Felicity Palmer

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…)

It surely doesn’t get any better…?

Italian opera, composed for the French traditions of opera comique, performed by some of the world’s leading exponents, singing and acting at the top of their game, in a funky, bright, clear, witty production with one of the world’s finest opera companies providing chorus and orchestra.  Maybe the sun has got to me over the weekend, but La Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden struck these eyes and ears as damn-nigh perfect.

Oh, alright, there are a few quibbles.  The orchestral playing started a little ragged; the lead tenor may have over-milked some of the big moments; the lead soprano may have given the impression of sailing a little close to the edge; you could carp about a well-known British comedienne overdoing it in the cameo role; maybe the old bat was a bit less old-battish than the last occupant of the role; and maybe there is a lingering doubt that the material is all being held up by the sheer energy with which it’s being attacked.  But all of those niggles really don’t tarnish a bright, shiny, fabulous evening… (more…)

Modernism in all its glory

This week, as if to lighten the January gloom, I had the chance to experience two sharp doses of modernism.  Both were performances of the very highest quality, and in different ways they both left their mark.

Firstly, back on Sunday evening I managed to score two tickets to The Waste Land at Wilton’s Music Hall.  The production has quite a pedigree, having toured the world and having marked the reopening of Wilton’s Music Hall back in 1996 when the venue was starting out on the road to recovery and was in a more parlous state even than it is now.  For these purposes, however, the venue is perfect, and the air of decayed splendour seems to suit the stifled atmosphere of the poem.

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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…]