Music

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

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

Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde is not the best opera as an introduction to Richard Wagner. Described as a chamber opera, although the orchestra is vast, it is arguably the composer’s most intense and most psychological opera. So there’s a strong argument for a conceptual or heavily symbolic production which exposes the psychological themes rather than a naturalist design which portrays merely the superficial setting. The idea of a conceptual production comes much later than any production within the Richard Wagner’s lifetime so it is inevitably an expansion of the piece not within the composer’s intentions.

Nonetheless this is an illuminating production despite the contradictions. The libretto states the action of act one takes place on a ship whereas we see a formal banqueting room behind a faux and off-centre proscenium arch, downstage of which there is a severe asymmetric rake. Stage right there is a large flat which has shadows of the performers; their shadows deliberately vary from sharp and intense black shadows to two shadows deliberately offset. The performers specifically make shadow images that illuminate another facet of the character, for example a profile.

Read more: Tristan und Isolde - The Royal Opera

New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala Concert - Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra - Brighton Dome

 A sparkling and stylish New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala Concert in the historic but refurbished Brighton Dome; Stephen Bell conducting the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra in music of the Strauss family plus twentieth century Viennese music of Emmerich Kálmán and Franz Lehár.

Brighton thinks of itself partly as London-on-the-Sea, in the same way the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra draws on a pool of players from the nearby metropolis and thus delivers concerts of unexpected quality for a city of the size of Brighton and Hove. Now restructured after a couple of difficult years, the orchestra is in fine form and today’s concert was well supported by an enthusiastic and attentive audience.

Read more: Viennese Gala Concert - Brighton Philharmonic

“Daniele Gatti’s journey from the Romantic to the modern era - Transcendence, Creativity, Deconstruction”

The Berlin Philharmonic orchestra is one of the small number of orchestras of which almost everyone has heard of, yet relatively few have heard in person. My first trip to Berlin for twenty years (and my first to the former west for more than twenty-five) could not pass over the opportunity to book a ticket online to hear and see the Berlin Philharmonic playing in their home concert hall, the Philharmonie.

Just getting to the Philharmonie is a new journey: the U-bahn line used to stop at or before Nollendorfplatz. Now the line once more runs through to Potsdamplatz and beyond. The Philharmonie is a stylish modern hall and surprisingly small considering the reputation of its home orchestra. It's on the edge of the culture area of the city, sandwiched between the brashness of Postsdamer Platz and the lush woodland of the Großer Tiergarten, Berlin's city park (seeGroßer Tiergarten, Berlin - October 2014). The Berlin Philharmonic has a big presence online with its “digital concert hall” presentations so it wasn’t a surprise that there are numerous microphones and more than half a dozen television cameras on remotely operated pan and tilt heads.

Read more: Berlin Philharmonic in Berlin - October 2014