Saturday, 17 December 2011

2011 - A Year of Opera

On 30th December 2010 I became a Friend of Covent Garden for the first time, and made a new year's resolution to attend more theatre, especially opera. So began what has truly been a year of opera, and what a year it's been. 2011 hasn't been the best year for me personally, but it has been a year of discovery and delight in terms of opera. The beauty, drama, passion, excitement, sadness, comedy, joy and desperation that is opera means there's been an opera for every mood and every occasion! Living in London means I've been incredibly spoilt in terms of the quality I've had available to me. I've been lucky enough to see Angela Gheorghiu twice, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel and Placido Domingo all performing at one of the world's greatest opera houses. I've delighted in some fantastic conductors, especially Antonio Pappano at the ROH, but also Sir Simon Rattle at the Royal Festival Hall. I've seen fantastic new productions of the Tsars Bride, Il trittico and Eugene Onegin as well as brand new opera with Anna Nicole. I've also seen some breathtaking performances of some old classics with Madama Butterfly and Tosca, both at the ROH.

My absolute highlight of 2011 has to be Tosca at the ROH in the summer staring a blockbuster cast with Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel and conducted by Antonio Pappano. Tosca is one of my all time favourite operas, and a chance to see it performed with such a world class cast and conductor with a renowned opera chorus and orchestra should never be missed. The performance in July of this year will stay with me forever, it was everything I love about opera, drama, suspense, brilliant music, brilliant singing and all topped off with a prolonged standing ovation and a million bravos! This really was a special evening, opera at it's very, very best. If you're intrigued to see this performance for yourself, you're in luck! Tune in to BBC 2 at 2:35pm on 24th December when the exact performance I attended will be screened. Preceding this at 1:35pm there is a programme hosted by Antonio Pappano exploring the Rome of Tosca that is the setting of the opera. Not to be missed!

Of the other operas of 2011, the productions that really stand out at Anna Nicole, the Tsars Bride, Il trittico and Eugene Onegin. Anna Nicole, back in February, saw a brand new opera staged at the ROH, and one with a very modern, but classic opera theme. Based on the life and times of Anna Nicole Smith, this was a great evening, with brilliant staging and singing. The score and libretto weren't especially memorable, but who cares?? It was an engaging story and it was brilliant to see the ROH filled with probably the most diverse audience i've ever seen! It was also fun to see the opera house decked out in Anna Nicole memorabilia! Great fun. The Tsars Bride was a special occasion for two reasons. The first was because I managed to get an Orchestra Stalls seat for the bargain price of £10 under the student stand by scheme. These seats can retail at up to £208, so this was a serious bargain and a great view! Secondly, the staging was brilliant. It brought the opera up to modern day Moscow, with corruption, the Mafia and oligarchs all featuring. The opera itself wasn't that memorable, although the cast were great, and the staging vivid.

Moving into the begining of this blog back in September, Il trittico kick started the 2011/12 season at the ROH. This was a great and I understand rare production. A series of three operas, they're not often performed together, but seperately. It was great to see them as a full trio, and each one was uniquely staged and expressed a very different theme, from the darkness of Il tabbaro, to the sadness of Sour Angelica through to the genuine comedy and uplifting feel of Gianni Schicchi. Brilliant evening. The last opera of the year, which actually falls outside of this blog but had to be mentioned anyway, was the English National Opera's Eugene Onegin. A new production in association with the New York Met Opera, i really enjoyed this. The music was brilliant and the staging was evocative, the story engaging. I'm really glad I took the time to see this, and it's raised my opinions of the ENO considerably.

2012 kicks off straight away with Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg on January 1st. Fancy indulging?? It's broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 2:45pm. it looks set to be another packed year ahead for me - there's Anna Netrebko's appearance in La traviata in January, the Mozart/Da Ponte cycle of operas, La boheme with the Alagna's in the summer, Jonas Kaufman back at the ROH for a new production Les Troyens in the summer also and of course October 2012 sees the mighty Der Ring das Nibelungen with Bryn Terfel and Pappano conducting. Exciting times ahead!

Well, until January that's it from me. Happy Christmas and a brilliant new year to all, make sure you catch Tosca on Christmas Eve, eat too much, drink too much, be merry!


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Eugene Onegin, ENO, 29th November

I've mentioned previously the trauma of my previous visit to the English National Opera at the London Coliseum. We all have move on from bad experience and where possible forgive and forget. Well last night was my time to forgive and forget at the ENO, because I had a great evening at their new production of Eugene Onegin!

Tchaikovsky's opera is not one I'm familiar with, neither is Pushkin's original book written and set in early 19th Century Russia. It's a typical story these days, simple girl meets dashing young man and falls in love, girls advances are snubbed, girl goes up in the world and marries well, boy suddenly finds her irresistible  but it's all too late and ends in heart break. In this case for our lead Eugene Onegin. There's also a duel in the middle where Eugene kills his best mate from days gone by. This is all told with what i'm beginning to feel is a unique Russian angst and passion following my encounter with Dostoevsky Crime & Punishment earlier this year. You seem to be able to vividly feel the characters emotions as the story progresses. The staging helps here - traditional, yet evocative is what I'd describe it as. I liked it very much, and it's off the the Met in New York next. The score also helped, and was brilliantly conducted. Tchaikovsky produces some of the finest classic music I feel, again with a good splash of Russian emotion thrown in!

There were a few complaints about the evening. For starters, I just can't warm to the London Coliseum as a theatre! For some reason I find it vaugley depressing. Perhaps it's because it's not a traditional opera house like Covent Garden, yet not a new space like the Barbican or Saddler's Wells. Who knows. But I just don't like it. I'm also really not a fan of opera sung in English, especially if it was originally written in another language. I feel something is lost. I'd rather here opera in it's intended language and read the surtitles - which  you still need to rely on quite heavily even at the ENO. Finally, the seats in the balcony area of the Coliseum are just so bloody uncomfortable! I'm a regular on the bench seats at the ROH, but these seem to be so narrow that they cut into your leg, even of someone of my small stature, and stop the flow of blood to your feet. Seriously, if you're taller than 5', you struggle for space and comfort. Still at £15, can't complain too much on this occasion.

To sum up - I had a really great evening at Eugene Onegin and I'd recommend anybody with time on their hands this Saturday evening to try and get down to see it. Otherwise do try and catch it when it's revived, which i'm certain it will be soon. Good job ENO! Great production! think i'll have to check out the book now too...

Stars: ****

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

STOP THE PRESSES!

A stray opera has jumped into the fray at the last moment today! After reading outstanding reviews, I've decided to branch out and see the English National Opera's new production of Eugene Onegin this evening at the London Coliseum. Destined for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, it seems to have ended the ENO's recent run of poor reviews. It was a battle to get a ticket though I must say, and not because they'd sold out (which they mostly have), but because of the ENO's dreadful on-line booking system. Seriously, it looks like it hasn't been updated since 1995. Awful. That's another story though - I did nab a ticket in the end for the bargain price of £15 - the ENO do day tickets from 12:30 on the day of each performance. Worth knowing (although most of their productions seem to end up so heavily discounted, it's not normally worth it).


I look forward to this evening and will report accordingly. The ENO's Don Giovanni, which I saw around this time last year, was truly awful. One of the worst theatrical experiences of my entire life. Let's hope this production lives up to the reviews!


Reviews of the ENO's Eugene Onegin (only on for one more night after today!)


http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/nov/13/eugene-onegin-review-eno


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/8900103/Eugene-Onegin-ENO-Seven-magazine-review.html


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/8888283/Eugene-Onegin-ENO-ColiseumKatya-Kabanova-WNO-touring.html

Friday, 18 November 2011

La sonnambula, 16th November

On Wednesday of this week it was time for opera number five of the 2011/12 season: Bellini's La sonnambula . I had pretty low expectations for this performance after reading some pretty damning reviews. In fact I almost didn't go at all! the would have been a BIG mistake. I was really pleasantly surprised by this opera and enjoyed  it very much! For starters it was nice to get back to some proper Italian opera after my slightly painful encounter with Wagner. Also I thought the story was really endearing and uplifting, just right for a dismal mid November evening.

La sonnambula tells the story of a sleepwalking woman, who on the eve of her wedding sleep walks into another man's bedroom. Need I say that this leads to something of a disaster?? The main character and sleepwalker, Amina, is then set up by Lisa who is apparently after her husband. after planting some compromising evidence, she summons Amina's husband to be who goes a bit mental at the sight of her in another man's room. So ensues a race against time to prove Alvina's innocence before her fiancée runs off and marries the nasty Lisa. All works out well in the end and everyone lives happily ever after..well I'm sure Lisa is left a bit miffed, but everyone else seemed happy! It's a sweet and pretty innocent story with some good music to compliment it. I found it quite endearing that the other characters believe Alvina to be a ghost and not a sleepwalker (La sonnambula means the sleepwalker I believe) - that coupled with the light hearted love story made for a lovely evening at the opera. The Guardian didn't seem to agree with me on this point. As well as the official review, they seemed to feel the need to send someone else along to the opera on another evening and then have them interview a medical professional on sleepwalking: 

This article narked me a little bit. La sonnambula premièred in 1831. Whilst the article does acknowledge that Bellini's views on sleepwalking were very much of the time, it seems to feel the need to go further and dissect the entire story. I'm not sure what the point of this was. It's a work of fiction for starters, just a simple story, and it was written in the early 19th Century! If we were to take this psychoanalytical approach to all historical works it'd take up a hell of a lot of print. 

One thing I will say about this production though, is the staging. The original story is set in an Alpine village, whereas this production is apparently set in a Swiss sanatorium. To me it looked a lot more like a flashy Swiss   Alpine retreate. I know Switzerland is a pretty dapper place, but I'm sure their sanatoriums of days gone by didn't feature long dining tables with silver cutlery and a fully stocked bar. No, this looked a lot more like a five star hotel for Swiss bankers than a sanatorium. It made some aspects of the opera not translate terribly well. In the original story, as i mentioned earlier, Amina awakes in the bedroom of another man. In this production she just wakes up under a fur coat on the floor of the dinning hall. A bit weird really, but anyway.

Finally, I can't sign off this review without mentioning that I was keeping some very Royal company at the Royal Opera House on Wednesday! From my £6 Upper Slips seat I could see directly into the Royal Box and who should have been is residence there on Wednesday?? None other than Prince Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles and Kate Middleton! Very exciting!

Anyway, that's it for this year! Five very different outings since September and plenty more to come as the season continues into 2012. Next adventure is a return to Wagner, with a 5hr 30min marathon on New Year's Day. Excited? Intrigued is probably a better word.

Stars: ***
Seat: AA31, Upper Slips;
View: ***

NEXT OPERA: Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg, 1st January 2012.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Der fliegende Holländer, 1st November - Big on brass, big on noise.

So on Tuesday this week it was time for my first Wagner experience, Der fliegende Holländer, and it was certainly an experience. Not a bad one, but i'm not sure it was that amazing either! In fact, i'd liken the evening to being a bit like muesli. Now I do like a bit of muesli, but sometimes it can be bloody hard work to get through, and unless you get one with a good fruit/nut balance, you can go along time without much joy. Der fliegende Holländer was much like this, the first half was especially tough and I had to resort to leaning forward in my chair in the hope that the discomfort would keep me a wake (probably didn't help that i'd been cycling all over west London during the day). However the final 45 minutes where pretty good, the pace picked up and the brass began to blow full throttle. There were also some great choral moments too. But at 2hrs 30mins with NO interval it was a proper slog. For the first time ever at the Royal Opera i considered leaving and found myself wishing away the time! On a plus note though, my seat was a bargain at £9 in the lower slips. The view wasn't great as i was practically part of the stage I was so close, but the sound was great, sat right above the orchestra pit.


Der fliegende Holländer is potentially a good story. Translating as the Flying Dutchman, it's the story of a sailor condemned to sail the seas for eternity unless he can get someone to love him until death. apparently he once made a passing comment about rounding some cape, come hell or high water. Satan heard and kind of granted him his wish, only allowing him ashore every seven years. Anyway - in this opera he does come ashore, falls in love, is about to sail away with his new love but misconstrues a conversation he overhears and essentially strops off back to eternal damnation. Good story really, but I just couldn't engage with it that much.


I think what my first Wagner experience has made me realise is that i'm potentially more of an Italian opera fan. I find Italian opera far more tuneful and the music more exciting. I'm not certain that Der fliegende Holländer is the best introduction to Wagner, who knows, but I overheard a fellow audience member saying something quiet fitting for this opera. He turned to his partner and said 'you know what? A lot of that was just loud noise really'. True story. 


Stars: **
Seat: A4, Lower slips, £9; View: ***; Sound: *****


NEXT OPERA: LA SONNAMBULA

Saturday, 29 October 2011

What's going on away from Covent Garden? Quite a lot apparently!

For me the Royal Opera is the best place to see opera in the UK. This is based on me having only ever seen two operas outside of Covent Garden...which is pretty rubbish really! Reading through an old Guardian supplement from earlier this year I stumbled across an excellent listings section at the back, detailing opera taking place across the UK. Yes - believe it or not you can see opera outside of London! Having had a look through, I've picked out some of the places where I think you can catch a good opera in 2011/12.


Based in Leeds, Opera North also tours around the country.

Madame Butterfly (Puccini); Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) - I think both are touring around the UK at the moment, including Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham and the Barbican in London. The Queen of Spades recently received some pretty good reviews in the Guardian and Telegraph.  Both operas are recommended by the Guardian as being good for first timers - I can vouch for Madame Butterfly.

Reviews of Queen of Spades:

Scottish Opera (scottishopera.co.uk)

Not really familiar with this company, but they tour round Scotland. Productions of The Barber of Seville (until November) and Tosca (May/June 12) might be worth checking out.

Welsh National Opera (wno.org.uk)

I've not seen a WNO production, but I've heard really good things. Based at Cardiff's Millennium Centre, but also touring around the country. 

They have a pretty good season this year including The Barber of Seville (Rossini) and Don Giovanni (Mozart), both touring until December 1st. Both are worth checking out as a first opera. Early in 2012 they will be staging La Traviata (Verdi) - and absolute must for anyone interested in any sort of music! It's in Cardiff from 11th February until 3rd March - then it goes on tour until 20th April. Seriously try and catch this if you can! In addition to this they have Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, running over the same dates in Cardiff and then touring. An interesting addition is Wagner's Tristan and Isolde - this will be in Cardiff in May/June and the Birmingham on 16th June. The season ends with Puccini's La Boheme from 1-9 June in Cardiff and then 13-15th June in Birmingham.

Other companies

The above would be my pick based on what they're staging this season. Below are a few others worth checking out:

Birmingham Opera Company (birminghamoperacompany.org.uk);
British Youth Opera (byo.org.uk);
English Touring Opera (englishtouringopera.org.uk);
Glyndebourne Touring Opera (glyndebourne.com);
Mid Wales Opera (midwalesopera.co.uk);
OperaUpClose (kingsheadtheatre.com) - I've seen a production of Madame Butterfly at this Islington pub in north London - it was pretty good too!;

Friday, 28 October 2011

Placido Domingo Celebration, 27th October

I had very high hopes of this event - an instant sell-out concert by one of the greatest opera singers of our time celebrating 40 years of performing at the Royal Opera House. The Daily Telegraph ended up describing the show as more of a wake than a celebration (review below). I wouldn't go that far and I don't want to say I was disappointed, but I was a bit underwhelmed. Now whether that was due to my own overblown expectations or a genuinely middle of the road show I can't quite say. The show was made up of three final acts from the Verdi operas Otello; Rigoletto; Simone Boccanegra. Otello saw Domingo sing in the role of tenor, for which he is most famous, whilst the other performances saw him singing baritone - a move Domingo made last year with his performances of Simone Boccanegra. This may have been part of the issue for me - I think I'm more of a soprano/tenor man myself!


It also didn't help, for me personally, that I hadn't previously seen any of the operas being performed. Therefore I found it difficult to get as engaged having not followed the entire story. Rigoletto was by far my highlight of the evening....and dare I say not because of Domingo, but because of the music and the parts performed by the tenor role. I'm sure you'll be familiar with this very famous piece:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8A3zetSuYRg


Anyway - back to the show. It was great seeing a superstar opera singer perform, especially at the age of 70, and he went down a storm with the crowd. I think I made it a 15 minuet standing ovation, and some London florist did very well considering the number of flowers raining down on the stage at the end (although my suspicion is they were actually fake!). Glad I went, but I have had more powerful experiences at Covent Garden. 


Rating: ***


Reviews


The Telegraph hated it whilst the Guardian loved it!


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/8856333/Placido-Domingo-Gala-Royal-Opera-House-review.html


http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/oct/28/domingo-celebration-review

NEXT OPERA: Der Fliegende Holländer - My first Wagner experience!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A slight aside from opera - but with an opera theme!

A slight aside from the usual here - but i'm setting out to loose a spot of weight over the next few months. As an incentive i've added a weight loss 'ticker' to this blog. Complete with the proverbial fat lady - countdown with me until she sings her heart out when i've reached my goal weight!


(No offence intended to larger Wagnerian opera singers!)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

To Ring or not to Ring? Der Ring des Nibelungen 2012

Tomorrow is a big day - Friends of Covent Garden booking opens for the Royal Opera's 2012 revival of Richard Wagner's monumental Der Ring des Nibelungen. I don't use the word 'monumental' here lightly either - this is one of the grandest works ever created in western culture, up there with the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Empire State Building and anything that came out of Ancient Greece (including democracy!). Don't believe me? The whole opera runs for over an awe inspiring 20 hours, yes.....20 hours! The thought makes me feel a little bit ill inside, i've never sat still through 20 hours of anything in my life! Of course, the event is played out over four evenings, and comprises four separate operas: Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. But who cares?! Das Rheingold edges you in nice and slowly at a benign 2hrs 40mins - but after that the remaining parts of the series are of a desperately long nature - Die Walkure comes in at 5hrs 50 mins and Siegfried at 6hrs. It all ends with Gotterdammerung - a 6hr 30min MARATHON, by any standards, not just opera!


Perhaps you're starting to see my dilemma as to whether or not to join the mad dash for tickets tomorrow morning at 10am? Well it's not just the length that's an issue. Needless to say, 20hrs worth of opera isn't cheap, and when a complete Ring Cycle is being performed, you can only buy tickets for all four operas (except for 23 day seats for each performance at the ROH) The normal cheap seats are of course available, but i admire anyone who can sit for 6hrs in one of the Upper Slips bench seats, leaning forward for a view of the stage! £44, or £11 an opera, is of course a total bargain. But no, i think on this occasion i'll be forced to look for something a little more comfortable. Top price tickets come in at a whopping £1000 - I certainly won't be aiming that high! I think it'll be time to crack out that voucher kindly given to me when leaving my last job.


In addition to the length AND the cost, there is the small issue of subject matter. As in i'm likely to HATE it. It's all very much mythical creatures and fantasy - pretty much exactly like Lord of the Rings, which is about as long as well. I really have a strong disliking for Lord of the Rings and anything that comes even close to such a genre. Seeing that the Ring is essentially what Lord of the Rings seems to be based on (or they share the same influences at any rate) this doesn't bode well. It's essentially the tale of a chap who gets hold of a ring that can change the course of the world as we know it and all the people that try to stop him from doing something pretty stupid or evil or something else tedious with the ring. Yawn,yawn, yawn!!!


Yet despite all the above, i'd say there's a pretty high chance that i'll be glueing the phone to me ear and my eyes to the ROH website to battle my way through to snatch up some tickets. Why? Partly because i'm mad, but also partly because for me it seems to have become a test. A test of endurance and hopefully an experience that will stay with me for many years to come in some for or another - plus it might make a good story for my little nephew some years down the line: The day Uncle Mogs went to see Wagner and died (or rejoiced)  inside. It'll be Autumn 2012 before I know which it's to be!


What's the Ring I hear you say?!
Everyone knows a bit of the Ring, even if they don't realise it - take a look at the links below for a better idea:


Not the best advert for Wagner - The Ride of the Valkyries used in Apocalypse Now:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gz3Cc7wlfkI&feature=related


A bit from Gotterdammerung, Metropolitan Opera, New York:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sgVjgraXsc&feature=related






Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Better late than never! Faust, 28th September 2011

It was almost a week ago that I actually saw this and I've only just gotten round to writing about it! In short, this was a cracking night at the opera. I knew nothing of the music or the composer, Gounod, before going to see Faust, and I was pleasantly surprised. The story promised much: An ageing Dr.Faust sells his soul to the devil in return for eternal youth and beauty. He falls in love with the young, and of course innocent, Marguerite. He then essentially ends up destroying her life, getting her pregnant, abandoning her, rocking back up some months later to kill her brother in a sword fight. She in turn kills her child and is banished by her towns folk and put on death row for her crime. It's all dramatic stuff and shows that meddling with the devil always ends in a total mess!
As befits such a tale, the music is grand and stirring. There's a cabaret scene, plus an extremely explicit and uncomfortably macabre ballet in the final act - in which an orgy takes place and a dancer posing as a pregnant woman is  assaulted (it's not something that you're likely to see in the Royal Ballet's repertoire, lets put it that way!). The three main roles were brilliantly played with Vittorio Grigolo as Faust, Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite and Rene Pape as the devil. The role of the devil was especially fun (why are devils always portrayed as the sort of guy you could have rollicking night out with?!), although his true colours come shining through in the final act and he lives up to his 'evil bastard' reputation. Grigolo was especially excitable at the curtain call, coming on with a t-shirt declaring his love for his mum & dad and also London (might have had something to do with the live cinema broadcast across the globe).
All in all i really enjoyed this production, a great second opera of the season, and i reckon a pretty good first opera too if you're looking for a starting point. Engaging, unexpected, grand, dramatic, brilliantly performed.
Stars: ****
Seat: Upper Slips, £15, AA2 - Side view of the stage, so a lot of leaning forward. But as the seat was at the front of the Upper Slips and basically on the end of the row, the view was pretty good. Especially for £15.


NEXT OPERA: Placido Domingo Celebration, 27th October.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Angela Gheorghiu - The essence of the modern opera diva!

First of all, I don't want people to think I've taken to reading the Daily Telegraph. I most certainly haven't. Politics aside, they do have a good on-line opera section, along with the The Guardian and The Independent. Today they've published an interview with the greatest soprano of the moment, Angela Gheorghiu, who will be performing in Wednesday's Faust. Famous for cancelling shows at the last minuet, driving conductors to the brink of madness and also for throwing buckets of water at Covent Garden buskers, she's the very essence of the modern opera diva. Vive La Gheorghiu!


Read her interview with The Telegraph here (which she was only 25hrs late for):
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/8786844/Opera-singer-Angela-Gheorghiu-says-of-her-marital-difficulties-with-Roberto-Alagna-It-was-stupid-of-us-to-be-apart.html

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Selling your soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth? It's Faust this week at Covent Garden!

Selling your soul to a demon in exchange for eternal youth is never a great idea and is nearly always destined to end in disaster (look at what happened to Meryl Street and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her for example). That's what the next instalment in my year of opera, Faust, is all about, and it would seem that Wednesday's production promises the put the 'grand' in grand opera according to the ROH. We shall see, but with a star cast, a soldiers' chorus and even a ballet included, it sounds promising. Below are a few reviews of this season's revival of David McVicar's production. Stay tuned here for my own thoughts, or even better tune into BBC Radio 3 this evening to hear a live broadcast from Covent Garden, or drop into your local cinema on Wednesday for a live screening!


Faust - Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from Covent Garden, 24/09/2011, 18:45: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0150dd0


Faust - Broadcast live to cinemas across the UK and the world, 28/09/2011, 18:45, as part of the Royal Opera's cinema season: http://cinema.roh.org.uk/content/faust-live


Reviews of the latest revival of David McVicar's production:


The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/sep/19/faust-royal-opera-house-review


The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/gounod-faust-royal-opera-house-2357332.html


The Daily Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/8774774/Faust-Royal-Opera-Covent-Garden-review.html


The Evening Standard: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/music/review-23988529-faust---review.do

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Il trittico, 12th September 2011

Let us start with what was WRONG with this evening. It wasn't the performance itself, but rather other happenings. It started with the ROH box office informing that my programme voucher that was supposed to have been posted to me ahead of the performance (a novel idea, I know) which hadn't turned up could not be used this evening. They did have the ability to print me another, but wouldn't as they claimed I could have returned and used on another evening. This didn't sit too well with me and resulted in a mini argument with the box office staff, namely over why they would even give you the option to have a voucher posted to you that couldn't arrive in time for the intended performance. Not off to a good start.


The second negative experience came in the form of the audience themselves. Not to be rude, but those attending last nights performance of Il trittico were the epitome of opera goers. Namely, geriatric millionaires who are on the brink of death who probably live in west London and shout at each other about the time they saw the perfect 'Trittico' in 1965 with Tito Gobi. If they didn't fall into this category they were middle aged Hampstead residents who have probably been dragged to the ROH from a young age and know nothing else in life. There were some exceptional characters up in the gods with me and my friend. The most repulsive being the obese gentleman who took up at least one seat he hadn't paid for due to his size and leapt up at the end of each performance and SCREAMED 'Tado' at the top of his voice. I think what he was trying to say was 'Bravo'...He had a lovely habit during the interval of exclaiming 'excuse me!' at the top of his voice and then bumping out of the way with his beer gut before you could even move. Some toes were also crushed under his immensity due to a lack of time to actually move out of the way of his body mass. The gentleman sat next to me was also a joy. An angry little man who irritatingly pointed out that I was partially sat in his seat and could i move down. To which i asked where exactly he wanted me to move down to since there was no actual space left (due to Mr Bravo down the row i expect). Anyway, i eventually managed to squeeze up a bit, which still didn't please him, so i kindly pointed out where his seat began and mine ended and that there was no more room to move into.


Anyway. Despite these human disasters, the evening was largely enjoyable. Il trittico is  a rarely performed trio of operas by Puccini: Il tabarro; Sour Angelica; Gianni Schicchi. Each are an exploration of a different aspect of human emotion. I won't go into depth, read about it yourself or even better go and see it! Il tabarro is especially dark, dealing with a husband and wife and the wife's lover. Needless to say it ends very, very badly for all involved. Sour Angelica is especially emotive. the tale of a nun, Sister Angelica, who learns of the death of her son who was taken from her years before. It ends in tragedy and suicide and has some moving arias. The lead in this opera was pretty exceptional. Gianni Schicchi is on a much lighter note. The story of a man who dies leaving all his belongings to a local monestry near Florence and the family's extreme disappointment over this. What ensues is a farcical attempt to get the will re-written to leave everything to the  family members. Enter wide boy Gianni Schicchi, who comes up with a cunning plan to draw up a new will which ends up backfiring in the bickering family's face. Set in the 1960s for this production, it was a genuine joy to watch and a happy way to end the night!


Overall I really enjoyed Il trittico. It was an emotional roller-coaster with some great tunes and three very different stories. Two thumbs up from me, and thank god the show was good - it would have been a total disaster if that had been as shocking as the audience and the start of the evening!
STARS: **** 
Summary: If you have time before the end of the month this is worth checking out. It's actually a good option for an opera novice as it offers up three different aspects of opera.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Interview with Italian stallion, Vittorio Grigolo, on Guardian.co.uk

The Guardian's on-line opera section today features an interview with Italian tenor, Vittorio Grigolo. He will soon be performing in Faust at the ROH alongside Angela Gheorghiu. He apparently made a stunning début with the Royal Opera last year, so I'm expecting good things - I think it's also fair to say that he's a bit of a looker, at least as far as opera stars go!


Full interview here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/sep/11/vittorio-grigolo-faust-music-feauture-interview-peter-conrad

Welcome to the Amateur Tenor!

Hello and welcome to the Amateur Tenor!

I've created this new blog to chart my ambition to see EVERY opera in the Royal Opera's 2011/12 season. Yes that's right, every single opera, from Puccini's Il trittico in September  through to Verdi's Otello in July next year. In between there are some exciting offerings, at least for an amateur opera fan such as myself. We've got the great Angela Gheorghiu appearing in Gounod's Faust in September, Placido Domingo performing a gala evening of scenes from some of Verdi's greatest works, Anna Netrebko in La traviata in January and the amazing Jonas Kaufmann in a new production of the Berlioz epic Les Troyens in the summer. Most of this season's productions are entirely new to me, in fact there will only be two repeat performances with La traviata and Don Giovanni - both with excellent casts this time round. Perhaps most interesting for me will be my first two Wagner operas in Der fliegende Hollander and Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (an epic at 5hrs 40mins!). Good preparation i hope for next autumn's  Ring Cycle, a fantasy marathon of an opera spread over four evenings and totalling 15hrs (think of the fat lady with a Viking hat on and you will get a rough idea).

I'll be reviewing each performance here as well as looking at the background to some of the performers, composers and the operas themselves. I expect there will be other productions that sneak in - the English National Opera's Tosca for example - and I may even be mad enough to attend some overseas productions as well (La Scala in Milan has a very tempting new production of Don Giovanni with Netrebko and Bryn Terfel!). So stay tuned. It's going to be an exciting season ahead for me exploring this surprisingly diverse art form that stole my heart with my first ever opera, Carmen, in 2007. Hopefully it might encourage some of you to also give it a dabble!

First opera: Il trittico (Puccini), Monday, 12th September
The Royal Opera's entire season for 2011/12 can be viewed here: