Music

St. John's, Bassenthwaite, Cumbria

A full house for the opening concert of the 11th Bassenthwaite Festival at St, John’s Church. Bassenthwaite in Cumbria is a village at the foot of Skiddaw (931 m,) England’s fourth highest mountain. David Gibbs’ introductory remarks as Director introduced a festival programme featuring the work of just one composer, the British composer Henry Purcell (1659-95). This opening concert included a semi-staged performance of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, two odes and two instrumental pieces.

Read more: Dido & Aeneas: Bassenthwaite Festival

An accomplished and enthusiastic performance of a challenging programme to an attentive audience by the Doric Quartet at The Theatre by the Lake, Keswick as part of Keswick Music Society's season.

An unexpectedly intense musical experience at the end of a day of hiking in the spring sunshine was both a surprise and a pleasure. BBC Radio3 was broadcasting the concert live, a first for Keswick,  presumably made feasible by the recent arrival here of a fibre optic internet connections.

Read more: The Doric Quartet - Keswick Music Society

This was a great night at the Royal Opera. Spectacular singing not just of the first class but exceptional at the international level and showcased in a bright new production that added to the understanding of the story. Enrico Carouso sang Andrea Chénier, the title role, here at Covent Garden for two performances in July 1907 in a revival of the production of 1905, those performances must have been similarly thrilling in the style of those times.

Andrea Chénier has a reputation as one of those operas which gives grand opera a bad name but in an immensely pleasurably way. Umberto Giordano wrote Andrea Chénier a couple of decades before World War 1, at the time of the French Belle Époque, but looking back at the French revolution, then a century previously. Royal Opera’s new production uses detailed, luscious period costumes and a cameo ballet.
 
Jonas Kaufmann as Andrea Chénier is the star tenor everyone has paid to see and hear, and he delivered. At times sweet, strong, dramatic, innocent and idealist. Believably potentially carnal and equally believably never having known love. His duets thrilling in the way only Italian opera delivers. Giondano was a successor to Verdi but signed to a rival publisher to Puccini’s; he gives us but one or two big numbers in each act but they are magnificent.

Read more: Andrea Chénier - The Royal Opera

Uncomfortable production this, at least at tonight’s First Night. Christine Rice’s Jenny’s song was the highlight for me but otherwise international standard opera singing feels wrong in most of Weil’s music, despite Kobbé and others’ argument that The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is opera.  Brechts’ slogan-shouting Marxism is too literal for this to be an ironic contrast nor does this production play on the satire.

The Royal Opera House made over like the National Theatre (programme sellers in production t-shirts, credits list pasted to the walls in the foyer and projection of spoof Mahagonny advertising in the house before the overture) is a difficult coat for the opera house to wear. Of course the video projections stagecraft and lighting are excellent, the orchestra beyond reproach (and I’m sure none of this comes without much effort) but making the transition from musical theatre to royal opera is uncomfortable. Much easier for opera singers to take on - say - South Pacific.

Christine Rice was in particularly good voice singing Jenny, full voice, sordid and bitter but not preaching. Brilliant to hear Anne Sophie van Otter and Willard W. White cast so well. It sounds as though the cast had a lot of fun this production, as did Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weil in their productions.

Read more: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny - The Royal Opera

Fresh vibrant production with fluid and dramatic performances of Verdi’s melodrama Un ballo in maschera. Royal Opera’s new production is about reclaiming the drama as well as the big singing. The leading ladies, Liudmyla Monastyrska (Amelia) and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Renato), gave committed and satisfying musical performances; Marianne Cornetti gave a particularly spooky interpretation of Ulrica, the fortune teller. But for me it was Joseph Calleja (Riccardo) who commanded the stage musically, dramatically and with an athleticism that showed his enthusiasm for this role. Though I wasn’t convinced by Liudmyla Monastyrska as Amelia that he would be so much fallen in love as the plot requires.

This is an apparently straightforward setting but unusually is based in Austro-Hungarian Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, within which the production design holds consistent with a lot of detail and depth. The main benefits of this setting appear to be an opportunity for some tasty uniforms and sumptuous frocks. It sort of works as fitting preconceived ideas about how a grand opera should look though actually the staging is for an era fifty years after the premiere. The staging and lighting are complex but come over as straightforward, helping to build the melodrama without distracting from the music.

Read more: Un ballo in maschera - The Royal Opera