Quick catch-up…

Programmes April 2015

It’s been a hectic old time the last few weeks, so capturing thoughts on performances has rather got forgotten. They’ve been a diverse bunch as well.

So, in brief:

Rise & Fall of the City of Mahagonny, ROH

Valiant attempt to bring it to the ROH stage, and they threw a lot at it in terms of production and ‘wraparound’ concept (much play on the finances of the opera audience, for example). Hampered, if not fatally wounded, by the decision to amplify voices but not singing – so each transition into a sung number sagged rather than raising the temperature as it should. Particularly a shame for Anne Sofie von Otter’s Widow Begbick. Enjoyable, would like to see again – along with much else by Weill – but perhaps in a smaller venue where the ‘edginess’ is easier to bring off.

Madama Butterfly, ROH

Revival of the Caurier/Leiser production – efficient at telling the story, with clean visuals. Brian Jagde a heroic cad as Pinkerton; Kristine Opolais reprised her Butterfly with intensity, but lacking a bit of projection compared to what I recall of the last outing. Nicola Luisotti generated the big, fulsome Puccini sound that carries the story to its tragic conclusion. An enjoyable revival.

Sweeney Todd, ENO

The ‘staged concert’ version of the piece, originally conceived for the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, arrived at English National Opera. A great way to present it without full staging – all of the props were either orchestral instruments, or bits pertaining to the theatre (on of the Coliseum seats, for example, for the barber’s chair). They didn’t make the same mistake as for Mahagonny, and all was amplified throughout. Bryn Terfel slightly overpowered the amplification system in his more dramatic outbursts, and otherwise presented well his brooding take on the damaged title character. As Mrs Lovett, Emma Thompson threw herself at the chirpily grotesque character, perhaps a little too ‘stagey’ in places, but relishing the comedy, and singing far more confidently than I had expected when listening to her in interviews – By the Sea, and Wait were both beautifully executed. Philip Quast was an imposing Judge Turpin, Rosalie Craig an unusually rounded character as the Beggar Woman, Alex Gaumond a suitably greasy Beadle Bamford and John Owen-Jones mined the comedy of preposterous Pirelli. Matthew Seadon-Young, Katie Hall and Jack North brought attractive voices to the younger roles. David Charles Abell kept the thrill alive in the score even through the comedy, and the ENO orchestra were on superlative form, rendering Sondheim’s score with more diversity of colour than I’ve heard for a long time.

Philharmonia Orchestra, Martin Helmchen (piano), Paavo Järvi:
Haydn Symphony No 88; Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5; Nielsen Symphony No 4

A stunning concert. After an unfashionably fruity Haydn 88 that nonetheless revelled in Haydn’s rhythmic vivacity, Helmchen joined the orchestra for an Emperor concerto that was beautifully rendered, but about which I was left pondering on whether they had quite worked together to achieve it. I was often ‘keyed in’ to the orchestra much more than the piano playing, which somehow didn’t feel like it picked up seamlessly from the orchestral passages. The second half, however, was a utter storm. All of the forceful energy of Nielsen’s ‘inextinguishable’ symphony was present, the Philharmonia thrillingly powering through climax after climax, timpani battling away as the final restatement of the main theme brought things to an unsteady, ambiguous close. Fabulous stuff – and sitting in the choir it was thrilling to be so close. A special mention as well to Wendy Thompson, who contributed a programme note on the symphony which beautifully brought to life the concept behind the symphony.

Il Turco in Italia, ROH

A sunny but not overly sparkling revival of the Caurier/Leise production. Aleksandra Kurzak returned as Fiorilla, singing with brilliance and acting with a lovely, insouciant flirtiness. Alessandro Corbelli was his incomparable self in the buffo role of Don Geronio; Ildebrando d’Arcangelo swaggered as Selim; Barry Banks prioritised the comedy of Don Narciso; and Thomas Allen gave a great veteran’s turn as Prosdocimo. Rachel Kelly and Luis Gomes sang beautifully as Zaida and Albazar. Evelino Pidò led an airy and energetic account of the score. The production’s bright colours and simplistic stage use did wear a little thin after a while, and looks a little cheaply executed. The ball scene, with its quick change of mood, comes almost too late, but helps to pick up the pace again. Not top-flight Rossini, but Turco gives an evening of chuckles and enough of the Rossinian musical swagger to hold the interest.

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