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 (

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 (

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 (;
British Youth Opera (;
English Touring Opera (;
Glyndebourne Touring Opera (;
Mid Wales Opera (;
OperaUpClose ( - 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:

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: ***


The Telegraph hated it whilst the Guardian loved it!

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:

A bit from Gotterdammerung, Metropolitan Opera, New York:

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.