Where’d he go??

Oh, dear.  A bit of a bloggin’ disaster.  Moving house got me out of the habit, out of the frame of mind, and out of the path of a computer for rather too long.  I do apologise, and especially to the two people who were kind enough to trouble themselves with comments on previous blogposts, which then sat in unloved cyberspace for two months.  Tsk tsk, not good enough.

And what of the operas that failed to be properly written up. I have to look back at my own season summary just to remind myself! They were:

Macbeth at the ROH: a fabulous second visit, enjoyed just as much as the first. Struck by something more shaded in Monastyrska’s voice, having adapted to power and incision.  Also, Keenlyside had grown on me, and I remember being more struck by his Macbeth this time around.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at ENO: the last time I saw this, I left at the interval.  The urge was nearly as strong this time around.  The first act dragged on through every prissy, glassy, brittle, arch, alienating little tic and hoot. So very clever, so very miserable. If it weren’t for being with a group, and for the remarkable production, I wouldn’t have stayed to see a marginally improved Act 2, but still I left with a sense of dissatisfaction with Britten’s take on Shakespeare.  All the performances were tremendous, and intense.  Shame the piece is so off-putting.

Madama Butterfly at ROH: unbelievably, for ca. 16 years of opera-going, my first ever Madama Butterfly.  It’s stunning.  I’ve always shied away from it, associating it with pretty operatic upholstery, but how wrong I was: all of Puccini’s dramatic flair is in evidence, plus a bit of musical comedy at the expense of the Star-Spangled Banner.  The first encounter with Kristine Opolais – our stand-in Butterfly – was as stunning as had been that with Monastyrska  – intense, sensitive (better acting), and with a laser-sharp, thrilling tone.  James Valenti was underpowered by comparison, however much he looked the part of Pinkerton, and Anthony Michaels-Moore brought pathos to Sharpless.

Peter Grimes at ROH: much better than expected, and Heppner was more able to deliver a convincing performance than I had feared.  There were a few uncomfortable moments vocally, but overall it was a rewarding performance.  Roocroft’s Orford was slightly less fully present than I remember her being at ENO, but it was a performance of her customary detail and intelligence.  The production worked well, save for a few hiccups with the door to the inn during the storm scene (voice off: “I can’t, it’s locked!”)  Jane Henschel and Catherine Wynn-Rogers kicked up a storm as Mrs Sedley and Auntie.

Die Walküre in Manchester (the Hallé and Mark Elder): a first encounter with the utterly astonishing Bridgewater Hall.  What an acoustic!  Those inky black silences.  Truly, it puts London to shame.  A rather weird cold collation of bits of Wagner performed by the orchestra to a dramatic story about the composer started things (think Roger Allam playing Richard Burton playing Wagner).  Then a less-than-white-hot first act, with Wälsung twins Yvonne Howard and Stig Andersen.  The next day, things took more convincing flight, with Susan Bullock as a gung-ho Brunnhilde and Susan Bickley a truly formidable Fricka.  Egils Silins grew in stature – and vocal heft – as the evening wore on, despite the announcement from Sir Mark that a replacement Wotan was hotfooting it up the M6 due to the threat of his indisposition.  I think I had my first ever disagreement with Sir Mark: I found some rather excessive and wilful pacing in certain ‘big moments’, most intrusively in the closing scene, which just seemed to grind to a near-halt.  Still, though: that Hall – unbelievable.

Cendrillon at the ROH: the mezzo-fest was a treat, a sumptuous evening of quirky production (of Laurent Pelly origins), convincing performances, rich orchestration and a group of singing actresses without parallel.  DiDonato, for once, didn’t stand out, she blended absolutely into an A-list cast that included Ewa Podlés, Alice Coote and Église Gutierrez.  The latter slinked about the stage as a very sassy Fairy Godmother; Coote was at her disturbingly gender-bending best as Prince Charmant.  And finally, a Massenet that I can enjoy – somehow, his crude musical dramaturgy fitted the fantastical story of Cinderella in a way that it doesn’t (for me) in more literalist stories, such as Werther and Manon.

So there we are.  That’s that summed up.  The new season approaches.  We’re settling into the new pad and getting used to the journey from central London (which will be our post-opera routine from now on).  I’ll try and get back into the routine…

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