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


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!)

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: *****