ENO

Peter Grimes

David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes was new to ENO in 2009, with some of the same cast as this run, and looking back at my reflections I seem to have been impressed. If I am perhaps a little more reserved on second encounter, four years later, it is still a powerful account of Britten’s pre-eminent work. (more…)

Peter Grimes: ENO at the Proms

I’m pleased to be able to file a happy report from the Royal Albert Hall, following the disappointing Novello Prom and a Yeomen of the Guard that suffered for being on too hot a day, and viewed from the precipitous heights of the Balcony. The television relay confirms that as having been quite excellent, but I was unable to form a reasonable opinion on the night.

Pebbles on Brighton Beach

However, this time with the benefit of a side stalls (front row, near the stage) seat, this Grimes was pretty spectacular.  Largely the same cast as the ENO theatre run of 2009, minus in particular Gerald Finley’s Balstrode, it was as theatrical as if they had all just gathered themselves up and rushed round from the Coliseum that afternoon. (more…)

Another roundup

Have been a bit tardy in committing thoughts to keyboard.  So, recently:  Kat’a Kabanova; Fascinating Aida; Sweet Nothings.  Reasonably varied, n’est ce pas?

Kat’a:  brilliant performances, especially Patricia Racette as an assured but tortured Kat’a; well-paced; production lost some of its power through overdoing the caricature of Kabanicha and leaving too much draughty, empty space; from dress circle side, words were much more audible than usual at ENO.  A brilliant evening, all in all.

Fascinating Aida:  fabulously filthy in parts; touching in others; cleverly satirical throughout; overall enjoyment just the same as the last two times I saw that show

Sweet Nothings:  appallingly banal and irritating first act full of characters about which I couldn’t have cared less; more mature and interesting second act with a bit more development and interaction; clever production; tireless performances.

Sondheim on Saturday, hooray…  and thank God for bank holiday weekends…

The Elixir d’Amore at Anglo-Italian National Opera

Quite an evening.  One of those that seemed to spell disaster at the beginning, but turned out to be a triumph.

It started with the little slip of paper in the programme.  “John Tessier is unable to sing at tonight’s performance.  The role of Nemorino will be performed by Edgaras Montvidas.”  Then, as the lights went down, the Head of Casting duly trooped on stage.  John Tessier was unwell.  So was his understudy.  Murmurs from the audience.  “Oh, it gets worse,” he helpfully informed us.  The translation was new (more of that later) and no-one in the world knows it.  So Edgaras Montvidas would sing in Italian whilst everyone else sang English.  Oh, and our Belcore (David Kempster) was suffering from a viral infection but would stuggle on.

And that’s even before the curtain went up.

When it did go up, it revealed Jonathan Miller’s new 1950s staging (‘new’ in the sense of only two previous owners: NYCO and Royal Swedish Opera).  Adina’s Diner with a backdrop of wide-vista American horizons, all the men seemingly dressed as mechanics or somesuch.  The diner revolved at different points to reveal the petrol station forecourt into which Dulcamara’s car pulled, or a niche around the back for the  gossiping women alongside the loos.  This provided a bit of comic business in the scene where the women discuss rumours of Nemorino’s inheritance, with an occasional flush between phrases, and one woman emerging with her skirt in her knickers.

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A shattering Peter Grimes

This was a bit of a whimsical purchase – last minute (well, day before anyway), I grabbed the last pair of tickets available in the balcony at ENO on any date for Peter Grimes, on the strength of the reviews.  What a decision:  hoorah for spontaneity…

Absolutely fantastic, despite attempts to disrupt by the peasants around us (more anon…).  Skelton’s Grimes was a lost youth, never properly grown up.  His isolation was only enhanced, in my view, by the controversial aspects of the production, namely the rather excessive and odd treatment of the minor figures of the Borough.  They were very odd indeed at times, but that just seemed to contribute a dislocation that made Grimes’ own situation the more ambiguous – and tragic.

Felicity Palmer was tremendous as Mrs Sedley – and when she let loose in her monologue about murder being her interest, she was like a demented Miss Marple.  She crept malevolently around key scenes, and was her typical characterful and ‘present’ self.  Gerald Finley was also strong.  Is it me, or has everything I’ve seen him in recently required him to wear a coat draped over his shoulders without the arms through the sleeves?!  He carries it off well, anyhow!

But as Ellen Orford…  Amanda Roocroft was just amazing.  She just managed to capture the desperation, hope and piousness perfectly.  Her whispered ‘no!’ when Balstrode tells Grimes to take the boat out of sight was perfectly judged to bring home the shattering implications of Balstrode’s proposal.  Wonderous.  Dame Amanda, without hesitation…

I was also pleased to be reacquainted with the ENO orchestra which, under Gardner, were tremendous – I can scarcely remember hearing them so good.  The future is clearly bright for ENO.  But that doesn’t mean I can forgive the venue…

I’m sure that ENO needs a 2,800-seat auditorium to make the economics work, but it really is an alienating space if you can’t afford the top prices.   And the pricing is odd.  Essentially if you want to go beyond the phenomenally uncomfortable Balcony, the prices jump alarmingly.  At Covent Garden there are a range of options for different seats and, yes, they are more expensive, but at least you’re getting something that is reliably international.  If everything at ENO was like this Grimes, then all these gripes disappear.  It will still take a little while to banish memories of, for example, the Beito Don Giovanni and the lame Carmen, before I will be relaxed about splashing out £70+ for the better seats.

[And for the record, I liked the surtitles – they weren’t needed for most of it, but when I did need them, they were there.  Simple as that…]