Masterful Mastersingers

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Anyone coming afresh to the superlative performance of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at the Coliseum last night would be astonished to find out that the company behind it was facing such challenges as it is. English National Opera demonstrated in this one performance just how essential it is as a part of London’s operatic life. It was a performance of fresh immediacy, for once the English language translation absolutely sharpening its focus, and a production of inventive, well-observed detail. (more…)

L’Ormindo

There can hardly be a greater contrast between The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at English National Opera, which I’m about to head out to, and L’Ormindo performed in the warm intimacy of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre. The 340-seat theatre, tightly packed and lit exclusively by candlelight, is a perfect setting for early Baroque operas such as this one by Francesco Cavalli. Standing for £10 was a bargain on any measure, even if my days of standing through performances are rapidly running out. (more…)

Well-matured ham

It’s great to see the increasingly fervent Twitter commendations for Andrea Chénier at Covent Garden as the run reached its climax with the last night on 6 February.

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A love of old books

Title page to Virgil's Works, 1696

Title page to Virgil’s Works, 1696

Whether for their content, or simply as beautifully crafted objects, “old books” are undoubtedly a pleasure. In my modest collection the oldest is a copy of the works of Virgil dating to 1696. As someone who can’t read Latin, it’s never likely to be well-thumbed, a fact which is fortunate as the front cover increasingly loses its grip on the spine. Nonetheless, looking through it has thrown up some fascinating annotations which seem worth sharing.

First, the title page: set in red and black, so far as I can make out (and begging your pardon for the Latin translation and interpretation!) it says,

Virgil’s Works. Interpretation and notes illustrative by Charles de la Rue, Society of Jesus [Jesuit], by the command of the most Christian King, as for the use of the most serene Dauphin according to the latest edition of Paris. London, printed by A Swalle & T Childe at the sign of a unicorn, at the cemetery/churchyard of St Paul’s.

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Fervent, but not very revolutionary

Versailles: Galerie des Glaces [photo: Mark Tyson]

Versailles: Galerie des Glaces

I wasn’t expecting to see Covent Garden’s new Andrea Chénier until next weekend, but was cajoled into a last-minute returned Upper Slips ticket for last night. For various reasons – not least, that it was a long, long week – I’m glad I’ll have a second chance at it.

I don’t really know Andrea Chénier, other than as a couple of over-impassioned excerpts such as La mamma morta and the closing duet. Judging by some Twitter commentators, it’s a piece of rare delicacy that calls for the most carefully cultivated voices and a production of subtle delicacy, making the most of the myriad options for reinterpretation. To me, it looked – and sounded – like a loud, brash load of old ham: one of those operas that makes a good noise, but isn’t going to change your world.  (more…)

Bland Ballo

A monument at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey [photo: Mark Tyson]

Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey [photo: Mark Tyson]

Upheaval seems to be baked into Verdi’s 1859 opera Un ballo in maschera: it was begun as a tale about a Swedish king, shifted briefly (in conception) to Germany, then finally premiered as featuring colonial Boston. Now Katharina Thoma has shifted it to pre-First World War Austria-Hungary for Covent Garden’s new production. The assassination of Riccardo at the end is seemingly intended to evoke the spirit of events on the town hall steps in Sarajevo in June 1914.

Not that it matters, since this rather hammy melodrama streamrollers forth, paying no heed to the new window-dressing. Outer acts appear to look backward to the clunkier operations of Il Trovatore or Nabucco, whilst the central act in the ‘spooky’ graveyard has more of the developed, conversational writing on which Verdi’s reputation is more justly based. Picking up on the spooky graveyard theme, not to mention the supernatural invocations of fortune-teller Ulrica, Thoma has opted for an omnipresent pseudo-Gothic décor (minus the pointed arches, incidentally). When funerary monuments are not required, the cloisters and weighty doorframes are rearranged to form libraries, bedrooms, etc., but in essence most of the action, loosely directed, takes place in a wide open space in the middle of the stage. The graveyard scene did have some quite effective business with statuary coming to life to caress the distressed Amelia. Otherwise not particularly engaging, but I suppose not too offensive either. Given Covent Garden’s recent run of flirting with more interventionist directorial ideas, it’s at least a more benign form of failure for a new production. (more…)

When in Rome…

Last weekend was spent amidst the overwhelmingly abundant delights of Rome. Quite why I’m now, on my return, a bit worn out may be explained by the amount that we packed in to four days: Pantheon, Colosseum, Forum, Palatine, Castel Sant’Angelo, St Peter’s, Vatican Museum, Galleria Borghese, San Clemente, numerous smaller churches and a good deal of wandering around the streets of this fascinating city. Unsurprisingly, I’m still digesting it.

Teatro dell'Opera di Roma... nothing to see here, move along...

Teatro dell’Opera di Roma… nothing to see here, move along…

Sadly, there was nothing on at the Teatro dell’Opera to coincide with our visit, but we did get along to two musical events: one planned, the other impromptu. We had prebooked a concert by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in their newer home at the Parco della Musica at the north side of central Rome. And then, in our hotel, we picked up a leaflet for a ‘dinner-and-show’ package featuring La Traviata. Being at an otherwise loose end, we thought ‘why not?’ and booked it; it turned out to be surprisingly good. (more…)