What a treat for my first Prom of 2018! I’ve tried to get under the skin of Claude Debussy’s only full-length opera Pelléas et Mélisande with recordings but it’s not easy. Tonight’s semi-staged prom performance got me past that block. And what a treat it was, a full Glydebourne Festival cast with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robin Ticciati. Pelléas et Mélisande isn’t an opera to which you can close your eyes and let the music take you there but, happily, we now get surtitles, even in the Albert Hall.
Vienna’s Golden Hall, the Musikverein, is renowned as one of the world’s best concert acoustics. It’s a shoe-box design with a raised and raked stage, hard plaster walls with much detail, both windows and podiums but also smaller cameos and so much ornamentation, much of it gold. The seating has wooden backs and isn’t stunningly plush. A similar architectural design to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and quite different to a modern concert hall designed on acoustic principles.
We’ve enjoyed the New Year’s Day concerts via the relay on Eurovision, initially as radio, sometimes as high definition television with surround sound, although this seems to be no longer available to the BBC. But the question is what would an orchestra actually sound like to a listener seated in the hall. No matter the only concert available on my schedule is a tourist programme, not being a full on concert meant it was possible to obtain reasonable seats.
The Nutcracker at Covent Garden. They don’t do pantomime of course, this is as near as they get in the Royal Opera House. Peter Wright’s choreography of Tchaikovsky’s ballet score is very family-friendly, there’s a live television relay worldwide of tonight’s performance and showings on television over the festive season. So what’s the point of being here in the theatre?
However much the technology improves, it doesn’t replicate the thrill of seeing these major performers just over there, direct line of sight, nothing in between. There’s no mediation: you see, sense and feel the performance as it is, in its entirety. For ballet it’s about the physicality too, these moves are athletic in the extreme, the concentration and the physical effort communicates directly to us, human to human, both the soloists and in the group pieces - tonight we had principals plus up to two dozen dancers all performing detailed, complicated dances in character with huge grace and in pretty near perfect synchrony.
Marseille Municipal Opera sounds like a paradox and it is: this was a very enjoyable performance with a memorable tenor in a new production of Massenet’s Hérodiade, a co-production with another French regional opera, St. Etienne. L’Opéra de Marseille has a long history dating from 1787. The art deco foyer and glorious marbled proscenium faced in pink marble with red veins are the result of reconstruction in the 1920s following a fire. The acoustics are good as a listener, quite clear. An old auditorium, high and wide rather than deep.
Covent Garden market, the buskers playing a Mozart Flute Quartet, who knows if the adjacent production of The Magic Flute influenced their choice of repertoire.
Inside the opera house the familiar chords at the start of the Overture, laden with symbolism and foreboding presage some of Mozart’s most magical music. Curtain up on tonight’s revival of the 2003 production designed by John Macfarlane.