Tuesday, 24 November 2009

And so it is Christmas...(sort of)

No mince pies for you after midnight

With the year coming to a close and the traditional festive gales upon us I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and pick out my operatic highlights of the year. Dragging this old chestnut of an idea out in November is a bit like carols in September, but I've decided to plough on regardless. For those of you expecting a top ten list I'm sorry to disappoint but I'll be head scratching like a mad scientist if I tried to choose any single performance, so I'll stick to fence sitting and splinters…

In many ways this has been my coming out year in terms of Wagner – despite the odd quibble here and there by some critics I was hooked by the ROH production of Der fliegende Holländer earlier in the year. Everything seemed to fall into place – the generous casting (Bryn Terfel, Anja Kampe and Hans-Peter König) the set design and direction, conducting and of course who could forget the music? As introductions to Wagner goes I think it's an ideal piece that affords the audience a hint of what to expect from his later works…as long as you catch his later works being performed properly. I'll say no more about I Know What You Did Last Summer

Sticking with ROH productions it's going to be hard to ever forget Il barbiere di Siviglia with Joyce "Hard as Nails" Di Donato singing through the pain barrier (and later from a wheelchair) with a cast (living, not pink) that lived up to all the hype; Juan Diego Florez, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Alessandro Corbelli and Pietro Spagnoli as a great late replacement for Simon Keenlyside who returned to sing in another cast bursting at the seems with talent in Don Carlo. Jonas Kaufmann led the line expertly with Marina Poplavskaya carving arias exquisitely and Ferruccio Furlanetto playing an altogether more complex baddie.

For the soprano / mezzo loving guy that I am I was richly spoiled with the pairing of Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca in I Capuleti e i Montecchi – it was as if I'd dived into a swimming pool full of the creamiest chocolate known to mankind.

Not everyone's favourite production of Carmen gave me second helpings of Garanca and firsts of Roberto Alagna in a three hour "name that tune" fest that certainly had me humming for days on end afterwards (tunes that is, not donkey doo). Complaints were made about the lascivious nature of Garanca's Carmen, but speaking as a male of the species I can't say I was all that offended...

Scariest moment of the ROH year however must go to Bryn Terfel's Scarpia and his "Tre sbirri, una carozza" skit from Tosca – such a shame that Puccini went and spoiled it by having Angela Gheorghiu going all Kill Bill on him.

Other London highlights included Berlioz's Faust with Joyce "Still as Hard as Nails" Di Donato and super super super-sub Willard White while ENO's superb Turn of the Screw was dripping in atmosphere from the get-go.

But London wasn't my only port of call this year and the Hungarian State Opera offered up an inventive production of Handel's Xerxes that made me forget the hardest seat I've ever sat on in my life – and I have to mention the relatively unknown Gabriella Fodor who excelled in her role as Romilda.

The numero uno highlight of my non-UK excursions though was catching Anna Netrebko as Violetta in Vienna with Joseph Calleja and Vladimir Stoyanov as Love Thang and Papa Love Thang's extraordinaire. I'll just stick to "marvellous" and move on. A big thank you to my fellow international queees on the day for making it a wonderful experience – especially to the Viennese local who offered me a stool.

And then there was WNO - the whole reason why I've become interested in opera. Battling the likes of the Royal Opera House and the Wien Staatsoper with their starry role calls of singers and conductors you'd think they'd struggle to compete – but I'm proud to say they certainly didn't. Performances of Salome and Le nozze di Figaro were devoured by audiences, not forgetting the Charles Mackerras conducted Mitridate with Aleksandra Kurzak and Emma Bell.

But my personal WNO highlight of 2009 has to be the revival of Richard Jones' take on Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades. I'm not exaggerating when I say the production (with the exception of a slightly large skeleton) would not have been out of place on any international stage. Misha Didyk and Tatiana Monogarova may not be names familiar to many people but they gave heartfelt and thrilling performances, aided and abetted by Alexander Polianichko conducting and the likes of Ann Murray, David Solari, Tomas Tomasson and WNO's very own David Soar. A very large gripe I have is that S4C in their agreement to record a WNO production every year missed out on a wonderful opportunity to capture WNO at its best.

Closing out this year I can't, of course, not mention BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year 2009. For a whole week I was treated to some thigh slapping seriously good singing from some thigh slapping seriously promising singers. The finalists you will (I hope) remember – Ekaterina Scherbachenko (the winner), Yuri Minenko (the nearly winner), Jan Martiník (Song Prize Winner), Eri Nakamura (ROH Jette Parker Young Artist / pocket rocket) and Giordano Luca (seven year itch).

But what of those who didn't make it through? Katherine Tier of Australia should be Wagnering your soul in the coming years if her rendition of Wesendonck Lieder No. 3 is anything to go by. I hope Bulgarian Emiliya Ivanova will be travelling around a lot more after her performance of Gounod's "Je veux vivre". Javier Arrey should have made the Concert Final in my books although he did make it to the Song Prize Final as did the sassy Swansea lassy Natalya Romaniw who, for the record, is Welsh, despite what some people thought. Anyone else? Dana Bramane is another name to follow and...oh just take a look at the video clips and keep your eyes peeled for them all over the coming years! Apologies for you who live outside the UK but the BBC I- (don't) Player only works in the UK.

On a sad note it was announced earlier this month that competition founder J Mervyn Williams died at the age of 74. To read a warmly written tribute pop along to the BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year website.

So it's been a superb musical year that sadly has to end…and next year? That can wait, apart from savouring the performances from this year I've still got to squeeze a few more!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Ow! Then Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Get out your violins and pack the submachine gun in its case - thanks to the equation of metal bar + kneecap = swollen knee I am, instead of making my way merrily to St Davids Hall to see Bryn Terfel in concert, sitting at home holding a sandwich bag full of frozen peas on my knee. I've used up every known swear word in the English language, invented a couple more and regressed to around about eight years of age in the space of a few hours and am only now (vaguely) acting my real age - which is far bigger than anyone's shoe size.

The cause of the indisposition? No - I don't owe loan shark Mad Lou any money - instead it's the idiotic design of train tables. Do the people who invent these things ever consider the fact that people have to propel themselves out from a seat using at least some forward motion? How about using a table that doesn't require a forest of hidden metal bars? How about padding them in some way? How about I be more careful in future? Ummmm, no - it's far easier to blame someone else for my knee.

Thankfully the concert is being recorded for TV - which is a tiny crumb of comfort at the moment.

I'd better be off as the peas are defrosting, but before I do I hope that everyone who's off to the concert tonight has a great time.

Okay, I'm lying.

I hope there's an electrical failure causing the performance to be rescheduled for a later date. Isn't that what one of Bryn's Bad Boys would say?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Demon Barber of Queen Street

Potentially hairy business is afoot at HMV Cardiff next Tuesday morning as Bryn "Menace II Society" Terfel swaps Sweeny Todd's razor for a much nicer Bic as he signs copies of his new CD Bad Boys instore (11.00am in case you were wondering).

Less than sixteen hours earlier he'll have kicked off his UK tour at St David's Hall where he'll be sharing the stage with some of the more colourful malcontents of the musical world including Scarpia and Mefistofele / Mephistopheles.

Having listened to the CD a few times I can confirm that Big Bryn T is indeed a Bad Boy extraordinaire, but I'm a bit disappointed that there was no collaboration with Will Smith.

For more inside skinny you can pop along to DGG's Bad A$$ mini-site.

Monday's concert is being recorded for future broadcasting on S4C - so if you miss the show you know where to go!

(Apologies for an unpoetic use of rhyme)