“Extraordinary” is the promise on Royal Opera’s marketing and George Benjamin’s new opera takes us into a world that is out of the ordinary. Based on a thirteenth century tale told by the troubadours, Martin Crimp’s text takes us to extremes of human experience including lust, blood lust and cannibalism.
Written on Skin creates its own world by a distinctive grammar for the text and - in Katie Mitchell’s detailed production - by moving between modern time and medieval time. The lighting snaps between conditions to assist the transition. Costume changes take place on stage: it’s a two-level staging with a number of windows, a “quad split”. The action takes place in a highlighted window and there’s stage slow motion in the windows that are currently “background”.
Alexei Volodin, piano, delivered a brilliant performance of Beethoven Fourth concerto, thrilling the Concertgebouw audience but eclipsing the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest. The Amsterdam orchestra came back after the interval with a Technicolor vision of the high Alps in the symphony by Richard Strauss.
Franz Liszt could have been playing the Steinway at the Concertgebouw this evening so brilliant was the piano work, in fact it was Alexei Volodin who dominated the stage of the Concertgebouw for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. A hesitant start had Marc Albrecht and the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest on the defensive right from the first page. Alexei Volodin outshone with pace, accuracy and the detail of his interpretation. His mastery of the scope Beethoven’s writing and understanding of the detail of the lines together with the flexibility and suppleness of his interpretation simply outclassed the orchestra. Poor passing between soloist and orchestra added to the orchestra’s misery. Alexei Volodin played one of the most brilliant and extended cadenzas available for the first movement, the orchestra picking up limply following the customary trills.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra at full strength gave us an intense and detailed account of Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome as the opening piece in their programme Ravel’s Obsession with Spain conducted by Enrique Mazzola at the Festival Hall as part of the Southbank Centre’s festival The Rest is Noise. This performance of Respighi’s multi-layered impressionist piece was the shining star of tonight’s concert.
Fountains of Rome, premiered in 1915, sits clearly in the time frame where music reacted with impressionism against the symphonic tradition, maybe (suggests the programme note) also as a reaction against the horrors of World War One. The result tonight was like enjoying a box of Belgian chocolates, each exquisite image rendered with fiery intensity. A benefit of attending the concert and seeing the orchestra was to realise there is also a part for the organ!
Erotically charged Tosca at Covent Garden from the Royal Opera; the core singing trio worked well together: Amanda Echalaz (Tosca), Massimo Giordano (Cavaradossi) and Michael Volle (Scarpia) are all “emerging talents” and playing characters of very similar ages to their own. The result was a dramatically credible performance with more subtle characterisations than is usually the case with a more blockbuster cast. A benefit of the now ubiquitous surtitles is to be able to follow the development of the plot in detail, line by line, as Puccini’s chilling melodrama unfolds.
The Mikado at ENO was delicate but tear-jerkingly funny, despite still the most ridiculous story line in all opera. Jonathan Miller’s renowned and now venerable production places the action in a fashionable nineteen-thirties hotel but the verbal and music satire thrive in the transposition. ENO's production has become a National Treasure just as much as a major National Trust property.
The fabulous thing about this production is that it is so light, fresh and delicate. My generation were (over) exposed to G&S in school and professional productions but, although well thought of at the time, these pandered to the toe-tapping aspects of the music and their stagings were lumbering in comparison. This production plays the humour absolutely deadpan straight and is murderously effective for that.