation; and the small male chorus successfully evoked the ‘invisible spirits’ that the dark magician summons. Stiff’s baritone carried well, and he used both text and voice effectively, countering the parody of his time-travelling impersonation, to powerfully conjure a demonic world of the black arts — indeed, at the end of the opera, Trofonio boasts that he is judge and master of the Underworld and of the Devil!

St John’s is not an ideal venue for opera, and one problem that has to be resolved is the matter of where to place the orchestra. Bampton have experimented with various arrangements over the years; here, the musicians of CHROMA, conducted by Paul Wingfield, were placed behind the set. Whatever difficulties this might have presented, the singers dealt with them confidently and Wingfield had an excellent command of both the overall dramatic pace and the expressive shaping of particular numbers, allowing for moments of stillness within the prevailing muddle and mayhem. Also, I found that Salieri’s wonderful writing for the woodwind was even more immediate and characterful than it had been at Bampton. The clarinets and bassoons introduced Ofelia’s first cavatina, in which she sings of her devotion for Artemidoro, with a delicious sweetness and sentimentality, worthy of the Countess’s Act 2 aria in Figaro. As Artemidoro wandered through the forest, nearing the sorcerer’s supernatural ‘cave’, oboes and flutes conveyed a bucolic serenity which would soon be overturned by the magical machinations.

Assistant Director (movement) Triona Adams appeared as the non-singing, put-upon maid who, having carried out endless chores — serving tea, arranging wedding bunting — threw caution to the wind and, in the closing moments, accepted Trofonio’s invitation into the Time-machine. The Tardis can transport its occupants back or forth to any point in time, or to any place. Bampton Classical Opera’s time-travels to the eighteenth-century have so often led to valuable operatic discoveries and resurrections; this trip to Trofonio’s Grotto unearthed some real magic.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production information:

Aristone — James Harrison, Dori — Aoife O’Sullivan, Ofelia — sung by Catherine Backhouse and acted by Marieke Bernard-Berkel, Artemidoro — Christopher Turner, Plistene — Nichola Merryweather, Trofonio — Matthew Stiff, Ladies’ Maid — Triona Adams; Director/designer — Jeremy Gray, Conductor Paul Wingfield, Assistant director (movement) — Triona Adams, Costumes — Vikki Medhurst; Répétiteur — Marek Ruszczynski. Bampton Classical Opera. St John’s Smith Square, London, Tuesday, 15th September 2015.

image= image_description=Matthew Stiff as Trofonio [Photo courtesy of Bampton Opera] product=yes product_title=Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave) product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: Matthew Stiff as Trofonio

Photos courtesy of Bampton Opera
Posted by Gary at 12:45 PM

September 18, 2015

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

Anthony Freud, General Director of the company, spoke first about those works to be included in the company’s roster from late September through May 2016. Following these introductory remarks the first half of the evening was devoted to selections from several operas, the second half was a performance of Act Two of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, the first work in the new season. Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director of Lyric Opera, conducted the concert; Michael Black, Lyric’s Chorus Master, prepared the Chorus for those selections in which it participated.

Following the national anthem, the program began with the overture and vocal selections from Rossini’s La cenerentola, a work scheduled in Lyric Opera’s roster starting in October. Davis led a nicely rounded performance of the overture, with cellos and violas executing cleanly audible downward passages. The full orchestra alternating with wind solos showed excellent balance; tutti parts toward the close were played with a distinctly measured pace. The first vocal selection introduced the lead soloists, Elizabeth DeShong as Cenerentola and Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ramiro, the Prince. The step-sisters Clorinda and Tisbe, sung here by Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi and Lindsay Metzger, were heard toward the close of the piece. In the recitative and duet, “Tutto è deserto … Un soave non so che” [“”Everything is deserted … a sweet something”], first Mr. Brownlee followed by Ms. DeShong demonstrated from the start why they are closely associated with this repertoire. Both singers negotiate Rossini’s vocal lines comfortably and introduce embellishments in keeping with the characters portrayed. Brownlee’s delivery of the opening recitative communicated Don Ramiro’s anticipation of meeting the woman whom he is destined to wed. Notes held on “risponde” [“(no one) responds”] and “osservò” [“I shall observe”] indicated Ramiro’s initial uneasiness, while Brownlee’s extended decorations on “degna” [“worthy”] and “Legge” [“decree”] showed the Prince’s growing confidence and resolve. In similar fashion, DeShong’s Cenerentola is at first shyly confused in the simple delivery of “Sì …, no, signore” [“Yes, I mean, no, sir”] before both singers begin the elaborate, complementary lines of their duet. Here the use of vocal decoration to emphasize emotional development was striking. Brownlee’s description of Cenerentola’s eyes as “scintillò” [“sparkled”] was made believable as his rapid runs extended first upward, then downward in pitch. DeShong’s Cenerentola declared her heart to be throbbing as she layered the words “mi palpitò” with a melisma comparable to that of her partner. When singing verses together or in repetition, e.g. “Par que brilli su quel viso” [“Seems to shine in her/his face”], each soloist maintained a distinctive delivery which blended, at the same time, with the other’s line. This piece was then followed by the two arias for tenor and mezzo-soprano from Act Two of the opera. Don Ramiro’s scene beginning “Principe più no sei” [“You are prince no longer”] showcases the skills of such a fine bel canto singer, by which he also incorporates individual embellishments. As Ramiro assures himself that he will find the woman again, Brownlee sang “ritrovarla io guiro” with requisite determination and earnest top notes. When the male chorus begins to comment on Ramiro’s love, Brownlee intoned “Che mi lusinghi almeno” [“that gives me hope at least”] with soft, high pitches followed by comparable decoration in the lower register on “al labbro e al seno” [“to my lips and me heart”]. The second, rapid part of the aria included accomplished runs on “amore” and the final forte note sustained on “guidar” [“guide (me)”] for what seemed an eternity. The final scene of the opera belongs naturally to Cenerentola, and DeShong made this her own. The pardon of her family was sung with a touching piano approach [“E sarà mia vendetta il lor perdono”], just before the contemplative “Nacqui all’ affanno” [“I was born to sorrow”], as here performed. DeShong’s treatment of “il core” showed especially skilled placement of top notes before and after the decoration of “heart,” just as her voice seemed to flutter on “nel fiore” [“in the flower”]. The line “Come un baleno rapido” [“swift as a flash of lightning”] was sung with precise, rapid runs, as was the imperative “volate” [“fly”] in the renewed address to her family. DeShong’s conclusion of this part followed by the rondo “Non più mesta” [“No longer sad”] juxtaposed expressive low notes followed by attention to color and a joyous forte at the close.

The remainder of the first half of the concert gave the Lyric Opera Chorus an opportunity to perform as feature in two selections. The final chorus from Mozart’s Idomeneo asking for a blessing of the new royal couple emerged with a declarative sense of triumph. In the Act One chorus from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette timing is essential: the Lyric Opera Chorus maintained here a rhythmic drive and unified approach to herald the festivity that is forthcoming. In the final selection, the “Libiamo” from Act One of Verdi’s La traviata, the Chorus shared the ebullient atmosphere of the salon party with Alfredo and Violetta, sung here by Jonathan Johnson and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi. Mr. Johnson’s application of legato in Alfredo’s line is exemplary, his emphases placed as though a natural expression of the character’s persona. Ms. Mkhwanazi captured Violetta’s excited anticipation beginning with pointed notes performed on “Tra voi saprò divider” [“With you I would share”]. The Chorus supported the soloists to a joyous conclusion of the piece.

The second half of the concert brought together those singers who will perform in Lyric Opera’s new production of Le nozze di Figaro. Amanda Majeski as Countess and Luca Pisaroni the Count are matched by Christiane Karg and Adam Plachetka as Susanna and Figaro. Cherubino is sung by Rachel Frenkel. The last part of Act Two on this evening introduced Katharine Goeldner (Marcellina) Bradley Smoak (Antonio), Keith Jameson (Basilio), and Brindley Sherratt (Bartolo). Perhaps most impressive on this evening was the spirit of an ensemble, captured clearly by this group of performers. Facial expressions and gestures are here an extension of vocal line, all of which makes Mozart’s comedy and romantic intrigue sparkle delightfully. Ms. Majeski is renowned for her portrayal of the Countess, whose aria “Porgi, amor” [“Grant, o Love”] opens the act. Her rendition of “il mio tesoro” with its sustained note piano suggested a wistful, sad state of reflection. The second significant aria in the act, Cherubino’s “Voi che sapete” [“You who know”] was rendered by Ms. Frenkel with a sense of undulating line allowing her rich mezzo voice to give a supple impression. She sighed movingly at “Sospiro” and varied the final repeat on “Che cosa è amor” [“What a thing is love”]. The seemingly endless series of complications and misunderstandings in this act is saved by the interaction of individuals caught up in their own interests as these clash or mesh with others. Both Count and Countess demonstrated a myriad of emotions while they become involved in facets of the plot beyond their control. Mr. Pisaroni’s Count is a marvel of dramatic energy with the mere nod of his brow unleashing multiple statements accompanied by the vocal splendor of his singing. One left the evening with the desire to hear and see all four acts in Lyric Opera’s new production.

Salvatore Calomino

Posted by jim_z at 10:46 PM

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

This new recording places at its center Paulus’ last large scale work, Far in the Heavens, a commission for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Like his other large scale oratorios, it covers the full range of his expressive and accessible style. Combining words from disparate cultures, centuries, and faith, the texts include prayers from St. Francis of Assisi, Mohammed, and the Navajo as well as poetry from Henry Vaughan, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and William Blake. Paulus mines each of these sources for the common human experience of grief, recovery, and spirituality to provide a balm of healing years removed from tragedy.

The words of each movement are almost exclusively in a homorhythmic texture allowing Paulus to carefully craft their setting. He follows the words’ natural poetic stress resulting in both reflective and emphatic recitations. Color and word stress become the primary focus of the texts’ meanings. For instance, the word “light” receives notable attention - a loud consonant chord in a major key - in both the first and second movements.

The most dramatic elements of the work appear in the opening chorus, “They are All Gone,” where Paulus’ use of orchestral colors is on full display. Throbbing timpani and brass fanfares announce that “they are all gone” while the lightness of harp and woodwinds evoke the “glows and glitters” of an air of glory of the high heavens. Likewise, the movement “Great Spirit” is marked by marked contrast between the opening invocation of the Great Spirit through animated outbursts of percussion, woodwinds, strings and the hushed sustained colors of the choir’s childlike incantations that follow. Here Paulus sounds Britten-esque as an arrhythmic recitation of words sounds over sustained tones in the orchestra.

The performance of True Concord Voices and Orchestra is excellent. Paulus’ trademark bright harmonies and cluster chords ring true with perfect choral intonation. The expressiveness of the music and texts come through effectively with clear articulation and distinct enunciation. The choral tone is generally crystalline with minimal vibrato which suits Paulus’ sound world, but at times fails to match the vibrancy, depth, and balance of the orchestra.

The remainder of the recording provides exposure to lesser known small form works of Paulus’ catalogue. The most intriguing of these is “Little Elegy” which is beautifully expressive in its simplicity much like his beloved “Pilgrim’s Hymn.” This recording will appeal to many, as Paulus’ music is undeniably beautiful and pleasing; but it also important because it serves to introduce lesser known music, including a new masterwork, of an influential 21st century American voice.

Adam Luebke

image= image_description=Far in the Heavens - Choral Music of Stephen Paulus product=yes product_title=Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus product_by=True Concord Voices & Orchestra; Eric Holtan, Conductor. product_id=Reference FR-716 [CD] price=$13.99 product_url=
Posted by Gary at 1:19 PM

September 17, 2015

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

Notoriously difficult to cast, Die tote Stadt has a tireless soprano role demanding both power and grace. Even more infamously difficult is the tenor role of Paul. The indomitable soprano Meagan Miller took on the challenge of Marietta with epic grace and skill, while tenor Jay Hunter Morris heroically wrangled the punishing role of Paul. In the end, this fledgling company boasted a sold-out house to the Boston premiere of this rarely performed opera—and only one year after the company’s inception.

“I think the opera company has already, in a very short order, done some very important things,” says Artistic Director and Founder Gil Rose.

Meagan_Miller.pngMeagan Miller [Photo by Kristin Hoebermann courtesy of Grant Communications]

Indeed, Odyssey Opera’s previous seasons display an intrepidity and ingenuity in its programming. Late last spring, it offered a summer feast of English delicacies, from Vaughn Williams to Argento. The multi-evening festival meant that opera-goers could take in Powder Her Face one night and Fantastic Mr. Fox in the next. Again, Odyssey Opera forged fearlessly ahead through repertoire that was not only challenging, but obscure enough to cause any major opera house to hesitate.

The cause for the hesitation? The general “unknown” nature of these operas. When planning a season, a company usually must think of its subscribers. More and more opera houses have become a slave to the “subscription model,” in which opera companies hope to snag as many patrons as possible at the announcement of their season. It’s a surefire way to garner followers if the usual suspects are among the offerings: Traviata, Carmen, and pretty much anything by Puccini. Unfortunately, the subscription model has a twofold problem: it limits artistic expression, and it isn’t a guarantee of financial success.

Odyssey Opera Artistic Director Gil Rose has no desire to run his company on the subscription model. In fact, he says, “I refuse to perpetuate a system that is failing opera.”

Mancini.pngTamara Mancini to perform the role of Chimène in Massenet’s Le Cid [Photo courtesy of Zemsky Green Artists Managment]

By refusing the traditional structure of a subscription season, Odyssey Opera has the freedom to focus on two specific times of year during which performances will take place: the fall, with a concert opera, and the late spring, with an approximately two week festival of operatic works before the summer rush to various festivals in the countryside.

This fall, on September 18th, Maestro Rose presents Massenet’s Le Cid, with an 80-voice chorus and the full Odyssey Opera Orchestra. Massenet tops the charts as a composer often chosen for a season at a typical opera house, but the offerings usually include the likes of Thais or Manon. Le Cid is rarely performed.

“I have a real interest in works that, for whatever reason, haven’t made it into the standard accepted repertory,” says Gil Rose of Le Cid.

Indeed, Odyssey Opera’s previous seasons have included composer names familiar to all opera lovers, such as Wagner, Mascagni, and Verdi, but operas with names that even the biggest buffs may fail to recognize. Large orchestras, demanding operatic roles, or superfluous cast size may have been a few factors contributing to these opera’s obscurity, but many times it’s simply the luck of the operatic history draw. Gil Rose brings excitement and artistry back to these forgotten classics, employing top-tier musicians and singers and offering performances that have garnered rave reviews. Odyssey Opera reignites opera with the excitement that has drawn audiences for so many years: the opportunity to see or hear something unexpected.

Paul_Groves.pngPaul Groves to perform the role of Rodrigue in Le Cid

“I think that people should keep an eye on [Odyssey Opera] if they want to hear and see things they’ve never seen or heard before,” says Maestro Rose. “It’s definitely not ever going to be run-of-the-mill.”

Le Cid is anything but run-of-the-mill. Based on the tragicomedy by Pierre Corneille, Le Cid presents the conflict of love, duty, and honor in wartime Castile. With lush orchestration and soaring melodies, this Massenet opera is more than deserving of the reinvigoration given to it by Odyssey Opera. Staying true to its mission, Odyssey Opera manages to give the care needed to operas that have unjustly fallen to the wayside. And this is only the beginning—Gil Rose has set Odyssey Opera onto a path of artistic excellence within the realm of exiled classics.

“The metaphor of an Odyssey and being on a journey, and never sure where we are traveling next—that’s Odyssey Opera.”

Le Cid will perform one night only, September 18, 2015 at 7:30 PM at NEC’s Jordan Hall. Tickets range from $20 to $100. More information is available via Odyssey Opera’s website, or by emailing

Alexis Rodda

image= image_description=Gil Rose product=yes product_title=For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great product_by=By Alexis Rodda product_id=Above: Gil Rose
Posted by Gary at 2:08 PM

September 16, 2015

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

To the Camden Roundhouse in Michael Boyd’s staging of Monteverdi’s Orfeo; north of the border for Scottish Opera’s production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice; then to the Albert Hall during the Proms season, for more Monteverdi with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Orpheus might have made it to the west of England too, had not ENO’s planned co-production of Orfeo with the Bristol Old Vic in April been withdrawn.

Back in London this autumn, the Little Bulb Theatre bring their take on the Orpheus myth, mingling opera with jazz, to the ROH’s Linbury Theatre; and in October the ROH will present a co-production of Luigi Rossi’s Orpheus (1647) at Shakespeare’s Globe in the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, directed by Keith Warner with the Early Opera Company under their director Christian Curnyn. But, from 14th September until 3rd October, ‘home’ for the archetypal musical charmer is the main stage at the Royal Opera House, where Gardiner returns with his ‘early music’ ensembles and three internationally renowned soloists to perform Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice (the 1774 French adaptation of his 1762 Vienna-premiered Orfeo ed Euridice), in a production directed by John Fulljames, Assistant Director of the ROH, and Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter — the latter dancing his first steps into operatic realms.

Summing up his ‘reform’ ideology in the Preface to Alceste (published in 1769), Gluck made clear his primary concern: ‘I believed that my greatest labour should be devoted to seeking a beautiful simplicity.’ I’m not sure that ‘simplicity’ is the word that best encapsulates the result of Fulljames’ and Shechter’s collaboration; there may only be three principals but the stage is populated with a large cast of singers, dancers and instrumentalists, and movement — up and down, back and forth, ritualistic and riotous — is incessant, although there is much that communicates with directness and candour. Nor is the composer’s wish ‘to restrict music to its true office of serving poetry by means of expression and by following the situations of the story’ particularly observed by a stage-mechanism — admittedly an admirable slick piece of hydraulic engineering and an impressive visual device — which hoists and lowers the players of the English Baroque Soloists, suggesting heavenly, mortal and Stygian strata (Designs, Conor Murphy), and places the orchestra at the centre of the action, with soloists, chorus and dancers emerging from above, below and between the supporting pillars of the gliding platform.


But, if there are surprises and idiosyncrasies — and some anomalous juxtapositions — in this production, there is also much that is compelling, and nothing that lacks imagination or interest.

In a letter written in February 1773 to the Mercure de France, Gluck declared an ‘intention is to produce a music fit for all nations, and to let the ridiculous distinctions of national music disappear’ but in adapting, rearranging and re-composing his 1762 version of the Orpheus myth for the Parisian stage, the composer had a sharp eye on contemporary and traditional French taste. Hence, the incorporation of a substantial number of new dances and airs, the majority of which were self-borrowings from other, earlier operas.

As Hadean and Elysian Spirits, the dancers of Hofesh Shechter’s company thus have frequent opportunity to enter the story-telling, and they do so with vigour and astonishing stamina. The choreography blends ritual and poise with wild liberation and feverish anarchy. Thus in the opening scene, positioned in front of the forces of the Monteverdi Choir, the dancers form a semi-circle of mourners around the wicker, mannequin-effigy of Eurydice, jerking spasmodically like night-club revellers, in stylised gestures of grief and despair. The mannequin ignites and crumbles, but subsequently Eurydice’s ‘resurrection’ is celebrated in similar formation, the movements now lyrical and elevating. Elsewhere, the Furies are a mad, writhing mass of flailing arms and legs, unrestrained head-banging and hysterical leaping — it is difficult to tell if this frenzy is intricately choreographed or spontaneous. Yet, in both ritual and riot, traditional balletic gestures are recognisable, sufficient to communicate a continuity stretching from the 18th-century French opera ballet to modern-day choreographic revolutions and radicalism.

The dance element in engaging and only becomes problematic in Act 3. With the swift resolution of the action — a happy ending, of which Gluck himself remarked, ‘To adapt the fable to the usage of our theatres, I was forced to alter the climax’ — there remains the composer’s extended ballet-finale which might have pleased Parisians in the late eighteenth-century but which, as presented here, seems superfluous, dramatically confusing and, in the latter stages, choreographically monotonous. Even the most spasmodic agitation and impulsive thrashing is wearying when repeated ad infinitum; and, why does a dishevelled solo dancer through himself about the stage, as if in existential agony, like a bedraggled Man Friday on amphetamines, when ‘Love has triumphed’? No wonder Orphée retreats to the side-lines and rear of the stage, lounging bemusedly. And, why, since the mortals are re-united, does the effigy reappear and flare up once more. Is Amour only playing games with the lovers’ hearts and hopes? And, how does this ambiguity sit alongside Gluck’s avowal that, ‘to adapt this fable to our stage, it has been necessary to change the catastrophe and to add the episode in which Love reunites husband and wife’?


Sung by a castrato in 1762 (or, these days, a mezzo-soprano or contralto), for the Parisian adaptation the role of Orphée was given to a haute-contre tenor. Juan Diego Flórez certainly has the strength and accuracy in the upper register to carry this off, but the unwavering heroic tone and intense ardency of Flórez’ delivery transform this Orphée from grief-stricken melodist to defiant warrior. To some extent, this is not entirely the tenor’s fault, as the transference of Orphée’s music to the top of the tenor voice inevitably has a significant effect on characterisation. But, though his ability to ‘hit the high notes’ is typical and impressive, Flórez seems ‘out of place’ amid the ‘period’ voices and forces around him. His opening cries, ‘Eurydice!’ rise powerfully above the choral lament but lack expressive nuance, and as the evening wore on I found Flórez’ tenor increasingly unyielding and somewhat ‘tired’.

Orphée’s bravura da capo aria at the end of act 1, ‘L’espoir renaît dans mon âme’, was indeed a technical tour de force, but to my ears it seemed far from Gluck’s ideal that virtuosity should serve the sentiment of the text and not exist for its own sake. Overly emphatic and unduly ‘driven’, Flórez sounded more like Werther than Orphée; perhaps it was just a matter of expectations being challenged, but I found myself longing for the effortless expressive facility demonstrated by countertenor Iestyn Davies in his concert of Handel arias at the Wigmore Hall the preceding Saturday evening. Similarly, while ‘Che faro?’ has been criticised because of the apparent disjuncture between the jauntiness of Gluck’s music and the melancholy of the text (‘I have lost my Eurydice/ Nothing equals my sorry’), in this case it was the sense of vocal triumph and heroism at the close that was disconcerting. Flórez’s acting was also not always convincing, but in this regard he was not alone: oddly, in a production comprising so much dancing, and in which the Monteverdi Chorus are choreographed to make imaginative use of the whole stage space, there principals seem to have been given little movement direction and, for the most part, just drift somewhat aimlessly.

Flórez was, not surprisingly, greeted with adulatory applause at the close, yet I thought that without conventions bel canto gestures to captivate the listener, the tenor’s tone was too rigid, tense and unadaptable. High and loud, yes; human and lucid, no.

In her role debut, Lucy Crowe used her voice more expressively, conveying Eurydice’s agonizing despair, emotional confusion and, at times, feisty anger. But, in the duets with Flórez, her light, flexible soprano did not blend well with the tenor’s bold timbre. I thought that it was a mistake to place Crowe behind the raised orchestra platform, for our first tantalising glimpse of Eurydice, for her voice did not carry; but, subsequently she characteristically revealed exquisite vocal phrasing and colours. Only her sudden ‘second death’ — a flash of glaring white light triggers an immediate demise, reminiscent of childhood games, ‘Bang, bang, you’re dead!’ — was less than moving.

Amanda Forsythe (also making a role debut) sang attractively as Amour — full of brightness and character. Dressed in a gold lamé trouser suit this Love is an insouciant cross between Star Wars’ C-3PO and Linda Carter’s problem-fixing Wonder Woman. Light of heart, irreverent and witty, this is not quite what Gluck envisaged perhaps, but it is amusingly waggish, carried off with style, and complements the wit of the choreography.

The English Baroque soloists were stirred to surprising forthrightness, rhythmic heft and incisive vigour by John Eliot Gardiner. Gluck’s notion that the orchestra should be subservient to the needs of the text — ‘the concerted instruments should be introduced in proportion to the interest and the intensity of the words, and not leave that sharp contrast between the aria and the recitative in the dialogue, so as not ... wantonly [to] disturb the force and heat of the action’ — seemed far from Gardiner’s mind. This orchestra really is at the heart of things. Placed onstage, seated on a moving platform which is raised and lowered, beneath a tilted ceiling through which Lighting Designer Lee Curran shone angled evocative beams of white, blue and golden light upon the protagonists, they play a central part in the action. (Stepping into the orchestral pit each night are up to 80 audience members taking advantage of £10 tickets.) The descent into Hades, with its terrors and horrors was marvellously coloured; the three trombones were elevated behind the orchestra emitting rasping snarls which evoked a terrifying demonic presence. The flute playing, by contrast, in the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ was the epitome of celestial grace.

I would suggest that, vocally, the Monteverdi Choir are the stars of the show. The voices blend as one; the tone is full, rounded and dramatically expressive; their collective movements are both well-rehearsed and naturalistic. They need no gimmicks. For all its unusual and thought-provoking notions and ‘big-name draws’, the chorus alone make this a show worth seeing.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production information:

Orphée — Juan Diego Flórez, Eurydice — Lucy Crowe, Amour — Amanda Forsythe, Dancers — Hofesh Shechter Company, Director — Hofesh Shechter, Director — John Fulljames, Conductor — John Eliot Gardiner, Choreography — Hofesh Shechter, Designer — Conor Murphy, Lighting designer — Lee Curran, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Monday, 14th September 2015.

image= image_description=Juan Diego Flórez as Orphée and Lucy Crowe as Eurydice [Photo © ROH. Photographer Bill Cooper] product=yes product_title=Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: Juan Diego Flórez as Orphée and Lucy Crowe as Eurydice

Photos © ROH. Photographer Bill Cooper
Posted by Gary at 3:48 PM

September 14, 2015

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

The other is a setting of an episode from the epic Indian poem, the Mahābhārata, in which a wife defies Death and restores her husband to life. At first glance, the two works which formed British Youth Opera’s imaginative double bill of early-twentieth century one-act English operas appear to be geographically and thematically disparate. However, as director Rodula Gaitanou’s thoughtful productions elucidated, they are bound together by their explorations of death and grief within specific cultural contexts.

Moreover, both operas possess little dramatic development and rely considerably on setting, lighting, design, movement and stage-craft to communicate their ‘message’ with power and clarity to the audience. Set designer Simon Bejer and, especially, lighting designer David Howe made significant and impressive contributions to each of these productions.

Riders-Press-1-(Barda).pngA scene from Riders to the Sea

Riders to the Sea — written in 1927 and first performed 10 years later —is a sort of Irish predecessor to Peter Grimes: while Britten’s ambiguous fisherman does not have a parallel in Synge’s depiction of a west coast town which is simultaneously beholden to the fitful generosity of the Atlantic and helplessly exposed to the ocean’s natural violence, Britten’s desire (expressed in his written Introduction to Peter Grimes) to, ‘express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends on the sea’ is embodied in the desperation, desolation and melancholy — and ultimate resignation — of Synge’s beleaguered characters.

It is no surprise that the composer of the Pastoral Symphony and Sinfonia antartica was drawn to the tragic tale of man’s battle for survival in the face of a hostile Nature; nor that, as a Christian humanist, Vaughan Williams was struck by the resignation and faith of those who believe that there can be, and should be, no resistance against a God who is ultimately benevolent.

Riders to the Sea was based on stories that Synge had collected when living in the Aran Islands, to whence he had ‘retreated’ in order to nurture his commitment to an Irish regeneration based upon creativity and culture, rather than politics and violent protest. Maurya, a fisherman's widow, is the central consciousness of the play, and of Vaughan Williams’ opera. It is her tragedy: the sea has taken her father-in law, her husband and four sons from her; now a fifth, Michael, is missing and her youngest son, Bartleby, attracted by the appeal of the Connemara fair, wishes to travel to Galway by boat. Maurya pleads with him, with harsh words, to remain; when he refuses, Mauyra in convinced by her daughter Cathleen that she should ensure Bartleby parts on good terms with his family, but before Maurya can now give her blessing she is afflicted by a terrible dream in which Bartleby rides away shadowed by Michael on a grey pony, and she is convinced that this is a portent of tragedy. Sure enough, news soon comes of Michael’s drowning and of Bartleby’s fatal fall. Now, she has nothing more to lose; she is safe from the sea’s hunger and anger, and adopts a stoic resignation to her heart-breaking misfortunes.

Savitri-Press-1-(Barda).pngA scene from Sāvitri

Simon Bejer’s set communicated much through economical means, giving us both a naturalistic domestic world — a sparse home, equipped with spinning wheel, wooden table and, hanging from ropes which intimated the coastal locale, a stove, bucket, shirt, muslin bag — and a dream-like vision of the sea’s dark depths, with Maurya’s lost men-folk seated, facing outwards, around a circular bench, bound by the nets that they are mending. David Howe illuminated the dual world from above, shining spots — like search-lights — down into the blue-green deep, creating eerie dapples and shadows, and suggesting the exposure of the community to higher ‘powers’.

Claire Barnett-Jones was terrific as Maurya. With her first entry, the contrast between her focused yet soulful contralto and the soprano voices of her daughters, Cathleen and Nora, was telling. Vaughan Williams sets Synge’s words in declamatory fashion, following the intonation and inflections of the playwright’s Hiberno-English meticulously (Synge employed the English dialect of Ireland, to reinforce its literary potential) but this can result in limited melodic character and monotony, and make it difficult (particularly so in the absence of sur-titles to discern the details of the text).

However, Barnett-Jones’ declamation was grave and transfixing, taking us compellingly through the inexorable journey, and submission, to death; she sustained the vocal and dramatic intensity through her long monologues, and her words upon the death of Bartleby —‘May the Almighty God have mercy on Bartley's soul … and on the soul of everyone left living in the world’ — were shocking in their candid acceptance of fate and passive forbearing. Barnett-Jones makes her Wigmore Hall debut next year, and is clearly a young singer to watch. As her daughters, Josephine Goddard (Cathleen) and Harriet Eyley (Nora) completed the household of feminine suffering; Eyley in particular demonstrated an appealing brightness and vigour. These soloists were complemented by a strong female chorus whose wordless prayer of mourning was moving. Huw Montague Rendall was the sole male soloist and though his baritone was a little ‘raw’ this was perhaps not dramatically inappropriate and his Bartleby was a haunting presence.

Savitri-Press-2-(Barda).pngA scene from Sāvitri

The trouble with Riders to the Sea, though is that Vaughan Williams’ respectful — overly reverential? — approach to Synge’s text means that it is not the music that defines the ‘meaning’ of the opera. Synge’s text calls the tune, and the music further applies the brakes: the melodic lines can seem as lacking in life as Maurya’s deceased menfolk. Musically, only Maurya is ‘three-dimensional’, and powerful stagecraft is need if the drama, rather than the emotions felt by Maurya, is to be credibly recreated. (One can, however, imagine Riders working well on the radio.) Alongside Howe’s captivating lighting there was some absorbing stagecraft: the ‘resurrection’ of Michael from the kitchen table over which his mother and sisters mourn, and his slow walk to take his place among the circle of drowned kinsmen, were arresting and affecting. But, rather than create drama from within, Gaitanou often imposed it from without, through an overly intrusive ‘Sea Machine’ (which the composer did include in the orchestral forces), for example, and through invasive sobbing at the close. Silence would surely have been more ‘truthful’.

Conductor Geoffrey Paterson worked hard at the start to communicate the violent force of the composer’s clashing dissonances, the polyphonic voices of the instrumentalists of the Southbank Sinfonia speaking penetratingly. But, Paterson was less successful in the latter stages of the score, where it is the ‘vertical’ shifts and surges of harmony (recalling the Tallis Fantasia)which should communicate the emotional unrest and agony of the bereaved, as well as the merciless welling of the sea.

Savitri-Press-3-(Knight).pngA scene from Sāvitri

Written between 1908 and 1909, and first performed in 1916, Holst’s Sāvitri lasts just 30 minutes and is written for three singers supported by a small ensemble of two flutes, cor anglais, double string quartet, and double-bass. The original Mahābhārata tale upon which the opera is based, effectively reverses Synge’s portrayal of feminine resignation: the Indian myth tells of the beautiful princess Sāvitri’s refusal to accept that Death should be permitted to take her husband, Satyavān — a woodcutter and son of a dispossessed king, whom she has married despite being informed by the sage Narada that Satyavān, who is unaware of his fate, has just one year to live. When the fateful day arrives, Satyavān falls dead while out cutting wood: Sāvitri challenges Death (Yama), and the latter, recognising her extraordinary lack of fear of him, grants her five boons, and she tricks Death thereby enabling her husband to return to life.

Holst set only the central episode, the confrontation with Death. And, at heart his opera is not really about Death, but rather concerned with Life. Replying to one of Death’s questions, Sāvitri explains that ‘life is communion, each one that liveth, liveth for all’, continuing ‘life is eternal’ and ‘urges us on till time and space are forgot and joy and sorrow are one’ — sentiments which remind us of Holst’s interest in ideologies of William Morris and of Walt Whitman.

Holst also excised all references to Hinduism, making the story more universal. Gaitanou and Bejer, however, to some extent restore the specific cultural and religious context, with warm lighting painting the stage in swathes of yellow, ochre, orange and maroon — penetrated by dark silhouettes and shadows — and a carpet of flickering candles placed amid festive flowers, upon which rests Death’s throne, evoking Diwali, the Festival of Lights.

Holst’s melodic writing is more distinctive and expressive than Vaughan Williams’ undemonstrative declamation but Sāvitri suffers from a similar absence of sustained dramatic action and momentum. Mezzo soprano Sofia Larsson sang accurately and cleanly, but lacked the weight and variety of hue to carry the drama forward. Her confrontations with Matt Buswell’s Death were engaging however, and she captured Sāvitri’s fortitude in the face of exposure to supra-human forces. Buswell’s control of line and intonation was a little wayward at times (Death’s music is more harmonically unstable than the essentially modal clarity of the lovers’ melodies), but he communicated with directness. Adam Temple-Smith’s appealing tenor emphasised Satyavān’s sincerity and vulnerability, and he coped admirably with the high lying passages, although his diction was not always clear. Geoffrey Paterson again drew fine playing from the players of the Southbank Sinfonia; solos by the viola and cello were especially touching.

Hats off to British Youth Opera for these adventurous and brave productions; they illuminated surprising relationships between the two seldom performed works and showcased some fine young talent.

Claire Seymour


Vaughan Williams: Riders to the Sea

Nora — Harriet Eyley, Cathleen — Josephine Goddard, Maurya — Claire Barnett-Jones, Bartley Huw Montague — Rendall, A Woman — Beth Moxon, Chorus (Hannah Bennett, Susanna Buckle, Sian Griffiths, Emily Kyte, Polly Leech, Lauren Morris, Beth Moxon, Rebecca Silverman, Rebekah Smith, Victoria Songwei Li, Rachel Wolseley, Catherine Wood; with Glen Cunningham, Christopher Dollins, Richard Moore, Kenneth Reid, Martins Smaukstelis, Harry Thatcher, Joel Williams)

Holst: Sāvitri

Death — Matt Buswell, Sāvitri — Sofia Larsson, Satyavān — Adam Temple-Smith, Chorus (Hannah Bennett, Susanna Buckle, Heulen Cynfal, Sian Griffiths, Emily Kyte, Polly Leech, Lauren Morris, Beth Moxon, Rebekah Smith, Victoria Songwei Li, Rachel Wolseley, Catherine Wood; with Glen Cunningham, Christopher Dollins, Milo Harries, Richard Moore, Kenneth Reid, Martins Smaukstelis, Harry Thatcher)

Production Team:

Director — Rodula Gaitanow, Conductor — Geoffrey Paterson, Set Designer — Simon Bejer, Lighting Designer — David Howe, Costume Designer — Laura Jane Stanfield, Movement Director — Mandy Demetriou, Vocal Coach — Mary Hegarty. British Youth Opera, Peacock Theatre, London, Wednesday, 10th September 2015.

image= image_description=Scene from Riders to the Sea [Photo by Clive Barda] product=yes product_title=Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: Scene from Riders to the Sea

Photos by Clive Barda
Posted by Gary at 7:40 PM

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

It can caress a melody with sweetness or poignancy, sincerity or gravity; it can whip through fearsome runs and roulades with crystalline definition and focused tone; it can charm with a spell, terrify with rage, mesmerise with lyrical beauty, and trouble with introspection.

All of these qualities, and more — infinite variety of colour, expressive depth, airy transience, silky richness — were on display at the Wigmore Hall during this wonderful opening concert of the 2015-16 season in which Davies performed alongside the players of the English Concert and their director Harry Bicket, presenting a series of arias from several of Handel’s Italian operas, interspersed with instrumental items by Veracini, Porpora and Handel himself.

Partenope was the opera with which Handel re-opened the Royal Academy in 1729 and which is unusual in having two difficult parts written for castrato singers. Davies performed the role of Arsace, the reprobate who abandons his lover Rosmira to woo the Queen of Venice, Partenope (who has attracted the attention of two other rivals), at New York City Opera in 2010. ‘Sento amor’ (Love unrelenting), in which Arsace professes his divided loyalties, was notable for the ease with which Davies negotiated the high lying melody, moving lightly through the rapid runs, the phrases expanding naturally and flawlessly. ‘Ch’io parta’ (Must I depart) was poised and directly expressive; the falling octave motif registered the weight which burdens Arsace (‘Parto, ma senza cor’; I go, but leave with you my heart) and there was a tender diminuendo to a barely audible pianissimo in the final phrase before the resigned, melancholy da capo. In ‘Furibondo spira il vento’ (The furious blast), Arsace describes the tumultuous unrest in his heart as duty battles with love; Davies whirled through the semiquavers but never at the expense of musicality and communication, and was supported by some spirited violin playing. The three arias were preceded by the opera’s overture in which tempi were surprisingly but persuasively brisk, the triple time section particularly spirited, and the reedy directness of the oboes formed a pleasing counterpart to sweet-toned strings.

Throughout the evening, violinist Nadja Zwiener was a vigorous, confident and characterful leader. And, in Veracini’s Overture No.2 in F, Zwiener and director/harpsichordist Harry Bicket inspired each of the players of the English Concert to perform with a soloist’s presence yet to meld their individual voice into a fluent ‘whole’. There was some terrific coordination in the quicksilver piano passages for violins, and the full-toned oboes in the Sarabande complemented the even legato pairings of the strings alluringly. The Gigue was punchy and vivacious, and the final Menuetto anything but ‘stately’.

Two arias from Rinaldo followed. Rinaldo, based on Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberate, was the first opera which Handel wrote for London and was first performance at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, in 1711. Davies sang the title role at Glyndebourne in 2014 and here reprised ‘Cara sposa’ (My dear betrothed) — the protagonist’s lament for the abducted Almirena — and ‘Venti turbini’ (Winds, gales), in which the hero swears to get revenge on the sorceress Armida. The former was the essence of simplicity: the voice entered part-way through the deliciously pulsing introductory violin melody, and Davies used his lower register most expressively, moving smoothly across octave leaps to convey Rinaldo’s despair and confusion. Concertante violin and bassoon added to the fury of the latter aria: Davies’ vocal flexibility was remarkable, as he made ‘music’ of the virtuosic runs, in perfect synchronisation with Alberto Grazzi’s expertly executed bassoon scamperings.

‘Pompe vane di morte! … Dove sei’ (The hollow splendour of death! … Where are you) opened the second half of the recital. Davies made his New York Met debut in Rodelinda, and reprised the role of Bertarido — who has been driven from his kingdom by Grimoaldo and is presumed dead, leaving behind his grieving wife, Rodelinda — at ENO in 2014. Here, Bertarido returns to be reunited with his wife: the recitative in which he reads the inscription on his ‘tomb’ was steady and strong of tone, but a marvellous change of mood was effected for the aria, ‘Dove sei’, in which Bertarido reveals his vulnerability and desire, longing for reunion with his wife.

The principal string players were given the chance to shine in Porpora’s Sinfonia da camera in G Op.2 No.1. There was much incisive, vivacious playing, and cellist Joseph Crouch displayed a particularly appealing tone and ear for nuanced phrasing. But it was a shame that the two violinists, Zwiener and Alice Evans, were not encouraged to turn to face the audience, for Evans was disadvantaged by the angling of her violin towards the rear, which resulted in an imbalance with Zwiener’s audacious and forthright playing.

Four arias from Orlando ­— which Davies will perform with Bicket and the English Concert at the Barbican in 2016­ — followed. I was particularly captivated by the expressive range of both voice and instrumentalists in the recitative ‘Ah Stigie larve’ (Ah Stygian monsters), in which the unhinged Orlando descends to the Underworld: furious string passagework contrasted dramatically with slow, perfectly tuned unison descents, Jørgen Skogmo’s theorbo adding greatly to the affekt. The repeating rondo melody of ‘Vaghe pupille’ (Lovely eyes) was similarly moving, Davies’ simple directness poignantly expressing Orlando’s insanity - he thinks that he is surrounded by mythical creatures and gods — which has resulted from the extreme jealousy that Angelica’s love for another has caused.

After the Passacaille from Rodelinda — in which the expressive, agile bass line provided gentle direction to the pervasive swing of the triple-time pulse, and which was notable for the simultaneous contrasts and blending of string and woodwind voices — the concert closed with two further arias from Orlando. ‘Fammi combattere’ (Go bid me fight) once again demonstrated the effortless fluidity with which Davies can despatch Handel’s coloratura demands: despite the virtuosic extravagances, the phrasing remained ‘musical’, the breathing controlled and even, the sound bright and clean. ‘Già per la man d’Orlando … Già cl’ebro mio ciglio’ (Now by Orlando’s hand … Drugged by this sweet liquid) was a well-chosen final item, in which the elegance and beauty of the vocal line, complemented by the unadorned directness of the strings was paradoxically both hypnotically soporific and compellingly engaging.

In Handel's Saul (which Iestyn Davies performed at Glyndebourne earlier this year), David’s ‘O Lord, whose mercies are numberless’ has little effect on the deluded, raging Saul; but Davies’ encore here was the epitome of musical solace and succour.

Speculations about the sentiments and ambitions of historical figures can only ever be just that: assumption and guesswork. But, it is pleasing to imagine that Handel would have been delighted and inspired to have had Iestyn Davies performing alongside castrati such as Senesino in the Royal Academy Company. Or, that, should he have been blessed with the gift of foresight, he would have relished the knowledge that Davies would be communicating his music so eloquently, persuasively and with such consummate skill to audiences three hundred years hence.

Claire Seymour

Performers and Programme:

The English Concert; Iestyn Davies, countertenor; Harry Bicket, director, harpsichord.

Handel: Overture and three arias from Partenope (‘Sento amor’, ‘Ch’io parte’, Furibondo spira il vento’); Veracini: Overture No.2 in F; Handel: Two arias from RInaldo (‘Cara sposo’, ‘Venti turbini’), Aria fromRodelinda (‘Pompe vane di morte! … Dove sei’); Porpora: Sinfonia da camera in G Op.2 No.1; Handel: Four arias from Orlando (‘Ah Stigie larve’, ‘Già latra Cerbero’, ‘Ma la furia’, ‘Vaghe pupille’), Passacaille from Radamisto, Two arias from Orlando (‘Fammi combattere’, ‘Già per la man d’Orlando … Già cl’ebro mio ciglio’)

Wigmore Hall, London, Saturday 12th September 2015.

image= image_description=Iestyn Davis and The English Concert [Photo by Sisi Burn] product=yes product_title=Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: Iestyn Davis and The English Concert [Photo by Sisi Burn]
Posted by Gary at 5:04 PM

Hibla Gerzmava to Debut at Carnegie Hall

One of the most in-demand recitalists today and a mainstay at most leading opera houses worldwide, including the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Paris Opera and the Bayerische Staatsoper, Ms. Gerzmava is by right considered a vocal phenomenon.

While the soprano’s unusually vast vocal range makes her one of the most diverse classical singers today (over the past decade her repertoire has broadened from Baroque to verismo to classical crossover), it is the rare quality of her voice that turns each of her performances into an event to remember. Filled with sensual energy and haunting beauty, Ms. Gerzmava’s voice pierces the listener’s heart and captivates it with the power of genuine emotion.

Following her 2015 Metropolitan Opera triumph as the doomed Antonia in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, the artist will mark her North American solo recital debut with “An Evening with Hibla Gerzmava”, a dramatically intense recital program that will take place on the main stage of Carnegie Hall on October 8, 2015.

Accompanied on the piano by internationally acclaimed concertmaster and long-term recording partner Ekaterina Ganelina, Ms. Gerzmava will unveil the rich and mysterious world of arias and romances of the late 18th - early 20th centuries.

On the heels of her 2014 album “Vocal Cycles and Romances by Russian Composers” (also with Ms. Ganelina at the piano), the soprano will open the evening with a selection of idyllic and slightly nostalgic romances by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff set to the lyrics of Russian and European poetry luminaries. In the second part of the program the artist will turn to a more dramatic repertoire and explore the depths of a woman’s soul through the arias of ill-fated opera heroines - from Handel’s grief-stricken Almira to Bellini’s enigmatic Norma, whose cavatina Casta Diva is known to be among Ms. Gerzmava’s signature pieces.

“An Evening with Hibla Gerzmava” will no doubt conquer many hearts in Carnegie Hall, not only as a beautiful vocal recital, but also as a deeply moving musical journey. For more information about this recital, presented by XIV Music Festival "Hibla Gerzmava Invites...", and to purchase your tickets, visit Carnegie Hall's website

Raisa Massuda

Raisa Massuda is an opera and recital reviewer, writing articles for Mandolin Vision, and Delos Productions.

image= image_description=Hibla Gerzmava [Photo by Vlad Loktev] product=yes product_title=Hibla Gerzmava Makes North American Solo Recital Debut at Carnegie Hall product_by=A commentary by Raisa Massuda product_id=Above: Hibla Gerzmava [Photo by Vlad Loktev]
Posted by Gary at 4:40 PM

September 12, 2015

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

There was much anticipation in packed Royal Albert Hall for the penultimateBBC Promenade Concert on Friday 11 September 2015, whenSir Simon Rattle would conduct Sir Edward Elgar's oratorio The Dream of Gerontius with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, soloistsToby Spence,Magdalena Kozena andRoderick Williams, and the BBC Proms Youth Choir. The Dream of Gerontius was a work which featured regularly on concert programmes in Birmingham during Rattle's period with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but probably has not featured much in those of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

What we can easily forget, though, is that in the period up to the First World War, Elgar was highly regarded by his continental colleagues. The Dream of Gerontius was enthusiastically received in Germany when first performed there in 1901 and 1902, and Richard Strauss regarded Elgar as a fellow progressive composer.

Simon Rattle opened the prelude on just a thread, with the a lovely sense of the undulating line. Rather than giving us a richly cushioned string sound, we heard a magically transparent texture with extraordinary clarity. The sense of phrasing was very distinctive (something the mezzo Magdalena Kozena shared), and it is a long time since I have heard portamentos used in so frequently and so effectively in the work. But that said, Simon Rattle had a tendency to hold the music up rather then letting it flow on. This was a performance where we were encouraged to stop and admire the daisies rather than stride into the wider landscape. But though much was quiet, intensely contemplative there was drama too this was not a self-regarding account of the work, and the moments of drama in Elgar's score were stunningly realised, and all the more telling for being contrasted with such intense quiet.

The work was cast with three lyric soloists, Toby Spence, Magdalena Kozena and Roderick Williams, which chimed in with Simon Rattle's view of the work. That said, it was noticeable the Rattle did not give the sort of space and sympathy to the singers as a conductor like Bernard Haitink (whom I heard conducting it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with Richard Lewis and Alfreda Hodgson in the early 1980's).

Toby Spence sang with a lovely even focussed tone, and no hint of distortion or strain but it was noticeable that especially during part one he had to work hard constantly, you were aware of the mechanics behind his voice to enable him to ride the cushion of the orchestra. But the result was, ultimately very satisfying. A direct, plain-speaking Gerontius but one sung with immense musicality. And he sang with the sort of fine, straight tone which could project to the very end of the Albert Hall. Because of this, the famous moments such as Sanctus fortis stood out less as arias, and were woven into the texture but were no less moving. Spence's approach was not as operatic as some tenors whose experience is on the opera stage, but he brought a good sense of drama even when not singing. Overall he created a fine and absorbing sense of Gerontius the character, and of course some of his floated notes, supported by the transparency of the orchestra, were simply magical.

Magdalena Kozena, looking rather too consciously the angel in a white dress, brought her familiar qualities of intense involvement, wonderfully plangent, direct tone and a sense of profoundly musical phrasing. It has to be admitted that though her English was clear, it was also rather occluded but she was clearly working the words strongly, in a way which does not always happen when foreign singers sing English oratorio. Without being her interventionist, this was a performance where the singer shaped every single phrase in distinctive way. For much of the earlier passages in Part Two, her delivery ended to the over emphatic as she struggled somewhat to project her lower register in a part which was designed for a contralto or a mezzo-soprano with a strong lower register. For the moments when she was able to float her tone in the upper part of the voice, this meant we were treated to some gorgeous, intelligent singing, so that the concluding Angel's Farewell was simply magical.

Roderick Williams sang the Priest and the Angel of the Agony with forthright directness. He does not have the biggest, blackest voice in these roles, but compensated with the intelligence of his approach and a fine sense of musicality.

But the stars of the performance, almost eclipsing the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, were the young singers of the BBC Proms Youth Choir. Drawn from the CBSO Youth Chorus, Halle Youth Choir, Quay Voices, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Ulster Youth Choir and University of Birmingham Voices, with the result numbering some 330 singers. They sang with clear, focussed and unforced tone which brought an extraordinary clarity to the individual lines, the whole welded into a single expressive whole. There is something wonderfully particular about the sound of a huge choir of young voices, with numbers ample enough so that there is no forcing.

I heard them last year in the Proms performance of Britten's War Requiem, and was impressed and the group was similarly on form this year. But what took the breath away was how the young singers did everything that Simon Rattle asked, so that much of the choral part was sung on a magical thread with each singer producing what must have been just a breath of sound. This was matched by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra so that we had some of the most quietly intense and transparent moments in this work that I have ever heard. Listening again in BBC iPlayer these passages have a greater sense of presence thanks to the placing of the microphones, but in the Royal Albert Hall there was a sense of evanescence which matched Simon Rattle's view of the work. It wasn't all hushed of course, and the great moments like the end of Part One and Praise to the Holiest were notable for the amazing combination of musicality, clarity and power which the young singers brought to the piece.

I have to confess that when I first started listening to this performance, I was not certain that I was going to like it. Though there were impressive details, it did not coalesce into the sort of absorbing Gerontius performance which I wanted. But by the end, Simon Rattle and his forces had drawn me in. I wasn't just admiring the details, but carried along with a very particular view of the drama and the sense that all performers were aligned in a very distinctive and highly involving vision. This is not a performance I would want to live with every day, but it was still magical.

Robert Hugill

Cast and production information:

Toby Spence, Magdalena Kozena, Roderick Williams, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Proms Youth Choir, Sir Simon Rattle. BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall; 11 September 2015.

Click here for access to the broadcast of this performance.

image= image_description=Magdalena Kožená [Photo © Mathias Bothor / Deutsche Grammophon] product=yes product_title=Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius product_by=A review by Robert Hugill product_id=Above: Magdalena Kožená [Photo © Mathias Bothor / Deutsche Grammophon]
Posted by Gary at 3:08 PM

September 8, 2015

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

Having paid tribute to Frank Sinatra in a Late-Night Prom earlier in the season, the second of the orchestra’s two performances this year celebrated the genius of Leonard Bernstein; and,Wilson made certain that we appreciated the composer’s full stylistic and expressivediversity in a sweeping sequence from Bernstein’s scores for the stage and the screen, which ranged from operetta to symphonic modernism, from satirical parody to heartfelt sincerity, and included both the big hits and less well-known gems.

From the first — the opening scene of the ‘sailors-on-shore-leave’ musical On the Town — to the last — the closing chorus from Candide — Wilsonconducted with a rare combination of relaxed understatement, which coaxed things along with an easy swing, and exactitude which ensured that no detail was overlooked and the players cohered meticulously. (This was a blend of fastidiousness and fluency which was certainly missing from Marin Alsop’s all-Brahms programme with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on the previous Tuesday evening.) The John Wilson Orchestra brings together some of the finest orchestral players in the UKand — clearly relishing being ‘let off the leash’ — they played with stylish panache: a wonderfully glossy and rich string sound, characterful woodwind solos and beautifully refined horns, dance-band glitz from the brass, the hypnotic swing of saxophones and rhythm sectioncombined to produce a technicolour kaleidoscope of shifting instrumental colours. As Wilson himself has remarked of West Side Story, ‘Every single dynamic indication, every accent, every marking in the score has a clear dramatic indication’, and it showed.

‘I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet’ (On the Town) lazily unwound, as Robert Winslade-Anderson’s well-supported bass-baritone boomed into the auditorium, a sonorous ‘wake-up call’ for his fellow dock-workers (Jack North and Mark Meadows) who were swiftly joined by Gabey (Julian Ovenden), Chip (Stuart Matthew Price) and Ozzie (Matthew Seadon-Young) for an up-beat, boisterous rendition of ‘New York, New York’. There’s been a lot of debate during this Proms season about the amplification of singers, but in this case the microphones demonstrated the professionalism of both the technicians and practitioners. In ‘Lonely Town’ we had an early taste of Ovenden’s beguiling lyricism, beautiful phrasing and expressive warmth, and of the stunning sheen of the JWO’s string section, while the Maida Vale singers made the first of their superb contributions during the evening, in the following ‘Pas de deux’. The instrumentalists showed us that they could do audacity just as well as quietude, in Louise Dearman’s sassy ‘I Can Cook, Too’. Dearman, who played Lois Lane/Bianca in Kiss Me Kate at last year’s Proms with the John Wilson Orchestra, employs quite a wide vibrato but she uses it expressively and she made a real impact, communicating with directness.

‘The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March’ (from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Bernstein’s collaboration with Alan Jay Lerner, to mark the bicentenary of the US Declaration of Independence) bounced with sharp irony and wit: Mark Meadows’s presidential proclamations were strong and well-centred, Wilson managed the rubatos and changes of tempo with superlative expertise (and Jonathan Aasgaard’s cello solo was a highlight of the slow instrumental section), whilethe chorus were sparkling and animated as the guests enjoying the exotic culinary delights. Lucy Schaufer’s operatically trained mezzo was full-toned and expressive in ‘Take Care of this House’ but she struggled with the intonation in the closing phrases. Scarlett Strallen also had trouble with the tuning of ‘A Little Bit in Love’ (Wonderful Town) and while the bass pizzicatos generated a lovely swaying swing, there was some tension in Strallen’s phrasing. Dearman’s ‘A Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man’ showed no nerves or restraint though, as she reflected with wry candour and incredulity on her amazing talent for romantic misadventure and failure. Here, through the silky wistfulness of low woodwind complemented by the fullness and warmth of the strings, Wilson showed how instrumental colour can bring depth to character and context. And, Dearman showed Ruth’s true heart, avoiding kitsch, delivering the speaking lines infectiously and finding both humour and pathos in the sung phrases.

The symphonic suite from Bernstein’s only film score, On the Waterfront, ended the first half and formed the emotional centre of the evening. If other orchestras have found the Hall’s acoustic problematic this season, with string sections in particular struggling to bring life to their sound and lift to their phrasing, the John Wilson Orchestra encountered no such difficulties: here, there was no muffled articulation or heaviness — all was incisive, crystalline and immediate. String tremolos shimmered rapidly, solos for woodwind and horns spoke soulfully, brass and percussion rasped and rapped grittily, intimating the violent undercurrents of the score. Wilson demonstrated consummate appreciation of both the power of the details and the impact of the whole.

A sequence from Candide made a compelling start to the post-interval selection. The overture, taken at a breath-taking tempo, was simply stunning. Wilson whirled up an astonishing vitality, relishing Bernstein’s fantastic orchestration, with the percussion in particular enhancing the rhythmic energy. The central episode was wonderfully tender before Wilson gradually injected excitement, raising the temperature towards the dashing close. Schaufer (Old Woman) enjoyed the parodyof ‘I Am Easily Assimilated’, switching with delightfully phony ‘authenticity’ between the German, French, Spanish and Russian lyrics,while the JWO added a sharp kick to the tango — the tambourine rattle, piquant duet for piccolo and coranglais, trombone glissandi and pesante strings ratcheting up the Hispanic caricature. After such burlesque, Ovenden’s ‘Nothing More Than This’ welled with sincerity; who could have thought that disillusion, anger and bitterness could sound this beautiful?

If she had been a little nervous during the first half, Strallen showed no tentativeness in a show-stopping ‘Glitter and Be Gay’. I saw Strallen shine as Cunegonde in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s esteemed 2013 production of Candide, and she had no problem communicating Cunegonde’s rapaciousness and self-belief in this much larger venue. Her high notes truly glittered, like the starry riches that she craves, ringing with piercing clarity and accuracy like the dazzling jewels that Cunegonde swipes from the chandelier. One might have thought that Strallen’s coloratura extravaganza would be the highlight of the night, but Ovenden’s ‘Maria’ (West Side Story) made it a close-run thing, the voice strong and wonderfully ‘old-fashioned’ with its honeyed shades and sweetness.

Matthew Seadon-Young (Action), David Seadon-Young (Diesel), Stuart Matthew Price (Arab) and Jack North (Baby John) brought back some brashness and brawn in ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’; Schaufer (Dinah) was joined by Sarah Ryan, Price and Meadows (Jazz trio) in ‘Island Magic’ ( Trouble in Tahiti); and, Strallen demonstrated a softer loveliness in ‘Dream With Me’ (Peter Pan). The closing number ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ (Candide) brought all the soloists (supplemented by Patrick Smyth as Maximilian) together with the stirring voices of the Maida Vale Chorus … and raised the rafters. There was just one encore, ‘America’, but one felt that the audience would happily have listened all night.

It takes playing of the highest calibre to make this music sound so ‘simple’. This Prom was a joy from start to finish. The only question was who was enjoying themselves the most — the toe-tapping audience, or the performers who clearly had a ball.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

John Wilson — conductor, Louise Dearman — vocalist, Lucy Schaufer — mezzo-soprano, Scarlett Strallen — vocalist (Proms debut artist), Julian Ovenden — vocalist, Maida Vale Singers, John Wilson Orchestra. Royal Albert Hall, London, Saturday 5th September 2015.

On the Town — Opening scene: ‘I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet’/’New York, New York’, ‘Lonely Town’/’Pas de deux’, ‘I Can Cook, Too’; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — ‘The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March’, ‘Take Care of This House’; Wonderful Town — ‘A Little Bit in Love’, ‘A Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man’; On the Waterfront — symphonic suite; Candide — overture, ‘Nothing More than This’, ‘Glitter and Be Gay’, ‘Dance at the Gym’; West Side Story — Maria, ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’;Trouble in Tahiti — ‘Island Magic’; Peter Pan — ‘Dream with Me’; Candide — ‘Make our Garden Grow’

Click here to listen to the broadcast of this concert.

image= image_description=Leonard Bernstein product=yes product_title=Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: Leonard Bernstein
Posted by Gary at 1:16 PM

A Chat with Tenor René Barbera

On September 19, 2015, he will be singing a recital at the Balboa Theater in downtown San Diego. Accompanied by Cheryl Cellon Lindquist, he will sing Alberto Ginastera’s Five Popular Argentine Songs, one of the most important twentieth century song cycles from South America, as well as a set of Tosti pieces, a bit of Bellini, and some operatic arias. Maria Nockin took the opportunity to have a brief chat with this exciting singer.

MN: Where were you raised?

RB: I was born in Laredo, Texas, and lived there until I was nine years old. Then we moved to San Antonio where I did most of my growing up. I lived there for the next ten years. Although I am a native Texan, sometimes people don’t realize that I am American because of my name.

MN: Where did you start singing?

RB: When I moved to San Antonio, in anticipation of my starting fourth grade there, my teacher from Laredo put a note on my papers that the new school should audition me for choir. As a result, I joined the San Antonio Boys Choir where I sang as a boy soprano* beginning at age 10. [N.B.: Most tenors start out as boy altos, René did not. ] I also took piano lessons for six years, which later helped me figure out how to learn a piece of music. Like most kids, I did not like practicing because I did not want to be in one place for more than ten minutes at a time. I tried guitar, too, as an adult, but my hands just can't seem to get on board with the guitar

MN: Who were your most important teachers at this stage of your development?

RB: I am going to have to start with Melinda Atkins Loomis, the conductor of the San Antonio Boys Choir. I was a soprano and she made sure I did nothing that might harm my voice. When the middle school chorus tried to make me a tenor, she had me tell the teacher that my placement was wrong. I ended up being the only boy in the girls choir. Loomis was the first teacher who taught me about singing.

Gordon Ivers, my high school choir director, also had a great deal of influence on my early years. Rather than ask me to sing softly during state competitions, he would point directly at me and ask me for more sound. He never asked me to hold back. Holding back can hurt your voice if you are young and don’t know what you are doing. It was he who told me I could make a career as a singer. I did not believe him at first, however. For my first year of high school I decided not to join the choir. Shortly after that I happened to walk by Mr. Ivers. He grabbed me by the ear, twisted it and dropped me to the ground, saying, “You will be in my choir by the end of the week.” I was.

MN: Where did you go to college?

RB: I attended the University of Texas at San Antonio for three semesters and then dropped out because I decided I did not want to sing any more. (He says with a chuckle). I moved to Colorado where my brother was living and got a job replacing windshields. I missed singing and eventually received a full scholarship to the Vocal Arts Symposium of Colorado Springs. From there I went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem for four years. I spent most of the final year doing auditions and competitions. The following summer I was at The San Francisco Opera Merola Program, and then I went to the Florida Grand Opera Young Artist Program. Eventually I finished my studies at Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center.

MN: Who do you study with now?

RB: Currently I study with Dr. Marilyn Taylor, Chair of the Voice Department at the A. J. Fletcher Opera Institute of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Anthony Dean Griffey has also studied with her.

MN: Whose recordings do you listen to?

RB: I listen to Placido Domingo’s CDs for the beauty of his high notes. For ideas on coloratura, I listen to Rockwell Blake. For sheer pleasure, my choice is Fritz Wunderlich. Occasionally, I listen to Jussi Björling, too.

MN: Which competitions have been most important to your career?

RB: In 2011, at Placido Domingo’s Operalia Competition in Moscow, I won the First Prize for Opera, the First Prize for Zarzuela, and the Audience Prize. I was the first finalist to be the sole recipient of all three awards since the competition began in 1993. I’ve won quite a few other contests, but winning those Operalia prizes was tremendously helpful in allowing me to start a career.

MN: What are your favorite roles?

RB: I love, LOVE Nemorino in Donizetti’s Elixir of Love. I’m also fond of Tonio in theDaughter of the Regiment. The music of both roles works very well for my voice and I can identify with the characters, especially Nemorino. I have lived with his mental process of shyness and falling in love. Elixir has a lot of comedy and some touching moments, too. Some characters don’t make any changes but Nemorino grows along the way to the finale.

To some degree, any tenor’s interpretation is colored by the director’s wishes, but I have always been lucky enough to have my thoughts on interpretation considered in arriving at the final version of the role. I’m fine with the stage director being the most important person in the production so long as he or she has respect for the score, the story, and the characters. No matter what we do on stage, the audience sees the libretto overhead as supertitles. I also enjoy singing the Duke in Rigoletto because he is the polar opposite of most of the roles I sing. He’s the bad guy.

MN: What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

RB: In a perfect world I’m heading down the beach with a martini. Realistically, I hope I am still singing and getting better at it. I would like to do a little bit less Rossini and a little more Bellini and Donizetti. Maybe I could be doing La traviata and some operas like that. I enjoyed singing Giannetto in Rossini’s La gazza ladra at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy, this summer. It was refreshing to have a new piece.

MN: Do you have an anecdote or two for us?

RB: When you perform live theater, things are bound to happen. I was singing two performances of Rossini’sBarber of Seville in Moscow with two different Rosinas and the stage director had her slap me. One mezzo was left-handed and the other right handed. I forgot which was which and turned directly into the smack! Another time I was singing in La traviata and during the Act Three ballet, I noticed that the bass had lost his mustache. A moment later I saw it—hanging from the edge of a dancer’s hat.

MN: What will you be singing at your recital in San Diego?

RB: At 7 PM on September 19, 2015, I will be singing the Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital at the Balboa Theater in downtown San Diego. My accompanist will be Cheryl Cellon Lindquist. I will be singing Alberto Ginastera’s Five Popular Argentine Songs, one of the most important twentieth century song cycles from South America. I’m also doing a set of Tosti pieces, a bit of Bellini, and some operatic arias.

image= image_description=René Barbera [Photo by Kristin Hoebermann courtesy of Askonas Holt] product=yes product_title=A Chat with Tenor René Barbera product_by=An interview by Maria Nockin product_id=Above: René Barbera [Photo by Kristin Hoebermann courtesy of Askonas Holt]
Posted by maria_n at 10:42 AM

September 4, 2015

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Alice Coote ’s late-night appearance at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 5 September 2015 was a version of her show Being Both with premiered at the Brighton Festival earlier this year (to mixed reviews, see Rupert Christiansen’s review on the Telegraph website ). Accompanied by Harry Bicket and the English Concert, Alice Coote sang arias from Handel’s Alcina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Herculese, Messiah, Semele and Theodora, with a staging directed by Susannah Waters with choreography by Christopher Tudor. It was billed as an exploration of gender and sexuality, based on the fact that as a female singer Alice Coote is asked to incarnate both male and female characters when singing roles in Handel operas and oratorios.

This is a potentially fascinating subject, but I am not sure that Alice Coote and Susannah Waters show actually enlightened us in any way. The stage action seems to have been simplified somewhat from the full show, which may go some way to explaining my puzzlement with the concept. Dressed all in black, with jacket and trousers, but looking every inch female, Alice Coote opened by singing a few lines from “Myself I shall adore” from Handel’s Semele, unaccompanied and transposed down somewhat. She followed this with an account of “Sta nell’Ircana” from Alcina performed stood on a box and accompanied by a gestural language which cropped up repeatedly in the show. These gestures seemed to be intended to be of significance, including as they did phallic gestures and whatever the opposite female gesture might be called. Frankly I found it puzzling and distracting.

The show continued in this vein, with a strong sense of a dramaturgical flow which I could not quite fathom, as if Alice Coote was telling a story which I could not grasp. Singing “He was despised” from Messiah whilst apparently lying in a bath, and playing with a razor seemed only one of the more puzzling elements. The result was a staging which seemed a little self-indulgent even if deeply felt, and this was not helped by the fact that Alice Coote’s musical performance was similarly idiosyncratic.

Tempos were often a bit wayward, and she has a tendency to pull the music about in a way which can seem rather old-fashioned (or refreshingly non-historically informed, depending on one’s point of view). There is no doubt of her strong technical command, but this is combined with a very idiosyncratic sense of style, so that some moments had me gasping with amazement whilst others induced profound annoyance. The audience, however, was clearly sympathetic in the main and the end of the 75 minute show was greeted with rapturous applause.

“Sta nell’Ircana” (Alcina) was beautifully, if lightly done with a lovely even tone even if some of the phrasing seemed slightly too 19th century in style for my taste and she was accompanied by some superb horn playing. “Resign thy club” (Hercules) was finely sung but as Alice Coote prowled around the stage her voice tended to come and go (always a problem in the Royal Albert Hall) and words disappeared, there was also a hint of unevenness in the passagework.

“Scherza infida” (Ariodante) was sung with a beautiful shape to the phrases and rich tone. It was deeply felt though this did mean that the tempo slowed somewhat. The bassoon obbligato was simply fabulous, with a lovely nutty tone. “Oh, that I on wings could rise” (Theodora) was sung with high bright tone, but the light intimate style of singing meant that it was not always well projected. This was one of a trio of soprano arias which Coote included in the show, demonstrating the wide range of her voice (though I have no knowledge of whether any transpositions were applied).

The orchestra got so show off their paces finely in the ballet music from Act 2 of Ariodante which concluded with Ginevra’s short yet dramatic recit. This led into the performance of “He was despised” (Messiah) referred to above, which was musically strong with lovely straight tone and strongly felt meaning, allied to the sort of tempo which Kathleen Ferrier would have been used to.

“Myself I shall adore”, the solo soprano aria from Semele, was finally sung in full though Alice Coote started this unaccompanied and the instruments gradually joined her. Any joy in the musical performance however, was distracted by the rather over dramatic use of a torch. This was followed by another soprano aria, “Se pieta” which is Cleopatra’s aria from Giulio Cesare. Rather annoyingly the programme said little about the inclusion of these soprano arias, though Cleopatra is a role that has been sung by Cecilia Bartoli.

“Dopo notte” from Ariodante was simply stunning in terms of the vocal control which Alice Coote showed, though starting the aria up-stage did mean that the opening was slightly rocky in terms of ensemble. Her performance was not the conventional bravura, even though all the notes were certainly there, but was quietly intense and internal. After all the virtuoso showing off, we finished with the quiet contemplation of “There, in myrtle shades” from Hercules with the solo cellist coming forward to sit next to Alice Coote on stage.

This show seemed rather like a missed opportunity; there is much to explore in the subject of gender, sexuality and Handel’s characters, but it did not feel as if these interesting questions were really being addressed. However, Alice Coote is never a boring performer and there was much to enjoy in this show. But I am not sure that the stage action contributed to our enjoyment of the arias and Coote’s personality is such that a simple concert performance would have been equally mesmerising, and possibly more vivid. She was accompanied throughout with discreet poise by Harry Bicket and the English Concert.

The Prom is available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

Robert Hugill

Programme and performers:

Being Both: music from Handel’s Alcina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Hercules, Messiah, Semele and Theodora

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano). The English Concert; Harry Bicket (conductor). Susannah Waters (stage director); Christopher Tudor (movement director). BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall; 3 September 2015.

image= image_description=Alice Coote [Photo by Ben Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists] product=yes product_title=Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel product_by=A review by Robert Hugill product_id=Above: Alice Coote [Photo by Ben Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists]
Posted by Gary at 11:41 AM