Simon Keenlyside

Winter’s icy blast at the Wigmore

Snowy Path (Krakow, Poland)

On Saturday, I attended an interesting study day at the Wigmore Hall, entitled Capturing a Moment: the Art of Photographing Music and based around the fantastic career of Clive Barda. If you have anything at all to do with classical music and opera, you’ve seen Barda’s work: he’s probably the foremost photographer of musicians, both on stage (for formal rehearsal photographs, for example) and off stage.

He was charmingly straightforward as he talked about the interpersonal – as opposed to technical – aspects of his photographic art. A film retrospective, directed by Philippe Monnet, was part of the day and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in music and opera.  There’s a Youtube trailer that’s certainly worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time:

One slight snag with the day was that the Wigmore was a little chilly, which led to an idle speculation that the cold desolation of the previous night’s winter’s journey had somehow lingered into the Saturday. Friday night had seen the second of Simon Keenlyside’s Winterreise performances, with Emmanuel Ax accompanying. It was astounding in its intensity and raw power.


Rigoletto back with a bang

Discounting the dreadful Anna Nicole, to which wild horses couldn’t drag me back a second time, the Royal Opera’s season opened with Verdi’s dark 1851 masterpiece, Rigoletto. On 27 September, it was a full-blooded performance of Italian vigour, and definitely one to blow the cobwebs away.

Maurizio Benini was on duty in the pit, driving the orchestra hard whilst still allowing space for the singers: the contrast was thrilling as the big set piece act-closers hoved into view… The storm of act 4 – surely one of Verdi’s most atmospheric effects, with the chorus providing the howling wind to follow the orchestral thunderclaps – was beautifully, hauntingly realised. The orchestra played wonderfully throughout, with particularly characterful brass and woodwind contributions and some very threatening timpani. (more…)

A romping good Faust

David McVicar’s Faust was back on the Royal Opera stage, and in rather good form. Gothic backdrops, a scene in the Cabaret L’Enfer, the Les Mis-style tricolore-waving crowd number, and Méphistophélès rocking up in a black diamanté-encrusted ball gown, all added to the fun. Throw in a few acrobatic shirtless demons for Méphistophélès’ retinue from the standard McVicar toolbox – as well as his characteristic concern for acting details, nicely recreated by revival director Bruno Ravella – and a long evening wasn’t quite as long as expected. (more…)

Keenlyside at the Barbican

A thoroughly grown-up concert, this one… Even Keenlyside himself described it as being ‘suicidal’, so dark and despairing were many of the choices. It was, however, a very rewarding recital, with great variety of musical style, delivered with tremendous artistry. (more…)

Modified Rapture

Two events in the past week or so, each presenting something to chew on… (more…)

A bit of magic back in the old Flute

Die Zauberflöte cast sheet Colin Davis dedicationA revival of David McVicar’s gloomy-but-not-intrusive production of Die Zauberflöte doesn’t really get the blood rushing these days; in the event it was shot through with excellent performances that added up to one of the best revivals of this production I can recall. This was particularly pleasing in a run dedicated to Sir Colin Davis. (more…)

Tardy thoughts: Parsifal and Eugene Onegin

With relative brevity, given the lack of currency, my thoughts on my last two musical outings: to the Met Parsifal, relayed (with some disappointment) to the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley; and before that to the last performance of the run of Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House, which was also not without its frustrations. 

The Met’s production seemed measured, expansive and non-intrusive.  The barren expanses of the outer acts were accompanied by massive projections of swirling, angry skies and mystical planets rising up from the horizon in the manner of Melancholia.  For the second act, Klingsor’s enchanted garden was a little less than enchanting, but taken on its own terms it was a relatively well executed confrontation, and the lake of blood soaking up the white shift-dresses of the Flowermaidens was a striking image. (more…)