Richard Wagner

Masterful Mastersingers

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Anyone coming afresh to the superlative performance of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at the Coliseum last night would be astonished to find out that the company behind it was facing such challenges as it is. English National Opera demonstrated in this one performance just how essential it is as a part of London’s operatic life. It was a performance of fresh immediacy, for once the English language translation absolutely sharpening its focus, and a production of inventive, well-observed detail. (more…)

Walküre above a pub

Act 1, Die Walküre, Rosemary Branch Theatre

Act 1, Die Walküre, Rosemary Branch Theatre (excuse the ropey iPhone picture!)

Off to the Rosemary Branch Theatre this afternoon for a couple of hefty chunks of Wagner’s Die Walküre, and rather fantastic it was too.

The New London Opera Players are at the venue performing two shows: this cut-down version of Die Walküre (Act 1 and the close of Act 3) and CarMen, an all-male version of Bizet’s sunny romp. Walküre was a very successful undertaking. The Rosemary Branch is small, probably even by ‘theatre-above-pub’ standards, and so big Wagner voices make a heck of a noise, but it was wonderful to revel in the sonic power at close quarters, and all performers were well able to shade and shape their performance even in this constricted space.  (more…)

Bayreuth 2014: Tannhäuser.

A long post… Jump through the post if you want to skip ahead…

Festspielhaus Acoustic Tannhäuser
Festspielhaus Bayreuth - facade

Festspielhaus Bayreuth – facade

We are just back from a delightful driving holiday around Germany, the intended culmination of which was to be our first visit to the hallowed Green Hill for a performance – we had previously been for a day trip to the town. Our opera of choice was Tannhäuser, because it coincided with my partner’s birthday. We took advantage of the new policy for a select number of performances to go on sale for internet booking, a policy which was, as far as I can tell, forced upon the Festival organisers by the German Government, fed up with Bayreuth’s fabled inaccessibility in return for its federal and state subsidies. This was to join a select group of performances (mostly otherwise Glyndebourne) for which we paid, by quite some margin, more than we would normally. However, at €160 a ticket, we know we were going to a unique place, to experience something for which the magic derived from the location, the building and the history, as much as the performance itself.

Which is just as well – but we’ll come to that shortly. The first impressions, having arrived from the stunning city of Bamberg on the morning of the performance and having checked into our hotel, were to remind us that the town goes completely Wagner-doolally during Festival season. The hotel (the Ramada Residenzschloss: recommended) was entirely geared up to cater for Wagner-goers: free glass of sekt whilst you wait for the laid-on free bus transfer; meals available before the opera, or after, or packed up for you to take to enjoy during the hour-long intervals; Wagner busts, pictures, posters and statues aplenty. This continues into town, where no pharmacist, bookshop or outfitters can seemingly resist a Wagner-themed window display. You wouldn’t have thought there were enough knick-knacks to go around. For nine months of the year, this is evidently a town whose attics all heave with carefully bubble-wrapped Wagneralia. (more…)

A magical Parsifal

Curtain Call at Parsifal

Curtain call at Parsifal, showing the basic set with woodland surrounding a geometric playing space and the Grail ‘cube’.

I’m not sure Parsifal has ever quite worked this spell on me. It’s entirely possible I was just ‘in that zone’ and receptive to its very special charms. However, I also think that this was one of the most successful new productions Covent Garden has had for some time. Whilst Stephen Langridge’s production is not without flaws, in comparison to a number of recent new productions on London’s stages, it is something of a triumph. With a very strong cast – and some notably outstanding and character-redefining performances – it was a special evening indeed. (more…)

Callow and Wagner

Richard Wagner (creative commons/Wikimedia)

Richard Wagner (creative commons/Wikimedia)

Went to see Inside Wagner’s Head in the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House last night, and thought it a thoroughly engaging one-man show. It told Wagner’s life story, in broad outline, over nearly two hours without a break.  Very congenial, interestingly discursive, and it had just the right balance between historical speculation and a sound factual basis for the narrative. As an example, there was a neat bit of artistic licence in Callow’s choice of a northern British accent for the Saxony-born composer, added a dash of ‘grit’ to Wagner’s operatic iconoclasm. But it was infused with a glorious enthusiasm; and, quite frankly, it was an astonishing feat just to be able to remember all the words. (more…)

Half a Ring at the Proms

There’s relatively little I can add to the general chorus of celebration surrounding the Ring Cycle led by Daniel Barenboim at the Proms last week.  Essentially, all the superlatives have been taken, and there are none left for me at this point. Some brief observations, then… (more…)

Proms Tristan & Isolde

A storm broke somewhere in the distance during the second act of the Proms’ Tristan und Isolde, but the physical atmosphere inside the Royal Albert Hall remained resolutely Im Triebhaus until the bitter end: the musical atmosphere kept up a moderate heat as well. (more…)