Thomas Hampson

Ranging widely in scale and depth

A week of contrasts. From the superb, visceral intimacy of Macbeth at Blackheath Halls, to the grandeur of Simon Boccanegra at Covent Garden, and then on to the curiously overblown La Rondine, with an equally curiously underpowered heroine. (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…)

Two treats

Two marvellous musical treats today: one live, one recorded. 

At Covent Garden, Renée Fleming was displaying her Violetta in the fast-becoming-a-warhorse Richard Eyre production of La Traviata.  With Thomas Hampson and Joseph Calleja alongside, and Pappano in the pit, it was probably the best revival of that production I’ve seen, having seen pretty much all of them.  Indeed, interestingly, it’s not far off 15 years since that Gheorghiu debut, and a matter of weeks from my 15th year anniversary of attending Covent Garden, so to see the production being so well inhabited and delivering its not inconsiderable goods so efficiently was a real treat.

Fleming was wonderful.  I’ve always had a bit of scepticism about her doing anything other than grand aristocratic ladies (Marschallins, Countesses, that sort of thing).  There’s something in both voice and demeanour which seems regal and somehow detached.  She misses that febrile intensity that you get with a Mattila or even the early Gheorghiu.  The voice is glorious, though, and there is something almost thrilling simply in the technical security of it.  However, in this Traviata, I think she won me over to something else.

The first act was not her strongest.  Somehow, she couldn’t get coquettish and flighty, either vocally or in acting terms, despite the most detailed and ‘active’ presentation of the work of any singer to inhabit the role.  Her performance was a wealth of detail and activity, but she still sounded just a little bit too glamorous and smooth.  The second act was amazing, however, and the pathos that she generated, coupled with a continued attention to all of the acting demands, was tremendous.  The best I’ve seen, I think, in this most wonderful of all operatic passages.  Her third act continued in this vein, with some heartbreaking declamatory moments at, for example, ‘e tardi!‘ and ‘Gran Dio, morir si giovine…‘.  I think act two, in particular, of Traviata is more verismo than Tosca or Butterfly could ever be.
Calleja has a remarkably strong voice which was effortless listening, with good shading even if the acting wasn’t quite as full-on as his co-star.  One blog noted that “he’s a little too easily flattened by Hurricane Renee“, but the security of his voice is thrilling.  Hampson is a little more the Germont père than when last I saw/heard him, and delivered Di Provenza il Mar in a way which belied its usual mild dullness.
I was also full of admiration for Pappano’s conducting and the orchestral playing:  a red-blooded account of the score that struck me as more exciting, more nuanced than I’ve heard since Solti conducted the premiere of this production.  We’ll miss him when he moves on…!
And we get to see it again next Friday.  So indulgent…
And the other treat?  Dame Felicity Lott in Fallen Women & Virtuous Wives on DVD.  An odd project, seemingly, involving some enthusiastic patrons who have invited the great lady to their country pad and video’d the show she did for the Wigmore Hall (and on tour).  It’s an odd setting, with no audience and each number fading out at the end, so it has a surreal stagey quality which is not entirely unsuited to the content.  There’s also a different frock for nearly every number, from simple empire lines to accompany Wapping Old Stairs and Haydn, through to dramatically art deco numbers for Coward and Weill.  It is recorded at a low volume, which is a bit frustrating, but this is a minor carp when the quality of the performances are considered.  I have to confess to being somewhat partisan when it comes to Lott, I think she’s utterly wonderful.  There is something of real pathos in her style and a really direct simplicity, which this DVD just enhances.  I love her doing Noël Coward – anyone who brings his work to greater attention is a star in my book – as well as her way of changing the mood at the appropriate moment in, for example, Was bekam die Soldaten Weib.  Thoroughly recommended.  Haven’t watched the accompanying documentary about Sussex yet but looking forward to it…