A little local disappointment

The first non-music, non-opera post since I revamped the blog. My blog isn’t the only thing to undergo a facelift, though hopefully my blog’s is for the better compared to this alternative example.

As I trundle up to Norwood Junction of a morning, and back of an evening, my bus takes me up Portland Road. You may know Portland Road, a once-bustling local high street which is now fallen on distinctly hard times. That gives it an immediate heritage interest: there are small traces of its busy commercial past to be found in a series of façades which look, at casual glance, scrappy and irregular. That’s local history. Recently, one of those façades has changed.



Temple of Athena, Rhodes

Another new production at the Royal Opera House; another unsatisfying evening in the theatre. Much has been said about Martin Kušej’s new production of Idomeneo, mostly about the shark. In many respects the shark was the least of its problems.

By the interval (by which time the shark had made its appearance) I was feeling relatively well-disposed towards the production. It was one of those standard grey-white walls, unspecified-villains-in-trenchcoats, bewildered-peasantry-in-50s-ish-modern-dress affairs. Much use was made of the revolve, as different empty room configurations swung into view. The basic theme was of dystopian civilisation in which the libretto’s references to Neptune are applied to a sort of cult which demands his worship: hence the shark becomes some sort of ritualistic maritime offering. By the interval, though creaking a bit at the seams, it was holding together passably well. (more…)

All hail Madame Rose

Chichester Festival Theatre - Gypsy title image

Chichester Festival Theatre – Gypsy title image

Back from a weekend in delightful Chichester – a place I’ll definitely be back to and not only for the wonderful hospitality of the friend we were visiting. Our first, flying visit was memorable not least for an absolutely sensational performance of the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical, Gypsy.

Jonathan Kent used the thrust stage to great effect, and from our £15 side stalls seats (stunning value!) we were able to enjoy the show with relatively little compromise. It was fast-paced, sassy and touching. A lovely transition, mid-dance number, between the ‘Baby June/Baby Louise’ and the older daughters was well-executed and gave comic effect to the tiresome sense of the poor things having been doing the same old shtick for years. (more…)

Winter’s icy blast at the Wigmore

Snowy Path (Krakow, Poland)

On Saturday, I attended an interesting study day at the Wigmore Hall, entitled Capturing a Moment: the Art of Photographing Music and based around the fantastic career of Clive Barda. If you have anything at all to do with classical music and opera, you’ve seen Barda’s work: he’s probably the foremost photographer of musicians, both on stage (for formal rehearsal photographs, for example) and off stage.

He was charmingly straightforward as he talked about the interpersonal – as opposed to technical – aspects of his photographic art. A film retrospective, directed by Philippe Monnet, was part of the day and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in music and opera.  There’s a Youtube trailer that’s certainly worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time:

One slight snag with the day was that the Wigmore was a little chilly, which led to an idle speculation that the cold desolation of the previous night’s winter’s journey had somehow lingered into the Saturday. Friday night had seen the second of Simon Keenlyside’s Winterreise performances, with Emmanuel Ax accompanying. It was astounding in its intensity and raw power.


I due Foscari

Window on the Ca' Foscari, Venice. John Ruskin, plate VIII from The Seven Lamps of Architecture

Window from the Ca’ Foscari, Venice. John Ruskin, plate VIII from The Seven Lamps of Architecture

Not an evening to provoke wild enthusiasm. Verdi’s 1844 opera struck me as being some long way short of his later masterpieces, whether or not a particularly persuasive case was made for it. Its greatest virtue was brevity: 111 minutes of run time, and a half hour interval. The half hour of chatting was more eventful, frankly. (more…)

Walküre above a pub

Act 1, Die Walküre, Rosemary Branch Theatre

Act 1, Die Walküre, Rosemary Branch Theatre (excuse the ropey iPhone picture!)

Off to the Rosemary Branch Theatre this afternoon for a couple of hefty chunks of Wagner’s Die Walküre, and rather fantastic it was too.

The New London Opera Players are at the venue performing two shows: this cut-down version of Die Walküre (Act 1 and the close of Act 3) and CarMen, an all-male version of Bizet’s sunny romp. Walküre was a very successful undertaking. The Rosemary Branch is small, probably even by ‘theatre-above-pub’ standards, and so big Wagner voices make a heck of a noise, but it was wonderful to revel in the sonic power at close quarters, and all performers were well able to shade and shape their performance even in this constricted space.  (more…)

Rigoletto back with a bang

Discounting the dreadful Anna Nicole, to which wild horses couldn’t drag me back a second time, the Royal Opera’s season opened with Verdi’s dark 1851 masterpiece, Rigoletto. On 27 September, it was a full-blooded performance of Italian vigour, and definitely one to blow the cobwebs away.

Maurizio Benini was on duty in the pit, driving the orchestra hard whilst still allowing space for the singers: the contrast was thrilling as the big set piece act-closers hoved into view… The storm of act 4 – surely one of Verdi’s most atmospheric effects, with the chorus providing the howling wind to follow the orchestral thunderclaps – was beautifully, hauntingly realised. The orchestra played wonderfully throughout, with particularly characterful brass and woodwind contributions and some very threatening timpani. (more…)