Le nozze di Figaro - Royal Opera House, 16 September 2013
Now this is more like it. After the disappointing start to the ROH season with Turandot comes the best revival yet of David McVicar's 2006 production. The comedy sparkles, the social satire bites, and three and a half hours pass in no time.
Rolando Villazon / Lucy Crowe / Gabrieli Consort / Paul McCreesh - Royal Festival Hall, 3 May 2010
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Solomon) Fatto inferno (Rodelinda) Pastorello d'un povero armento (Rodelinda) Concerto grosso in B flat, Op.3 No.2 Più che penso alle fiamme del core (Serse) Se pietà di me non senti (Giulio Cesare) Crude furie degl' orridi (Serse) Scherza infida (Ariodante) Oboe Concerto No.3 in G minor Ciel e terra (Tamerlano) Da tempeste (Giulio Cesare) Bajazet death scene, Oh, perme lieto - Fremi, minaccia, Figlia mia, Tu, spietato (Tamerlano) Encores: Ombra mai fu, Doppo notte
It's hard to know what to think, let alone to say, about this bizarre evening. And as a longtime admirer of Rolando Villazon, it gives me no pleasure to write what I'm about to. And no, I'm not just talking about the village-idiot haircut.
The tired old tinselled macaroon production is the least of the problems, even making allowances for the unfinished nature of the rehearsal product. I haven't heard the ROH orchestra play this badly all year. Scrappy ensemble, poor intonation, deranged brass - it would shame a school band. The curtain-down preludes were a real trial. Were there any orchestra rehearsals at all beforehand? It certainly didn't sound like it. Kirill Petrenko really has his work cut out to knock it into shape before Monday's opening.
And I was disappointed in Soile Isokoski's Marschallin. I can understand why she wanted to conserve her voice for most of the rehearsal, but charisma doesn't wear out if it's exercised. Her presence barely registered. And her makeup was positively unkind - couldn't they at least give her some brows?
Sophie Koch's Octavian too failed to sparkle, though at least she sang out. As to why a seventeen year old boy might be interested in knocking off a flour-faced gran (and vice versa) the production imparts no clues. It's rare that any of the characters even look at each other outside the comic knockabouts, and so the Marschallin's beautifully-written soul-searching passes unexplored.
So the sideshow became the star - the delightfully oafish Baron Ochs of Peter Rose, whose less than elegant singing works in this case to the character's advantage. Thomas Allen's Faninal too was wonderfully drawn in the few lines allotted.
But it was Lucy Crowe who left the most positive impression overall, a Sophie as defiant and spirited as Baron Ochs claims. Some of those top notes sounded dangerously squeezed, but the rest was liquid silver, and her stroppy charm made a long four and half hours pass less slowly.
Booking for Covent Garden's Winter Season (December to March) starts today for Friends, and 20 October for all you other people.
Not much is massively tempting, though the first of Plácido Domingo's appearances this season is a must-see. He's already sung in Madrid - and been immortalised on DVD - in this striking Graham Vick production of Handel's Tamerlano, conducted for the Royal Opera House by Handel specialist Ivor Bolton.
Also worth catching - if there are any tickets left - is Plácido 'In Conversation' in the Linbury Studio on 26 February.
Kirill Petrenko is the conductor for Der Rosenkavalier, a dust down for the 1984 John Schlesinger production. A promising cast is headed by Soile Isokoski, Sophie Koch, Lucy Crowe and Thomas Allen.
Andris Nelsons makes his Royal Opera House debut in December conducting an even more ancient production, John Copley's 1974 La bohème, with Maurizio Benini and Paul Wynne Griffiths substituting in January. Though once should be enough for anyone. Mix'n'match casting includes Piotr Beczala, Hibla Gerzmava and Christopher Maltman. Yards of curtain fabric, acres of creaking boards, smocks akimbo, and even a spot of artistic nudity not mentioned on the ticket (in case you're taking granny).
Last year's disappointing Robert Lepage production ofThe Rake's Progress makes a swift and brilliantly-cast return. Toby Spence (the best Tom Rakewell in town - he was made for this role) is joined by Kate Royal, Kyle Ketelsen, and Stephanie Blythe as Baba the Turk. Lovely Ingo Metzmacher conducts and tickets are a bit cheaper than usual, with a top price of £110.
Even cheaper, with a top price of £50, is Prokofiev's The Gambler. Covent Garden take a step into ENO territory with a new English language production by Richard Jones. The cast includes Roberto Sacca, Angela Denoke, John Tomlinson, Jurgita Adamonyte and Kurt Streit, and Pappano conducts. No doubt intended to draw in a new audience, as is a half day education event An Introduction to Opera on 20 February.
It's hard to make Mozart dull, but Jonathan Miller's painfully misguided assault on Così Fan Tutte does the trick. Not half as happening as it thinks it is, and it's doubtful if Charles Castronovo, Troy Cook, Sally Matthews and Nino Surgaladze can salvage it. Julia Jones waves the baton for female conductors.
Here first! - a full list of all the Royal Opera House's main stage productions for the 2009/10 season.
The 2009/10 Covent Garden season opens with neither bang nor whimper but with a credit-crunching concert performance on 7 September (repeated on 14 September). Makes a change from last year's Sun readers' special I suppose.
The opera in question is Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, and the conductor is bel canto genius Mark Elder. The cast includes potential Next Big Things Stephen Costello, Eglise Gutierrez and Luciano Botelho, plus the incomparable Alessandro Corbelli, the first of several welcome appearances this season.
The first staged opera of the season is Nicholas Hytner's lego-loving Don Carlo, with - OMG!- Jonas Kaufmann !!! in the title role. John Tomlinson joins him as the Grand Inquisitor, and the rest of the cast is lifted straight from the first run - Marina Poplavskaya, Simon Keenlyside, fans' favourite Ferruccio Furlanetto, Sonia Ganassi and Pumeza Matshikiza.The conductor is Semyon Bychkov.
This season's contribution to the 2013 Wagnerversary is a new Christof Loy production of Tristan und Isolde. Antonio Pappano conducts Ben Heppner, Nina Stemme, Matti Salminen, Michael Volle and Sophie Koch.
Neigh! Francesco Zambello's ghastly Carmen returns in October, with the latest Covent Garden favourite Elina Garanca back for the title role, fighting off Roberto Alagna, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, and a farmyard full of furry friends. Bertrand de Billy conducts. It's resuscitated again in June 2010 with a distinctly 'B' cast.
October also sees one of Richard Jones's more subtle and effective efforts back on stage - and attractively cast. The shouldn't-work-but-it-does double bill of Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole (Christine Rice, Yann Beuron, Christopher Maltman, Andrew Shore and Bonaventura Bottone) and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (Thomas Allen, Maria Bengtsson and Stephen Costello) is conducted by Pappano.
Francesco Zambello steps into Tchaikovsky's The Slippers in November. The new production will be conducted by Alexander Polianichko and features some serious talent fresh from the Mariinsky - Olga Guryakova, Vsevolod Grivnov, Larissa Diadkova, Vladimir Matorin and Maxim Mikhailov.
John Schlesinger's elderly Der Rosenkavalier is dusted off in December. Kirill Petrenko conducts and the cast includes Soile Isokoski, Sophie Koch, Thomas Allen and Lucy Crowe.
Littering the December and January schedules is the inevitable La Bohème. This time Andris Nelsons conducts most of the double-cast performances, which begin with Piotr Beczala and Hibla Gerzmava and end with not a few tbc's.
Robert Lepage's intermittently effective Rake's Progress returns in January 2010. Ingo Metzmacher, Toby Spence (a Tom Rakewell tdf), Kate Royal, Kyle Ketelsen and Stephanie Blythe promise much on the musical side.
Female conductor alert! Top Lisboan Julia Jones wields the baton over Jonathan Miller's Cosi fan Tutte in January. The cast includes Charles Castronovo and Sally Matthews.
A new Richard Jones production of Prokofiev's The Gambler in February is conducted by Pappano, with a cast including Roberto Sacca, Angela Denoke, John Tomlinson and Jurgita Adamonyte.
Plácido Domingo's first appearance of the season is as a tenor. Graham Vick's acclaimed production of Handel's Tamerlano(recorded in Madrid and availableon DVD con Plácido) makes its first visit to Covent Garden in March with Christianne Stoijn, Sara Mingardo and Christine Schäfer. Baroque specialist Ivor Bolton conducts.
Bill Bryden's family-friendly The Cunning Little Vixen returns in March with Emma Matthews, Christopher Maltman and Emma Bell, though the presence of Charles Mackerras on the podium has to be the main draw.
Caurier and Leiser's lovely Il Turco in Italia is back in April, with Maurizio Benini conducting, and Aleksandra Kursak, Colin Lee, Alessandro Corbelli, Thomas Allen and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo in the cast.
Aida is subjected to the David McVicar magic in April. His new production is conducted by Nicola Luisotti and features Micaela Carosi, Marcelo Alvarez and Luciana D'Intino. Bare naked elephants?
The last of the Big Three, Richard Eyre's subtly intelligent La Traviata, makes its annual appearance in May and July. This time her name's in the programme - Our first Lady of the Camellias is the fabulous former Netrebko sub Ermonela Jaho. Joining her in her long-awaited return to Covent Garden in May are Saimir Pirgu and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. July's 'B' Violetta is Angela Gheorghiu, who makes do with James Valenti and Zeljko Lucic. Yves Abel conducts.
Laurent Pelly's now-legendary La Fille du Régiment returns in May with the unbeatable original cast of Juan Diego Flórez, Natalie Dessay, Alessandro Corbelli and Felicity Palmer back in place. Bruno Campanella conducts.
What would tempt Sir Colin Davis back into the pit? How about David McVicar's Le Nozze di Figaro? Erwin Schrott, Camilla Tilling, Maruisz Kwiecen. Annette Dasch, Soile Isokoski and Christine Schäfer head the strong cast.
Antonio Pappano conducts Laurent Pelly's new Manon, coming to Covent Garden in June with the announced cast including Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón. Anyone fancy a bet?
In one of those rare operatic fairy stories, June sees a baritone with less than a year's experience thrust into a leading role at Covent Garden. Yes, it's Plácido Domingo again, and this time he's Simon Boccanegra. Antonio Pappano conducts a strong cast including Marina Poplavskaya, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Joseph Calleja. It's the 1991 Elijah Moshinsky production by the way, not the Ian Judge one seen last year.
The season ends in July 2010 with the first revival of David McVicar's controversial Salome. Angela Denoke takes the central role, with Johan Reuter as Jokanaan. Hartmut Haenchen conducts.
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~~~~~~~~~
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.
David McVicar brings his chipolata-stuffedRigoletto back to the Royal Opera House on 10 February. Star-power is limited to veterans Leo Nucci and Paolo Gavanelli sharing the title role but this is Verdi at his most unbreakable so that's all it needs. We wait eagerly to see what Francesco Meli and Ekaterina Siurina can make of the Duke and Gilda. More Ekaterina in recital at St John's Smith Square on 20 February.
George Benjamin's highly-praised shortie Into the Little Hill gets its long-awaited London premiere in the Linbury Studio on 14 February. It's coupled with Birtwistle's Down by the Greenwood Side. Still no casting details on the ROH site, whatever that means.
But the major event of the month at Covent Garden is the premiere of Tim Albery's new production of Der fliegende Holländer on 23 February with Bryn 'teh Chin' Terfel as the Dutchman.
At ENO, Jonathan Miller's new La Bohème opens tomorrow. And you are duly warned that John Adams's irredeemably dim-witted Dr Atomic, which I saw in New York last autumn (well the first half anyway: I walked out at the interval) arrives on 25 February. On the plus side, it has a far better production and cast than the material deserves.
Opera Holland Park slip through the park gates and catch the 391 to Richmond Theatre where from 24 February the simple country folk can enjoy their brilliant Tosca from last summer. There are two casts - Amanda Echalaz, the best Tosca in town, sings on 25 and 27 February and 1 March.
The Barbican presents Handel's oratorio Samson on 12 February, for which The Sixteen are joined by a terrific line of of soloists including Mark Padmore, Gillian Keith, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Roderick Williams. And on 22 and 23 February, the LSO record Berlioz's Te Deum with Sir Colin Davis
Wigmore Hall's bargain-priced 4 o'clock Sunday song recitals continue with two artists on the brink of major careers - Jacques Imbrailo on 15 February and Lucy Crowe on 22 February.
On 21 February Gustavo Dudamel makes an eagerly-awaited return to London, where he conducts the Philharmonia in Mahler's 5th at the Royal Festival Hall.
And at the same place tomorrow night, 4 February Matthias Goerne joins Neeme Jarvi and the LPO for Mahler's Kindertotenlieder coupled with a purist-agitating rarity - Mahler's arrangement of Beethoven's 9th. There's a free talk at 6.15 for anyone who's interested in the background to this fascinating molestation. The photo below shows Mahler conducting Beethoven's 9th in Strasbourg in 1905.
Les Musiciens du Louvre / Minkowski - Barbican, 18 January 2009
Marc Minkowski brought his Musiciens du Louvre to the Barbican on Sunday night to celebrate St Cecilia, patron saint of music and itchy underwear, in the form of choral works by three 2009 anniversarians. Handel set Dryden's Ode for St Cecilia's Day and Purcell a knockoff by Nicholas Brady. Haydn squeezes in on a technicality; his Missa Cellensis acquired the name Missa Sanctae Caeciliae some time after composition.
The Olympian scale endurance event sprawled over nearly four hours of Sunday evening - something the Barbican omitted to mention in advance, or even in the programme as they usually do. For baroque opera regulars, it was a breeze, but not everyone lasted the course. Purcell alone was enough to empty a few seats, and the press pack were amongst the late casualties who skipped the extended encore.
I'm generally not that keen on Purcell, but Hail Bright Cecilia shows him at his most inventive, with the 'warbling lute' , the 'am'rous flute' and all the other instruments descriptively scored. Minkowski's band played vibrantly - he's no historical authoritarian.
There was some immaculate solo singing, particularly from tenor Anders Dahlin - a true haute-contre - and the peaches and cream soprano of Lucy Crowe, fairy-like in a glittering duck egg blue mermaid gown. A couple of the soloists, countertenor David Bates and bass-baritone Neil Baker, were drawn from the choir, and their excellent performances were indicative of the high choral standard overall. The only complaint is that what seemed a deliberate attempt not to over-enunciate consonants made porridge of some of the text.
A haunting solo cello introduction set the tone for some fearless and spirited Handel. As with Purcell, the text inspires some vivid writing. Richard Croft relished the military insistence of the double, double, double beat in The trumpet's loud clangour. Lucy Crowe held the whole house in pindrop silence with the poised and plangent The soft complaining flute.
There was only time for the Kyrie and Gloria of Haydn's mass on the programme, though no doubt Minkowski would happily have given us the whole lot. Written just seven years after Handel's death, it seems a lifetime apart in its assured classicism, and Minkowski subtly but decisively switched gears to highlight this. There was not a hint of fatigue from him or from any of the performers.
Interrupting the applause to offer 'the best' of the remaining parts, he launched into a twenty minute chunk of the Credo. The stately and thinly-scored Et incarnatus est for tenor solo turned out to be Richard Croft's finest moment of the night.
Florilegium / Lucy Crowe - Wigmore Hall, 9 March 2008
TelemannOuverture in E minor Handel Cantata: Crudel tiranno amor Telemann Conclusion in E minor from Tafelmusik Bach, J B Overture in D Bach, W F Sinfonia in D minor - Adagio and Fugue Bach, J S Cantata BWV209 Non sa che sia dolore
It seems a lot of the less well known baroque music dished up for us doesn't have much to recommend it besides novelty. But Ashley Solomon's ensemble Florilegium - tonight eight members in all, including two flutes and harpsichord - seem more skilled than most at unearthing stuff that's worth a second listen.
They did it tonight with W F (son of) Bach's D minor Sinfonia extracts. In the fascinating adagio, as the programme notes put it 'two flutes play a mournful melody above quietly hesitating syncopated strings'. The fugue is less arresting, but interestingly scored. Florilegium's touch was featherlight, the ensemble beautifully balanced, as it was all evening.
I confess though my main reason for attending was the soloist (Katherine Jenkins' ex-flatmate) Lucy Crowe. Not one to just stand there and sing prettily, she threw herself into Handel's Crudel tiranno amor as if it was a matter of life and death. Not every colour in her palette was a beautiful one. She shaded towards the screechy quite a few times, and intonation wasn't always perfect, but the impact was undeniable. Few singers have the guts to abandon deference to the Wigmore Hall, to open up and treat it like an opera house, particularly in the baroque repertoire. It requires total commitment, or the effort falls flat. But the risk paid off here as Lucy Crowe's impassioned delivery tugged us in.
Her Bach cantata came across as less focused and prepared, and wasn't quite as successful, but with the encore, Handel's Lascia ch'io pianga, we had the best performance of the night.