Antonio Pappano

Tell me more…

Red Apple. [Creative Commons: Abhijit Tembhekar]

Tell’s famous shooting of the apple on Jemmy’s head was a brilliantly realised theatrical trick. [Creative Commons: Abhijit Tembhekar]

Having seen it at Sunday’s matinee, my thoughts about the Royal Opera’s new Guillaume Tell (production by Damiano Michieletto) will not rank amongst the more fulminating of the online debate. In short: musically stellar; visually interesting-tending-to-the-inert; dramatically stimulating. Notably, I didn’t find it – and that much-commented-upon sexual assault scene – particularly offensive.

I had expected to hate it. The way it was described conjured up the Royal Opera’s truly horrendous production of Rusalka, or the dull and pretentious Idomeneo. Both of those were in a league apart in terms of clumsy over-conceptual plot-handling and poor visuals. The atmosphere of Tell was well-established by the mud floor and general air of bleak oppression (however difficult it is to project a voice over so unreverberant a surface). On the night I had placed it in that miserable indefinably-somewhere-between-50s-and-70s period, but in fact it was set around World War 1, so my programme tells me. Chairs in abundance, against which much violence was wrought. Visible, hung strip-lighting as well. Baddies in combats wielding guns. It was not entirely cliché-free.  (more…)

Uneasy lies the head…

Duomo di Firenze, Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

Duomo, Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore, Firenze; Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

It’s a tricky one, don’t you find? When you’re struggling to maintain your grasp on regal power because the anonymous, writhing naked men dwelling in the depths of your psyche simply won’t stop distracting you. They become particularly lively, and things reach a particularly feverish and catastrophic pitch, when a so-called prophet rides into town promising all sorts of pleasures…

Thus runs, broadly, the theme (it’s not so much a plot) of Szymanowski’s Król Roger, at least in Kasper Holten’s well-judged production at Covent Garden. At last, a new production at Covent Garden that can be considered a fairly comprehensive success. The monumental head, filling the stage, starts out as some sort of totem of established worship, framed within a galleried set. As it turns, it reveals a metaphorical chamber, with enlightenment above (symbolised by piles of books) and the aforementioned baser elements slithering in the depths. This colossal stage-picture allowed the themes of Szymanowski’s opera to be very well elucidated: pulses of movement in the sensual depths accompanied each hint of King Roger’s seamier psychological undercurrents, until things disintegrated completely and broke free from the central cranium. Knowledge, again symbolised by books, was destroyed in a flaming pyre in the third act, giving way to the pursuit of pure pleasure – except for Roger, who sees a possibility of rebuilding a more meaningful life.  (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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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…)

Music in the Christmas countdown…

Christmas Day afternoon at South Norwood Lake

Christmas Day afternoon at South Norwood Lake

In the middle of November the days off at Christmas seem to take ages to arrive; in the middle weeks of December there seems to be no time at all as they career towards us. And then they appear to be over in a flash – or, perhaps, a haze – of social activity. By which I mean to own up to not having written up a couple of good musical events in those hectic pre-festive weeks.

One, in particular, was better than good: it was absolutely in a category where only superlatives will do. The last night of Tristan und Isolde at Covent Garden was the sort of performance that stays with you for a very long time, in fact I strongly suspect it is unlikely to be surpassed for its singing in my future opera-going. We had seen the first night, which was something wonderful, but by the end of the run the performance had cohered into something which was nothing short of transcendent.   (more…)

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…)

2013/14 – and 20 years – out on a high…

A busy 13 July 2014: Ariadne Boheme programmes

A busy 13 July 2014

A flurry of activity, and a trip to Switzerland, meant I never had a moment to capture thoughts on the two final performances of 2013/14 ROH season: both on the same day, La Bohème and Ariadne auf Naxos. Both were splendid.

We hadn’t gone for the supposedly ‘starrier’ cast, with Gheorghiu reprising her Mimì and Vittorio Grigolo playing Rodolfo, largely because I’ve become rather apathetic towards Gheorghiu, her cancellations and her increasingly staid artistry, especially after a most disappointing La Rondine a couple of years back. Instead, we went for the pairing of Ermonela Jaho and Charles Castronovo, both on fine form and taking part in a revival of John Copley’s production that was revived with a very welcome attention to the details. It’s ironic that the revival that comes immediately before its final outing next year should appear so fresh.  Jaho captured Mimì’s vulnerability wonderfully; Castronovo was in fulsome voice; Cornelius Meister made a great impression, with a reading of warmth and drama. The ensemble came together finely for the comic shenanigans, Markus Werba in particular a fine Marcello and the Musetta of Simona Mihai being more successful than many an exponent of the role, making Quando m’en vo more than a minor diversion. A wonderful afternoon. (more…)