Semele - Les Talens Lyriques / Christophe Rousset - Barbican, 8 July 2010
Semele is a long piece uncut; a delayed start and extended intervals made it seem even more so. But crack harpsichordist Christophe Rousset's bouncy reading kept things moving along nicely, and the four hours passed without the expected yawns. We got a 'semi-staged' version (for which read face-pulling and no scores) clearly honed from a brief, staged run in Paris the previous week.
Twinkling nearly as much as her weighty diamond parure, the Babs Windsor of baroque opera Danielle de Niese was the nominal star. True to form, her p0rny pouting and braless jiggling were more memorable than her short-breathed, scratchy soprano. Some laboured posturing with a mirror in Myself I shall adore threatened to turn a walk-on, walk-off concert performance into grotesque caricature. Perhaps it was meant to be ironic. But true glamour is in short supply in the world of opera, and she has it in spades, so most of the audience lapped it up anyway.
The serious, top-drawer Handel performances came from the rest of the cast, which included Jaël Azzaretti, Richard Croft, Peter Rose, Claire Debono and, most impressively, Vivica Genaux as the disappointed Ino and the vengeful Juno. She may look like a goldfish at feeding time in the faster passages, but those unconventionally rapid jaw movements sculpt her coloratura with extraordinary precision. There was the odd whiff of a French accent from the Théâtre des Champs Élysées choir, but the clarity of their English diction would put most native speakers to shame.
L'incoronazione di Poppea - Teatro Real Madrid, 24 May 2010
You don't expect singing of subtlety and elegance from Danielle de Niese and, unsurprisingly, you don't get it here. But you can practically see the steam rising from her squirming, panting Poppea. No-one is going to topple De Niese from her perch as the reigning queen of baroque sluts any time soon. She dominates the stage every time she steps on it.
Scarcely a month since I whinged about the BBC's lack of opera coverage compared to Germany, they've announced A Passion For Opera, a season of opera-themed TV programmes airing in late spring.
Final dates and schedules are to be announced, but here's what's on the menu.
The meatiest chunk of operatic programming is Opera Italia! - and don't forget that '!'.
As announced last year, this features Opera, Italy, and Antonio Pappano in one mindblowing three-programme series. Maestro Pappano explores the central role that opera plays in Italian history and culture. Behind-the-scenes footage will feature him rehearsing the likes of Renee Fleming, Juan Diego Florez and Sir Thomas Allen. Full details at the foot of the page.
Another previously announced programme is Verdi - The Director's Cut. This traces the creation of Graham Vick's recent productions of Aida at Bregenz and Othello in Birmingham. Othello itself will be shown in full in a separate programme.
Diva Diaries will follow Danielle de Niese as she prepares for her first big Met role, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro.
Stephen Fry On Wagner promises to do what it says on the tin, featuring the emperor of Twitter himself poking around last year's Bayreuth festival. Advance gossip suggests you should plan your drinking game around the word 'Nazi'.
In Gareth Goes To Glyndebourne, Britain's favourite chorus master Gareth Malone picks and trains an amateur youth chorus for Glyndebourne's new - c'mon, it's not Tosca, so can we please say Zeitoper? - Knight Crew by Julian Philips.
In the tenuously-linked Rick Stein – Food Of The Italian Opera, Rick Stein "traces the role that food played in the creation of Italian opera and discusses this with experts from the opera world". At a guess, not one for Rossini-haters.
In What Makes A Great Soprano and What Makes A Great Tenor Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Rolando Villazon will investigate the secrets of their craft.
Rounding off the operatic feast is another opportunity to see Alan Yentob's unrevealing Placidoc, Imagine - Placido Domingo.
As well as the documentaries, there are three full-length opera broadcasts.
The big one isSimon Boccanegra, baritone-impersonator Placido Domingo's debut at Covent Garden.
Jonathan Kent's new Glyndebourne production of Don Giovanni features full-time baritone Gerald Finley in the title role.
Finally, Covent Garden's David McVicar production of Le Nozze Di Figaro is conducted by Antonio Pappano. It's not clear yet which baritone stars - if they're shooting this season's revival, it should be Erwin Schrott.
More about Opera Italia
Here's the full spec, pinched word-for-word from the press release:
Programme 1: The Birth Of Opera: Monteverdi To Rossini
Antonio Pappano's journey begins by looking at the origins of opera as entertainment in the palaces of Italy. He visits the Ducal Palace in Mantua where Monteverdi worked as court musician, and plays extracts on the harpsichord of what is considered to be the oldest surviving opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo.
Back in London at the Royal Opera House he works with star singers, soprano Danielle de Niese and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, on Monteverdi's final masterpiece, L'incoronazione di Poppea, an opera so full of depravity and sensuality that it still shocks today.
Pappano explains how Handel brought Italian opera to London and shows, with examples from Handel's Giulio Cesare, how he developed the aria into a tour de force for singers. With Mozart, Pappano examines Le nozze di Figaro and demonstrates how Mozart's orchestral writing and brilliance with words bring a new dynamic to the developing operatic form.
Finally, Pappano visits the annual Rossini Festival in Pesaro, and discusses Rossini's writing for the voice with tenor Juan Diego Florez.
Back at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Pappano prepares to conduct Rossini's comic masterpiece, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, for the first time, and works on key arias from the opera with Florez, soprano Joyce DiDonato and baritone Pietro Spagnoli.
Programme 2: The Triumph Of Verdi
Antonio Pappano looks at Donizetti's legacy in workshop with soprano Diana Damrau and tenor Giuseppe Filianoti and examines footage of Dame Joan Sutherland in Lucia di Lammermoor.
He travels to Verdi's birthplace, to Naples to perform with the Orchestra and Chorus of Santa Cecilia, to Milan where he examines Verdi's original manuscripts held at his publishers Ricordi, and to Verona where he sees the spectacle of Verdi's Aida in the vast open air arena.
He is joined by Leo Nucci and Paolo Gavanelli to discuss Verdi's development of baritone roles with excerpts from Rigoletto taken from Gavanelli's performance at the Royal Opera House.
The programme follows Pappano as he rehearses Verdi's La traviata with the star-studded cast of soprano Renee Fleming, tenor Joseph Calleja and baritone Thomas Hampson, and includes interviews with the cast.
Programme 3: Puccini – Popular Genius
In the final programme of Opera Italia!, Antonio Pappano focuses on Puccini and uses examples from some of Puccini's best-known operas – La boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi and Turandot.
He visits Milan where Puccini's experiences, as an impoverished student earning money by playing piano in local bars, became the inspiration for La boheme. Pappano examines the central role of Mimi with one of the world's greatest divas of the past, soprano Renata Scotto.
Pappano visits at dawn the Castel St Angelo in Rome where the final tragic act of Tosca takes place and is joined by soprano Angela Gheorghiu and tenor Roberto Alagna talk about performing the roles of Tosca and Cavaradossi.
Pappano also travels to Italy to visit Puccini's home near Lucca, as well as visiting La Scala in Milan and Rome. He examines Puccini's original manuscripts and works with singers on specific arias from the operas. The programme will also follow him in rehearsals for Gianni Schicchi at the Royal Opera House.
Dido and Aeneas / Acis and Galatea - Royal Opera House, 31 March 2009
It was uncharacteristically brave of the Royal Opera House to unleash a choreographer (Wayne McGregor) and the forces of the Royal Ballet on a pair of operas, but it turned out to be a surprisingly successful experiment.
Perhaps not so brave, actually - his Dido and Aeneas had already aired at La Scala. It was the less bold of the two, conventionally staged against a minimal, monumental set, with precisely-drilled dancers doing little more than filling in the gaps between the singing. That it never really got up any steam dramatically is a problem lying partly with Purcell's now fragmentary score, much of which has been lost over the centuries. But the dancing, which could have been used to paste the scraps together, instead seemed to emphasise the disjunctions.
But there was some fine singing, especially from Sarah Connolly as the tragic Queen Dido and Lucy Crowe as her spirited maid Belinda. Iestyn Davies made an impressive Covent Garden debut too, singing sweetly from above through the hole in the roof. Eri Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza made a striking pair of conjoined-twin witches - a coup de théâtre that unfortunatly served mostly to emphasise the dry formalism of all around it.
The way Christopher Hogwood and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment fleshed out the score emphasised the sheer originality in Purcell's writing.
Tunes were more to the fore in Acis and Galatea - which includes some of his best ones, like Love in her eyes sits playing, Love sounds th’alarm and the charmingly silly Happy we!
The simple pastoral nymph-meets-shepherd tale was garnished with stuffed sheep and tangled branches, and some all-too-rustic singing as well. The title roles grated under the foghorn tenor of Charles Workman and Danielle de Niese's unwieldy vibrato. Matthew Rose as Polyphemus and Paul Agnew as Damon coped with Handel's demands far more gracefully.
But why couldn't the ROH use British singers for the principal roles too? - it's not as if they're thin on the ground. Kate Royal not only sings ten times better than de Niese, she's an accomplished dancer too - and the list of great English tenors, starting with John Mark Ainsley and Mark Padmore, just goes on and on.
Perhaps it was just as well that the dance element was more prominent in this half of the evening. Each singing role, including the chorus, had a dancing double, a soul perhaps, expressing the feeling behind the words. Dancing Acis and Galatea (Ed Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson) entwined in sinuous and utterly entrancing pas-de-deux. Behind the lumbering Polypheme was his exquisitely graceful alter-ego Eric Underwood. The dancers' nudey body stockings - part alien, part newborn - emphasised both their vulnerability and their other-worldliness.
It was all too easy to forget this was an opera and concentrate on the movement - more fluid and literally expressive than McGregor's other work, but stamped with his trademark quirky articulations. It was certainly more compelling than the curiously static singers and their fugly costumes (drag-queen Heidi for de Niese, shaggy tramp for Workman). De Niese did at least redeem herself in a beautifully-executed closing dance with Ed Watson, an emphatic reminder that this production is at heart a dance piece with singing tacked on.
~~~~~~~~~Click below for lots more photos~~~~~~~~~
Yes, it really is Danielle de Niese. Wayne McGregor must be very persuasive. His new Covent Garden production of Acis and Galatea expanded on the alpine brothel theme with a spread of the Royal Ballet's finest dancers in Ken and Barbie bodysuits.
Readers, can *you* guess which one's the singer and which one's the dancer?
Danielle de Niese finished up by dancing - properly - with Ed Watson. Seriously impressive. The same alas cannot be said for her singing on this occasion.
It's late! I'm tired! More tomorrow.....UPDATE......here
Next up is a new double bill of Dido and Aeneas with Acis and Galatea opening 31 March. Choreographer Wayne McGregor, whose work demonstrates little musical sensibility, is the odd choice of director. Sarah Connolly, Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies and Danielle de Niese make their ROH debuts.
On 13 March there's a one-off performance of Verdi's Messa da Requiem. Antonio Pappano conducts Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Piotr Beczala and Ildar Abdrazakov. Sold out, but check for returns towards the date.
At ENO, there's a revival of one of their better recent productions, David Alden's Jenùfa with Amanda Roocroft.
Prom 18: The Coronation of Poppaea - Glyndebourne Festival Opera - Royal Albert Hall, 18 July 2008
Having decided I'd rather spend four hours in a comfy(ish) seat with a decent view than straining my stilettos to peer through the crowd, I forked out £21 for a choir stalls seat, behind the stage. This isn't always a great place to sit for big orchestral concerts, right on top of timps and tubas which can drown out every other sound.
Normally when Glyndebourne visits the Proms, it brings a full sized orchestra with it, so the singers end up squeezed on to a sort of landing strip in the middle.
But with the 20-odd musicians of Emmanuelle Haïm's tiny band shoehorned on to the front of the stage, there was plenty of space left for what turned out to be one of the most complete operatic stagings I've seen at the Proms, not much 'semi' about it at all.
It opened with a cringemaking and redundant bit of comedy 'business': Virtue (got up as a nun see left) and Fortune (glamorously evening-gowned) arguing in the front row of the Arena - from where they were invisible and inaudible to most of the audience (except us lot in the choir, nah). Did the director not realise the audience would be standing?
Equally irritating was the way Cupid - written into only a couple of scenes - loitered around the stage throughout like a wasp at a picnic. It may have made sense in the Glyndebourne staging, but it didn't transfer to the Proms. I shall now remember Amy Freston for her annoying arrow-waving intrusion rather than her brief but excellent singing.
Emmanuelle Haïm directed the pared-down Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from the keyboard, in thinly-scored, unfussy and beautifully translucent arrangements.
Although she'd trimmed the score here and there, only one full scene was sacrificed. I wished she'd pruned more ruthlessly - or at least upped the consistently stately pace here and there. It was a hot fuggy night, half the audience hadn't heard of deodorant, and there there several moments I just wanted her to get on with it.
Vocally, the main draw was Alice Coote, and she didn't disappoint as the coolly psychopathic Nero, a butcher in a dinner suit. An opaque and less intense performance than Coote often gives, but just as enthralling.
Danielle de Niese made a surprisingly good job of Poppea, given that her career seems to be headed down the Katherine Jenkins route.
While her idea of acting secksy is as subtle as a stag party strippergram, the voice had more colour and gleam than previous exposure had suggested. As she pouted and squirmed and ground her sturdy thighs into the prone Nero, the difference between the two performances became painfully obvious though. Coote wants you to believe in her, utterly; De Niese just wants to be admired. Poppea is more than a firecrotched party girl; she's a schemer who uses her body as a tool to pursue her broader ambitions. De Niese's dramatic skills didn't stretch this far. But otherwise, the role didn't tax her limitations, and she was one of the best things about the evening.
Iestyn Davies sang Ottone with remarkably secure tone and excellent projection - definitely one of the few countertenors with the ability to fill a space the size of the Royal Albert Hall. He bravely sidestepped a cheap laugh, and didn't allow the female disguise he sported for Poppea's attempted murder to overshadow the implications of this desperate act.
Just as well really, because there were men in frocks to spare. Though neither could resist dipping into mannerism, some of the best vocal performances came from the character singers Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as the Queen Motherly Amalta and Dominique Visse as the Mrs T-like Nurse.
Tamara Mumford as a Nepregko-lookalike Octavia and Marie Arnet as Drusilla also gave able performances, and only Paolo Battaglia's desiccated and uncomfortable-looking/sounding Seneca really disappointed. Cruelly costumed in a thick tweed suit, he must have been envious of the many other characters given dramatic licence to cavort in their underpants on this steamy night. Nero's, Ottone's, Amalta's, Lucan's - we saw 'em all.
The only evidence of airconditioning was the noise it made, like hobnailed elves dancing in the pipes. Now that's one area where the Arena really does score - for some reason it's noticeably cooler than the seated areas on the hottest days.
Listen to the whole concert for the next 7 days on Radio 3 here.
A few reverse-angle photos - the only real disadvantage of the choir seats: