Reasons to be cheerful

Catching up on the last four performances I’ve attended (on the past two weekends), allows for a pleasant – if brief – celebratory post.

1. Dame Felicity Lott’s Farewell Solo Recital, Wigmore Hall, 15 November

Of course, this great artist’s farewell to anything or anywhere is not a cause for celebration per se, but any concert which marks such a wonderful contribution to music most certainly is. 40 years of performance – almost – and such a notable contribution to the artistic life of the Wigmore Hall (think the Songmaker’s Almanac), was wonderfully marked by this great singer, accompanied by Graham Johnson. A free glass of bubbly topped off the heady atmosphere.  The programme was varied: Schumann to Strauss, Offenbach to Britten, some wonderful French chansons, and Bernstein’s Take Care of this House as a touchingly personal final encore. It was lovely to glimpse again that very special ‘interior’ suppressed anguish that Lott is (to my sensibilities) almost unique in being able to convey, alternating with a comedy that marvellously subverts her statuesque English reserve. She’s a marvel: I had to nip home and watch scenes from the Kleiber Rosenkavalier.

2. HMS Pinafore – all male – at the Union Theatre, Southwark, 16 November

The latest in Sasha Regan’s series of all-male G&S productions stepped aboard HMS Pinafore, in the intimate surrounds of the Union Theatre. They did the work proud, sharpening its blades and bringing a fizzing energy to the proceedings. It is fantastic seeing such a contemporary reinterpretation of these works, which yet remain so respectful to the original sharp-but-good-humoured spirit of composer and librettist. All of the principal characters carried themselves forward on their own momentum. David McKechnie commanded his scenes (as well the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy might), walking a comedy tight rope to get the most from lines such as a delicious “a top man is a most exalted station!”, but retaining enough essential grounding to be able to bring off the quick mood-switch at the end as he rounds on the hero who would steal his bride-to-be. The Captain Corcoran of Ben Vivian-Jones was a spritely foil. The lovers were touchingly played by Tom Senior (Ralph) and Bex Roberts (Josephine), and Ciarán O’Driscoll combined fabulously dry delivery of spoken dialogue with a fruity contralto for Buttercup. The whole thing was beautifully conjured up through inventive use of the Union’s railway-arch space, fast and sure choreography and, well… frankly… some quite disarmingly attractive young men. Surely that’s not what G&S has been missing all these years…?

3. Britten at 100 celebration, the Union Chapel, Islington, 22 November

The music-making here may have been of more ‘serious’ a hue, but The Sixteen and Harry Christophers contributed a touching and suitably thoughtful programme to the Britten centenary celebrations on the great man’s birthday. This astonishing singing ensemble, occasionally augmented by an instrument or two, demonstrated Britten’s deft combination of simple poetic concepts, such as in the five Flower Songs, with rich and complex settings. It felt very ‘cleansing’, somehow: some honest and sincere music-making, shorn of some of the hullabaloo that greeted the Wagner celebrations. A wonderful encore was Britten’s setting of Randall Swingler’s Advance Democracy, with a number of lines that seemed strikingly contemporary.  A rousing audience-involving chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ wouldn’t have gone amiss, but that would have been hullabaloo…

4. Euryanthe at Cadogan Hall: Chelsea Opera Group, 23 November

Grosser Eutiner See

Großer Eutiner See, Eutin, Schleswig-Holstein – birthplace of Carl Maria von Weber

What is not to love about Carl Maria von Weber? And what a privilege to hear a work I only knew in the occasional snippet. Euryanthe was Chelsea Opera Group’s latest offering at the Cadogan Hall. It was sadly only half full, for after a rather slow-burn first act, the piece really took off with the kind of inventive company numbers and lyrical arias and duets that really made me regret the relative absence of Weber’s works from London’s theatres. I gather Herheim is slated to direct Freischütz at Covent Garden in a year or so… let’s hope we get to revel in just a bit of the special atmosphere of that landmark work.

Kristin Sharpin sang a fine title role, glorious, firm and bright. Her dramatic instincts were good, even when pitched against the eye-flashing drama conjured up by Camilla Roberts as Eglantine, Euryanthe’s bitter adversary who seems destined to develop into Ortrud. The vacillating lover, Adolar, was played by Jonathan Stoughton who, after a slightly tentative, nervous-sounding start, grew into a more heroic stature. Stephen Gadd was sensitive to the line whilst singing incisively as the villainous Lysiart. With Richard Wiegold commanding but humane as the King, and Melinda Hughes singing a brief but enchanting Berta, it became throughly captivating. Cameron Burns conducted, perhaps just edging off the forward thrust occasionally too much, but chorus and orchestra performed fantastically.

A remarkably uplifting evening.

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