Sunday, 29 April 2012

ENO's 2012/13 Season

I've definitely not been quick off the mark with this one, but then there still isn't much about the ENO that really gets my ticker racing. However the ENO have announced their 2012/13 season, and it actually looks pretty interesting. Maybe this is the year that I truly find London's second opera company (to be fair, Eugene Onegin and Tosca this season were great). The full season can be found at the following link, below are my personal highlights. Oh and by the way, the old chap in the picture is Mr Walt Disney, lovely man, the reason why is below.

My ENO 2012/13 highlights

Carmen (Bizet), November/December 2012 - Apparently a pretty acclaimed version. I've only seen Carmen once and it was now quite some time ago. It's a fun opera, packed with great music and memorable tunes so I think this should be worth checking out.

La traviata (Verdi), February/March 2013 - La traviata is simply the best opera as far as i'm concerned. I'm sure this won't be on the same level as the Royal Opera's production, but it sounds interesting. Apparently it's an edited version...Not sure what that means as i'm not sure what you can edit! It'll certainly be worth a look though, if only to listen to Verdi's sumptuous score.

The Barber of Seville (Rossini), February/March 2013 - I enjoyed this at Covent Garden last year and I hoped to see it when it came to the Hackney Empire recently. This may even be the same production actually as it was the English Touring Opera who performed it in Hackney and I think they may be linked to the ENO. It's a fun opera anyway, so should be good.

The Perfect American (Glass), June 2013 - Yes, this is the reason for the picture of old Walt. Phillip Glass brings a brand new opera to the ENO all about the life and times of Walt Disney. I don't think it's really possible to paint a positive picture of Disney, and from what I've read this should be quite a gritty portrayal. I think this could be the highlight of the season for me. There's no dedicated area on the website yet, so sadly i can't provide a link through to production information.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

La Fille du régiment, 25th April 2012

I really hoped that Ann Widdecombe's cameo in La Fille du régiment on Wednesday wouldn't dominate my consequent review, but I'm afraid that is going to be totally unavoidable. The reviews of Ann's performance as La Duchess de Crackentorp in Donizetti's comic opera where pretty dire. I'm not one to take too much notice of the critics though, they have been in an exceptionally cranky mood all season when it comes to the Royal Opera. This time though they had a point. This was real 'head in hands' terrible, which is where my head was for much of her time on stage. It was SO far off the cringeometer that it sent you into a totally different universe. At one point i think I wanted to die. Why? Well where to begin?! Ann's French and French accent where appauling in a way that was so devastating that it MUST have been intentional, otherwise surely they wouldn't have let her go on stage. The added sprinkling of English thrown into the mix made it even worse. Like adding salt to a gaping wound. Then there were the constant references to Ann's other forays into 'show biz' such as Strictly Come Dancing and also her time as an MP, which was referenced through her randomly shouting 'order! order!' as she left the stage. Even more bizarre than this were constant references to the 'engagements olympiques 2012' or Olympic commitments....I've no idea why this was put into the script. I mean I know it's the Olympics this year, but what does that have to do with this opera or Ann Widdecombe?! The whole thing just highlighted how awful live theater can be and how desperately important casting really is. Poor Ann, I'm not a fan at the best of times (she is a Tory after all), and this didn't improve her standing with me at all. At curtain call she was met with a few boos, whether that was for her performance or because the character she was playing was a bit of an old bat, i'm not sure....Bad times.

Anyway...Ann aside. How was the opera overall? Very enjoyable indeed is the answer! It's a shame that such a small talking part such as La Duchess de Crackentrop can dominate in the way that it clearly can. I found the rest of the production and cast to be excellent. The staging was really engaging, made up of large maps of the Tyrolean Alps, which was the setting for this charming tale. The story is about a young girl who was adopted by an entire French army regiment as a baby and was then raised by them. She falls in love with a Tyrolean local boy whilst the troops are based in Austria, but as you can imagine their love is complicated and they can't marry and so on and so forth. It all ends well though and there are many genuine laughs along the way! It's an interesting opera too in the sense that it has some quite extensive talking scenes which sometimes makes it feel like a play. The singing was excellent, even exemplary in the case of Colin Lee. All in all it was a delightful evening at the opera and it cheered me up immensely after a dreary day at the office! So a pretty contrasting review for La Fille du régiment . Overall though it was a lovely evening and although Ann was shocking, i'd still recommend giving it a shot.
Rating: ***
Seat: G71, Amphitheater, £32: *** (typical Amphitheater seat really!)
Synopsis (courtesy of the ROH's brand new website!): La Fille du regiment
Reviews: See post of 22nd April 2012

NEXT OPERA: La boheme, 5th May

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Ann Widdecombe goes to the opera...

...And seems to have been met with some shocking reviews. Poor Ann, I suspected this might happen. She's performing in Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment as the Duchesse de Crackentorp, a speaking part, last played by the great Dawn French. The Daily Telegraph described her cameo as 'mortifyingly inept' and The Guardian said her skills as a stage performer were simply 'nonexistant'. Apparently she didn't fall into the orchestra pit, but it was still 'an embarressment at every level.' The Independent was slightly less harsh and actually felt that Widdecombe's Parliamentary career should have prepared her well for what is essentially an pantomime dame role, as in Parliament 'pantomime behavior is the norm'. Anyway.....I'm yet to expereince Ann at Covent Garden. My chance comes on Wednesday this week, and I'll report back on my findings! For the record - My hopes aren't high. It'll take a lot for her to beat good old Dawn.

Reviews in full

Friday, 6 April 2012

Royal Opera's 2012/13 Season

Whilst I was away on my travels, the Royal Opera published details of it's 2012/13 season. There appear to be some interesting productions coming up, along with a good smattering of new productions and several big names taking to the stage, which is exciting. The full details can be found on the ROH's website at the following link: . Below are my personal highlights and the productions that I intend to see next season - in the interests of financial restraint I won't be attending every production in 2012/13 like I have done this season!

My 2012/13 highlights

Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner) In four cycles from 24th September - 2nd November 2012 - Tickets have long gone for this, thankfully I managed to nab mine back in the autumn. Day tickets are available for individual operas within each cycle;

L'elisir d'amore (Donizetti) 13th,16th,20th,23rd,28th November and 1st,4th,7th December 2012; Roberto Alagna stars in November and the first two December performances;

Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky) 4th,6th,9th,11th,14th,16th,20th February 2013 - New production from the Royal Opera's own Kasper Holten and with Simon Keenlyside performing the title role. I enjoyed this at the ENO, so look forward to seeing what the Royal Opera has to offer;

Nabucco (Verdi) 30th March & 1st,4th,6th,8th,15th,20th,23rd,26th April 2013 - New production and featuring both Placido Domingo (performances from 15th April) and Leo Nucci (performances from 30th March - 8th April) in the title role. This for me is probably the highlight of the season!;

Die Zauberflote (Mozart) 16th,18th,22nd,24th,27th,29th April & 2nd,7th,9th May - I'm still unsure as to whether i like Mozart's operas. But this one is a famous one, so it's worth a look. Also conducted by a female conductor which is rare and nice to see;

Don Carlo (Verdi) 4th,8th,11th,15th,18th,21st,25th May - The second Verdi outing of the season, conducted by Antonio Pappano (always a treat) and staring Jonas Kaufmann in the title role (performances to 18th May);

La donna del lago (Rossini) 17th,20th,23rd,27th,31st May & 4th,7th,11th June - I'm not at all familiar with this opera, but it's a new production and has a great cast with Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez;

Simon Boccanegra (1881 version) (Verdi) 27th June 7 1st,3rd,10th,13th,16th July - Another Verdi installment, which is always good! Conducted by Antonio Pappano for all performances except for 16th July;

La rondine (Puccini) 5th,8th,11th,13th,14th,17th,20th,21st July - The season ends with this Puccini opera, not one that i'm familiar with i must say. But it has a great cast including Angela Gheorghiu (all performances to 17th July, excluding the 13th July matinee) and Vittorio Grigolo (same performances as Gheorghiu) with Ermonela Jaho (one of my new favorites) taking up the role of Magda de Civry in Gheorghiu's absence).

These are my highlights and the performances I will definitely be seeing. In addition to these La boheme returns for a major run in December, January, February AND March! Some impressive singers perform including Rolando Villazon, Vittorio Grigolo and Barbra Frittoli. Also Tosca returns in March and then again in July. Always worth catching, although it does lack the menacing skill of Bryn Terfel as Baron Scarpia this time round!

Rigoletto, 2nd & 4th April - A welcome return to the richness and beauty of Italian opera

So after a three week break from my operatic outings, I was back with a vengeance this week with a double outing to Rigoletto. The reason for this double outing was that I was taking two separate groups of friends and family to Covent Garden, some for the first time, which is always a joy! It proved to be quite interesting too, as Vittorio Grigolo, who was due to play the Duke of Mantua for the entire run, pulled out of Wednesday's performance allowing for some constructive comparison between himself and Francesco Meli who stepped in.

I really enjoyed Rigoletto, as I absolutely thought I would. The music was fantastic and the story engaging. For me it was another triumph for Verdi and Italian opera. The cast in this production were good on both evenings, although I have to say that for me Monday night pipped Wednesday to the post. Some have been slightly off about Vittorio Grigolo's performance in this current run at the ROH, and there is some validity in what's been said. At times he seemed to be projecting loudly for the sake of it and not because it enhanced his singing or performance in anyway. He's been dubbed the new Pavarotti by some, whilst I don't think this was evidenced on Monday, the comparison isn't a ridiculous one (although personally, i don't think anyone will ever be able to match up to the late tenor!). I enjoyed his singing more that Francesco Meli's as it was stronger and richer in sound. He also did a better job of portraying the lecherous Duke of Mantua, his dashing looks helping him along the way! The role of Rigoletto was played by Dimitri Platanias, who again had some iffy reviews for his portray of the deformed court jester. I felt he did a good job though, I felt real empathy for the character through his portrayal and he added a real air of tragedy to this deeply tragic character.

The rest of the cast were also solid in my view and the conductor, John Eliot Gardiner, really brought the dramatic score to life on both evenings. This was especially the case for me in the final act, which was the part I enjoyed the most. It's full of great music, including the famous La donna è mobile performed by the Duke of Mantua (you'll know this tune, even if you're not aware of it's name or origin:, as well as the tension and drama that brews through a thunderstorm to the tragic climax. I think the only complaints that I might have about this production is the staging. Overall it's not particularly bad. It's essentially a one set piece that alternates between being the Duke's house and Rigoletto's house, revolving when necessary. The revolving though is partly the issue for me. There is one moment during Act I when everything pauses for the set to revolve. The revolution thought takes just a few moments too long, to the point where I seriously wondered if the set had broken (not so, unless there were identical problems on two evenings). It just seemed to kill everything off for a moment as it seemed to be getting into it's stride. There is also a designated 'pause' between Act II and Act III. Normally this is for a set change of some kind, however on this ocassion, it simply seemed to be a pause in the action as the curtains remained up and nothing especially apparent happened to the set. I'm sure there was a good reason for it, i just couldn't see what the reason was!

In summary though, this was a great evening at the opera. It was something of a relief to be back at Covent Garden for the sort of opera that really gets me going. The last Verdi opera was back in January with La traviata. Since then it's been a run of Mozart and then Rusalka. None of which were especially bad (Don Giovanni aside!), but none of which really enraptured me in the same way as a good old fashioned opera from an Italian great does!Viva Verdi! Viva Rigoletto!

Rating: ****
Seats: E39 & C39, Amphitheater, £37, **** (Excellent value really for a full view of the stage and close to the front of the Amphitheater)