Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.



Scene from <em>Eugene Onegin</em> [All photos courtesy of New National Theatre, Tokyo]
20 Dec 2019

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

A review by David Chandler

Above: Scene from Eugene Onegin

All photos courtesy of New National Theatre, Tokyo


Rosi left Japan the following year, with a sense of disillusion: “The Japanese are rotten pupils. They can’t do it – they are not ready.” But he had actually demonstrated that the Japanese could do it, and were ready, and there has been a more-or-less continuous tradition of producing Western operas in Japan ever since, one interrupted only by World War II.

In the century since 1917, a few important dates stand out. In 1927, NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, began regular opera broadcasts (just a year after Italy), greatly enlarging the audience for what was still, for most Japanese, a very novel medium. In 1934, the Fujiwara Opera Company was formed in Tokyo, Japan’s first opera company to have more than a brief existence. They managed to weather the war period and operated independently until 1981, before being merged into the Japan Opera Foundation. In 1952, the Nikikai (literally “second-generation association”) company was created, later becoming the Nikikai Opera Foundation, and, in 2005, the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation. Finally, the New National Theatre, Tokyo (NNTT) was opened in 1997 specifically for the presentation of Western performing arts (Japan’s other five national theatres are all devoted to indigenous forms of theatre). It includes what is described as “the first Opera House in Japan designed specifically to stage opera and ballet,” and this 1,800-seat theatre (one of three NNTT stages) has, since 2007, been named Opera Palace. It was inaugurated in October 1997 with a specially commissioned opera by Japan’s most famous opera composer, Takeru by Ikuma Dan (1924-2001).

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Scene from Don Pasquale

Since Rosi’s Cavalleria, some clear patterns stand out. There has been an overwhelming preference for repertoire works in Italian, though these are interspersed with a good deal of Wagner, a smaller amount of Richard Strauss, and a few Japanese operas. Japanese opera singers need to be able to sing in Italian if they are to have viable careers. The canon has been conservative: it is unusual for any opera earlier than Mozart, or later than Puccini, to be performed; rare for lesser-known composers to be staged at all. Production styles have generally been conservative too – restrained and respectful, designed to foreground the work, not the director. The number of productions is surprisingly large, but the number of performances surprisingly small, suggesting that opera in Japan – a country of some 126 million people – has a small but loyal audience. And Tokyo has always been absolutely dominant. No other Japanese city has been able to establish itself as a significant base for opera, and regional productions tend to rely on bringing in a few star singers from Tokyo.

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Scene from Don Pasquale

There is no doubt that the NNTT has established itself as the jewel in the crown of Japan’s current operatic scene, and it is also, thankfully, breaking down the sort of insularity that, until very recently, made it almost impossible for anyone not resident in Japan, and not conversant with Japanese, to actually find out what productions were taking place here, and to obtain tickets for those productions. The NNTT now advertises its productions in English and sells tickets online, on an English website. And in October 2018 the new and very pro-international artistic director Kazushi Ono took the truly historic step of supplying surtitles in both Japanese and English, a practice which has become standard in the present season. There is certainly no longer any reason for foreign visitors to Japan, currently numbering around 30 million a year, not to enjoy the very high-quality productions the NNTT offers, and it has been encouraging to see an increasing number of non-Japanese faces in the audience. The NNTT’s English website is here

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Scene from Eugene Onegin

The current NNTT season began on 1 October with an unusual, very welcome excursion into Russian repertoire: Eugene Onegin directed by Dmitry Bertman. This was a new production made for the NNTT, but also a vintage one, for it was designed as a sort of homage to Konstantin Stanislavsky’s epochal 1922 production, enticingly reproducing some of the latter’s staging, centred on a very versatile, omnipresent, neo-classical portico structure. It was visually delightful and offered a striking, thought-provoking interpretative novelty by making Lensky clearly the author of his own fate: he ran forward into his opponent’s line of fire when Onegin was showing his contempt for the duel – and his humanity, too – by harmlessly discharging his pistol into the trees. There was a strong international cast with Vasily Ladyuk as Onegin, Evgenia Muraveva as Tatyana, Pavel Kolgatin as Lensky, and Alexey Tikhomirov as Prince Gremin; the rest of the cast and chorus was made up of Japanese singers. The conductor was Andriy Yurkevych, making his first appearance at the NNTT, and he led the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in a ravishing reading of the score. This was unquestionably the finest production of Onegin I’ve seen anywhere and a huge credit to all involved.

Scene from La traviata

The season continued on 9 November with Donizetti’s Don Pasquale in the Stefano Vizioli production first staged at La Scala in 1994, and subsequently widely performed in Italy. This was the first time the NNTT had staged Donizetti’s comic masterpiece. Given that most Japanese would not have seen the opera before, the program contained some rather surprising statements. “Of all the opera buffa in the standard repertory, Don Pasquale is quite possibly the hardest to love,” began Mark Pullinger’s introductory essay. “It is only in appearance that Don Pasquale is a jolly opera,” began Vizioli’s director’s notes. One feared the worst, but in fact Vizioli’s is an exuberant and refreshingly “straight” take on the opera, and in his hands it was both easy to love and jolly, though the Japanese audience didn’t seem as entertained as I expected. Clearly an opera concerning an old man developing silly fantasies about a young girl who doesn’t really exist, then getting roundly punished for them, can have a serious resonance in an age of internet dating scams and the #MeToo movement. It may be, too, that Japan’s own culture of silly, but disturbing, fantasising about supposedly “innocent” young schoolgirls (see for example: “Society helps sustain Japan's sordid sexual trade in schoolgirls” ) also conditioned the audience response. Roberto Scandiuzzi made a very fine Don Pasquale; Norina was sung by the young Armenian soprano Hasmik Torosyan; Dr. Malatesta by Biagio Pizzuti; and Ernesto by Maxim Mironov. All these principals sang and acted stylishly, conveying a delectable sense of intense self-interest, and there was an intriguing suggestion that the relationship between Norina and Malatesta was far from innocent. The smaller roles were taken by Japanese singers, and the choral scene in Act III became an extraordinarily lavish affair set in Don Pasquale’s kitchen. Corrado Rovaris conducted the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra with sparkling panache.

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Scene from La traviata

The third production of the new season, first staged on 28 November, was La Traviata – a third outing for Vincent Boussard’s production, originally designed for the NNTT in 2015. After the wonderful sets for Eugene Onegin and Don Pasquale, this seemed rather impoverished visually, relying heavily on some rather strange projections. For reasons I have been unable to fathom, Violetta’s party in the first act, and Flora’s in the second, were both set in the foyer of the Opéra Garnier, Paris, opened in 1875, a generation after the death of Marie Duplessis, the historical model for Violetta. But oh dear, the foyer of the Opéra Garnier in a rather ghostly projection AND a huge suspended chandelier! Surely, surely Boussard wasn’t trying to evoke The Phantom of the Opera, and yet it was hard to keep that annoyingly distracting thought out of one’s head. Musically, the production was a splendid advertisement for Japanese singing, for the unquestionable standout performance was local star Shingo Sudo as Giorgio Germont. His beautifully mellow, sonorous voice conveys a remarkable sense of conviction, and I think one result was that Germont’s viewpoint came to dominate the opera. This was the more the case in that Dominick Chenes made a rather ordinary, forgettable Alfredo, and in the performance I saw (1 December), Myrtò Papatanasiu as Violetta only really impressed in the third act, which was very affecting. Before that, her voice had sounded rather forced and screechy whenever volume was required. Ivan Repušić made his first appearance at the NNTT, conducting the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra with great authority.

The NNTT will start 2020 in a conservative fashion, with revivals of Jun Aguni’s production of La Bohème in January, of Josef Ernst Köpplinger’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia in February, and Damiano Michieletto’s Così fan tutte in March. But then in April comes Laurent Pelly’s production of Giulio Cesare, remarkably the NNTT’s first staging of a baroque opera on the main stage, and in June we can look forward to one of the most ambitious projects the NNTT has ever undertaken, a new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg directed by Jens-Daniel Herzog in a joint international production with The Salzburg Easter Festival, Semperoper, and Tokyo Bunka Kaikan: this is designed to tie-in with Japan’s hosting of the 2020 Olympics. It is a good time to be an opera lover in Japan, and in time I hope the NNTT will start using its lavish financial and artistic resources to mount the great, but neglected, operas not being given anywhere else.

David Chandler

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