Richard Strauss

A run of success

Fresh from the rather disappointing performance at the rather special Bayreuth Festspielhaus, it was back into Proms season and a run of tremendous performances in the dismal Royal Albert Hall… it would seem that the Albert Hall has a message for Bayreuth: you can have a special and well-designed theatre, but it ain’t much use if what you put on isn’t up to scratch. It goes without saying that all of these performances would have been that much more special in a better acoustic, but they still achieved rare levels of intensity in Kensington’s cavernous barn. (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…)

My week at the Metropolitan Opera

Lincoln Center - Metropolitan Opera House

The Metropolitan Opera House at night, as the audience files out of Madama Butterfly

I have just returned from New York, a trip that was based around celebrating a ‘significant’ birthday. During the 8-day stay, we took in five operas at the Metropolitan Opera House and, since I didn’t take a laptop with me, one post-trip round-up will capture thoughts on them all.

Overall, it was great to ‘live’ a different operatic experience for a week: everything about the Met is gargantuan, including (to be blunt) its own sense of self and the resulting hyperbole. In contrast, those fellow audience members with whom we chatted were reassuringly down-to-earth, and we had some great discussions, comparing notes on singers and performances across the Atlantic. And yet, from the security guards, to the rather prickly (and not particularly well-informed) backstage tour guide, to the social conventions around the front of house, it is all just slightly starchy when compared, dare I say it, to Covent Garden: more emphasis on a ‘sense of occasion’ than a night in the theatre, perhaps.  Maybe it’s the shades of all those Rockerfellers, Astors and Vanederbilts etched into the marble foyer. (more…)

Fabulous Frau

Having attended the Royal Opera’s Die Frau ohne Schatten twice, on Sunday, 23 March and Saturday, 29 March, I’m still at something of a loss to lay out my thoughts. I was captivated by it – Claus Guth’s production, the score and the performance of it – and still find myself going back to reflect on elements of the staging, and calling to mind snippets of the gorgeous orchestral swell of the score. (more…)

A sublime end to the season

21 July 2013 – I slept quite badly that night. My first live encounter (and first full-through encounter, for that matter) with Capriccio by Richard Strauss. I floated home completely transfixed and couldn’t go straight to bed. Whether the warmth or the power of the music, it seemed to be with me throughout the night as I drifted in and out of sleep, my mind having been completely switched on to abstruse aesthetic debates. Full moon without. The Mondscheinmusik within. Utterly intoxicating. (more…)

Glyndebourne’s Ariadne

Somewhat belatedly, I’m still musing on Glyndebourne’s Ariadne auf Naxos, seen on Tuesday, 4 June, so I just need to get some thoughts down. Apologies if it feels a bit disjointed.

Katharina Thoma’s production has had its fair share of detractors amongst critics, and with a modicum of justification. It’s interventionist, a faint whiff of Regietheater seeing it set in a country house, modelled on Glyndebourne, during the second world war. Dryad, Naiad and Echo are nurses tending to wounded soldiers during the opera. A bomb gets dropped in the gardens towards the end of the Prologue (well, if you will plan fireworks parties in the middle of the blitz, what do you expect?) In the Opera proper, all are shell-shocked and distressed, there is much assertive use of injections, for both bomb-ravaged soldiers and supposedly sex-crazed commedia dell’arte players (Zerbinetta also gets a straitjacket for good measure). Bacchus is a fighter pilot; I couldn’t quite tell you who Ariadne is in this concept. The composer prowls the stage watching his characters unfold in the opera but, in the process, blurring the divide between the imaginary and the all-too-literal. (more…)

South Bank festival kicks off with spectacular Strauss

The South Bank are embarking on a six-month festival tracing the development of C20th music, based on Alex Ross’s book The Rest is Noise. The London Philharmonic Orchestra are described as the ‘backbone’ of the endeavour and, fittingly, it was the LPO that kicked off the proceedings with a high-impact Strauss concert of both familiar and rarer fare. (more…)