Wednesday, 30 December 2009

He's no Santa, but you wouldn't want to end up on his naughty list

A quick reminder for those of you who can receive S4C Digital (I'm sure it's on the Sky contraption box) that Bryn Terfel's recent Bad Boy's concert at St David's Hall is on this evening at 8.25pm. Running at a generous 90 minutes it's more than a token offering and should make for a handy night in for people who couldn't make it or who had a run-in with train furniture. If only Scarpia had become a safety inspector for Arriva Trains Wales...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Cardiff Singer off the World Победитель Ekaterina Scherbachenko to appear at Covent Garden

Way back in the middle of the year when I believed fellow bus / train / hot air balloon passengers' confident inside knowledge of a hot and sunny summer to come I spent a week sat in the Comfiest Seats in Showbiz (TM) during the BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year 2009 competition at St David's Hall. The eventual winner was Russia's Ekaterina Scherbachenko (aka Golden Cheekbones) who had me jelly legged after her Liù stylee number (that note's still ringing in my memory). She'd marked most judges cards with her earlier heat rendition of Tatyana's Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin and folks at Covent Garden will get to see her in the flesh as Tatyana come August 2010 as the Bolshoi Ballet & Opera Company take up a brief residency.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Fancy yourself a McVicar?

For the sake of the children, don't feed Santa last year's mince pies.

Ever thought that you could do better than the singers on stage? Well now you can, or at least you can if it's Carmen you fancy bossing around with some puppet finger madness from Custom Works. If you'd prefer something bigger than Tom Thumb then they've got a range of larger dolls including Beethoven and a dapper Puccini.

In case you're wondering, no, I am not taking any backhanders for this post – but if their sales rocket then I would, under duress (let it be said many times) accept a token of respect...but one glance at my blog hits has "wishful thinking" ringing in my ears.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

They don't make them like this anymore - Domingo shoots the breeze with Yentob

Placido reacts with genuine enthusiasm after my audition for Washington National Opera

Thankfully not all the hours on television are given over to talent shows, reality programmes, soaps... (fill in the list with your own grumbles) - sometimes tiny shards of quality make it to the screen and tonight is one of those occasions. Alan Yentob, not a man unfamiliar with the world of opera during his time making the Imagine programmes, has been at it again picking the brains of Placido Domingo. No preview tapes were available at the time of writing as I'm not a journalist or BBC insider but at a rough guess I'll say the programme is centred on PD's recent debut as a baritone in Simon Boccanegra.

For viewers in Wales please note that the programme begins thirty minutes later while folks in Scotland and Northern Ireland you'll have to wait an hour.

While I'm not giving Charlie Brooker a run for his money I thought I'd point out a few other operatic small screen appearances over the holiday season. The recent ROH production of Tchaikovsky's The Tsarina's Slippers will be shown on BBC 2 on Christmas Eve at 2.15pm. Securing the afternoon slot on Christmas Day itself is the recent Netrebko / Villazon film version of La Boheme on BBC2 at 4.10pm. The last sighting of anything minus an X-Factor contestant is Bryn Terfel's recent Bad Boys concert at St David's Hall, showing on S4C at 8.25pm on the 30th of December under the title of Bryn Terfel: Cyngerdd y Bechgyn Drwg.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Getting to know you...

Hand on heart my first ever single I bought was Stu Francis' classic rendition of "Ooh, I could crush a grape!" and the first LP I bought was Shakin Stevens' "Green Door" – not exactly the natural way into opera, nor were doses of The Cure, Tori Amos, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Blake Babies, BB King, Robert Cray…you get what I'm trying to say, right?

There are countless ways of coming to the world of opera – or any other music genre for that matter, but getting to know who, and what's what, can be a daunting prospect with something that's been around a bit longer than electricity. But you needn't gulp loudly and think you're in for a lot of brow furrowing times reading tomes and listening to talks given in libraries.

First and foremost opera is music, with acting thrown into the bargain. Even if you've never sat through an opera, or even half a one odds are you'll have come across it in some way. Television, films and advertising are full of the stuff – and with the World Cup on the horizon you can bet that there'll be the odd montage used.

So if you're harbouring an interest in it getting into opera what should you do? As with most things the answer is – anything. For some people jumping in head-first and going along to a staged opera will be ideal while for others buying a recording of an opera with a libretto will be more their thing (in case you're wondering a libretto is a chunky booklet with the low down on the plot and all the words / lyrics that are sung – especially handy if you don't speak too many languages and haven't got the hearing abilities of a bat). Whatever you do just remember to enjoy it, and not feel overawed, and especially don't feel you have to prostrate yourself in honour to the music. Enjoy it.

Okay, so if you've decided to take option a and go along to see one in the flesh you're thinking, "Where should I go?" The answer to this question can be found closer to home than you think. Most people will have heard of The Royal Opera and Covent Garden – and quite rightly so – but for many people a trip to London can be too expensive to see something they're not sure of. But help is at hand in the form of several smaller opera companies dotted throughout this humpbacked pig shaped island of ours. Starting off with the pig head there is WNO that though based in Cardiff tours throughout Wales with extensive forays across the border. Opera North represents the lower part of the hump, while the upper part of the hump can be found with Scottish Opera. The beauty of these smaller companies is that they travel around enough to reach most parts of Pig Island while not charging a lot for their efforts.

Okay, the bit that everyone worries about their first time. Dress code. Unless you've got a thing for Superman / Naughty Nurse costumes pretty anything else goes. Some people like to go the whole hog and bow tie / ball gown the evening while others prefer a suit, which is fine by me. Personally, I'm a jeans man myself (though I do like the odd ball gown now and again) and have turned up to the opera houses of London, Vienna, Budapest and of course Cardiff in varying degrees of colour and bagginess of the blue stuff without an ounce of embarrassment. Wear what you like – if someone does a raising of their nose to you just shrug your shoulders and remember the line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off – "It's understanding that makes it possible for people like us to tolerate a person like yourself."

Once you're sat and the curtain comes up it can help if you know a bit about what happens in the opera beforehand, but on the other hand going with the flow can be a bit of an adventure. To help things along surtitles are shown above the stage giving an idea of what's being sung on stage. Don't worry if you get lost now and then – it'll have happened to everyone at some point. Okay, one slightly important thingage. Clapping. To be on the safe side wait until everyone else claps during the performance – but only if you feel like it. But come the end of the night, which can be between two and three hours plus it is the done thing to applaud the performers even if they didn't rock your boat – they've tried their best after all.

If you've gone for option b – buying a recording – there are several ways to go about this. You can splash some serious(ish) cash on the more expensive recordings out there, or you can buy recordings from smaller labels like Naxos. Increasingly though the larger labels are re-releasing their catalogues without libretti at affordable prices. A good source for libretti on the internet is the EMI Classics website that has a fair few free libretti on offer, or you can buy single libtretti for a few quid. But hang on! Aren't we in the age of DVD? Yep. And you can buy pretty much any opera on DVD – but prices do vary so shop around to get the best for your wallet. If you like your opera big sized you can catch The Met Live in HD in cinemas, But for the freebie lovers keep an eye on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday evenings.

So there you are – a brief introduction into introducing yourself to opera. I won't give a list of what you should see / listen / watch as my tastes aren't yours. If you try it and it isn't for you then don't worry. If you try it and you love it then great! But at least give it a try. And okay, I will drop one name into the ring of an opera that is very much a firm favourite with audiences the world over, and it will include a couple of ditties you're bound to know...Carmen.