Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Concert in Memory of Philip Langridge

This coming Sunday (4th of July, 7.30pm) the opening concert for London Master Classes at the Royal Academy of Music is dedicated to the memory of the late tenor Philip Langridge, who taught at LMC. The concert will feature internationally renowned artists Nelly Miricioiu, Rosalind Plowright, Norma Fisher, Ralph Kirshbaum, Benjamin Zander, Ian Partridge and Sir John Tomlinson.

The tickets priced at £25 are available at the door, by email or by calling 020 8346 7088. All proceeds will go to the London Master Classes Bursary Fund. For further information about the evening you can pop over to the London Master Classes website.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Welsh Singers Competition

Following on from Natalya Romaniw will be...well, read on MusicWeb International

Funny how time flies. One moment you’re in the shower thinking you have plenty of time to get somewhere, two hours later you’re feeling every tic of the second hand has it in for you as you try to break the land speed record held by Bernie Quicklegs who dashed home from the train station to make it to the toilet at an average speed of 5mph. Official sensors on my heels clocked me in at 4.5mph last night as I was nearly late. Again.

Another example of time flying was the face of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2009 winner Ekaterina Scherbachenko on the back of the programme for last night’s Welsh Singers Competition – the event that provides the Welsh competitor for the biannual event. A year ago she was holding the glass bauble up as champion, a year later and she’s Tatianing it around the globe. A year from now there’ll be another name on people’s lips and the first to enter the frame was the winner of last night’s final.

Deciding to splash out more than usual I opted for a stalls ticket instead of my customary cheapest of the cheap up in the rafters close to humming pieces of machinery. Which seemed like a good idea a couple of weeks ago apart from two things. Firstly, as tickets weren’t shifting to appropriate levels the ticket prices were lowered to £5 a pop across the house if you paid at the door. Secondly, in a break with the usually comfortable seats at St David's Hall I managed to choose a seat with a burgeoning lumpiness. Imagine old train seats that were once comfy and you’ll roughly know what I’m blabbering about.

In case you are wondering, no, I haven’t forgotten why I began writing this post.

The finalists. And if you are a finalist, related to a finalist or are friends with a finalist keep in mind that my musical credentials are written on the back of a soggy piece of the thinnest cardboard ever made.

Split between a mezzo, baritone, soprano and tenor the four finalists each sang four ditties in the worryingly (for me) first part of the evening. Nothing quite strikes fear into my heart as an announcement that the interval will take place after everyone has sung when I’ve just dog gulped a bottle and a half of water. Concentration and minimal movement would be the key to the evening.

Rebecca Afonwy-Jones MusicWeb International

Handel - Giulio Cesare Vani sono i lamenti ... Svegliatevi nel core
Bizet - Carmen Près des remparts de Séville
Berg - Seven Early Songs Die Nachtigall
Rossini - La Cenerentola Nacqui all'affanno ... Non più mesta

Backed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales the first competitor was mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones. It’s never easy (or so I’m told) to sing first at these things but Afonwy-Jones got on with it with no signs of nerves. Very easy on the ear with true mezzo low notes as well as a strong and clean top I was quite taken with her performance. Die Nachtigall was my favourite of her quartet and she left the stage with a solid programme behind her. My only quibble was that some of the tempi with the faster numbers were a bit too slow for my liking.

Samuel Evans MusicWeb International

Handel - Agrippina La mia sorte fortunate
Wagner - Tannhäuser Wie Todesahnung ... O du mein holder Abendstern
Finzi - Earth, Air and Rain The Clock of the Years
Mozart - Le nozze di Figaro Hai già vinta la causa! ... Vedrò mentr'io sospiro

Next up was baritone Samuel Evans. I’m guessing that singing to a panel of judges that happens to include of one of the world’s all time top bass-baritones would freak out the most laid back of characters but to be fair to Evans he got on with the job with little fuss. As with Afonwy-Jones it was a balanced programme with the highlight being the Finzi in which Evans excelled in his story telling. His singing in general was clean and elegant, but a heft was missing that would have had me marking him down as my favourite for the title – this was most evident in the Mozart where I wanted a touch more authority in the voice.

Catrin Aur Davies MusicWeb International

Richard Strauss Vier letzte Lieder Frühling
Catalani La Wally Ebben? Ne andrò lontana
Walton Troilus and Cressida At the haunted end of the day
Verdi La traviata È strano! ... Ah fors'è lui ... Sempre libera

Representing the sopranos of Wales Catrin Aur Davies brought a strictly orchestra only programme to the stage, forgoing the piano of the first two competitors. A force of nature is the best description I can muster for Davies. A brave choice of programme had the audience cheering and some on their feet at the end of her programme. If it’s tormented heroines you want then the next couple of years may see Davies doing the biz to good effect. My only quibble was that there was a tiny lack of colour in her voice at times and that the programme was too similar.

John Pierce MusicWeb International

Mozart Die Zauberflöte Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön
Massenet Manon Instant charmant ... En fermant les yeux
Verdi La traviata Lunge da lei ... De' miei bollenti spiriti
Puccini La bohème Che gelida manina

Last to sing was tenor John Pierce. Opting to begin with the Mozart he introduced himself to the audience in a gentler manner than his fellow competitors had done, and although he too opted out of any lieder singing there was a nice balance to his programme. A sweet sounding voice he sent the audience tenor crazy as he finished. Being slightly less in love with the tenor voice I wasn't so sure. But then he was the only competitor all night to do the hair raising bit with his Manon so I was none the wiser.

Thankfully the jury were pretty sprightly on their feet so the Gordian knot I’d wound myself into was quickly hacked clean and I sped off to the loo – this may not be that important to you, but it certainly was to me and let anyone be forewarned if they fancy popping along next time they might consider dehydration as valid preparation.

But on to the result...

I’d rummaged in my mind over what I’d seen and after debating with myself I decided that my favourite was the mezzo, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones. She’d given a well balanced programme that showed off many aspects of her voice and I never felt that she was struggling with the material. I would have liked a touch more agility with some of her singing, but overall I felt that she had a lot to offer. Though I wouldn’t have been storming the stage if any of the others had been chosen as it had been a close run thing throughout the evening.

Up came the jury and numerous sponsors, with Hans Sachs (Bryn Terfel) sporting an impressive suntan bringing up the rear. After he’d felt the love coming from the audience he got down to business and we discovered that the winner was...dun-dundun-duuuuuuun...John Pierce! As most people were working on the labels mezzo, baritone, soprano and tenor it took an instant for name recognition to kick in. All I knew was that I’ve never met a mezzo called John so my choice wasn’t the winner.

John Pierce and some bloke looking for a Facebook profile pic BBC

Cue wild clapping – some jigging in the stalls by family members (you can’t really get a hip shaking groove on when surrounded by furniture and strangers) – and a beaming winner. Cue more clapping for the other finalists who joined everyone in singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau with the memorable experience of having Hans Sachs singing proudly beside the still beaming winner.

It was a result that I couldn’t argue with as Pierce had been the only singer all evening to make my hair dance and he certainly feels the music he’s performing. So we have the first name for next year’s competition. All that remains is for the remaining twenty-four to be added.

If you fancy hearing last night’s final BBC Radio Cymru are repeating it again this coming Sunday though there seems to be a slight confusion as to when it would be broadcast. I'm sure my ears caught the time of 4pm last night, but checking on the BBC Radio Cymru website the time is for 2.30pm.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Rigoletto WMC Opening Night

Reconstructing Oscar Wilde - To have one internationally anticipated role debut with WNO is exciting, to have two is exciting-exciting. While the majority of the headlines and excitement has understandably been diverted towards Bryn Terfel's Hans Sachs Simon Keenlyside has also been nose to the grindstoning it for his first Rigoletto. It's been a while since Keenlyside last appeared with WNO, in which time he has enjoyed a successful and notable career with as much praise lavished on him for his acting as well as his vocal performances and Rigoletto is certainly a role that requires plenty of the Brandos. The stage was set...

If there's one thing you're guaranteed with a Keenlyside performance it's utter conviction in what he's doing and on Friday he didn't disappoint, bringing to life a tricky character to portray. Playing a seedy fixer for his boss, a 1960's US President, he looked the part dressed in checked suit, and bowed and hobbling about the stage much to the cruel liking of the WNO chorus (in fine voice again). The frustration, the malevolence, the love of the character seeped out of his every physical motion and you would have a hard time in finding a better acted Rigoletto. But this is Keenlyside's debut in the role and as much as the acting was spot on, there were suggestions that the vocal side of things may need a bit more tweaking with regards to pacing as he fell a tiny bit short of the kind of vocal conviction that is needed at the more dramatic moments towards the end of the performance. Though, to be fair, there were hints that he may have been suffering from the same chest infection that did for another member of the cast.

And who was the chest infectee? Eliciting a heartfelt Aw, bugger from my hair the news that Gwyn Hughes Jones was out of the cast put a dampener on the evening before the music had begun. Although GHG's replacement, New Zealander Shaun Dixon, gave an enjoyable performance as the Duke I was hankering after a bit more bite and passion in the singing, especially since he was portraying a hot to trot US President. Sarah Coburn, bedecked in a Doris Day wig that on times had a life of its own, gave a Gilda that was certainly not lacking in passion. I'll admit that though I enjoyed her performance I did have a problem with her vibrato that fluttered more than I would have liked. But this is only a personal foible and the cheers the American received at the curtain call were proof of an enthusiastically received performance. As Sparafucile David Soar was utterly convincing as the hitman for hire prowling the streets of downtown Washington D.C. The poise and security of his farewell note at the end of his first appearance was a sheer delight and he carried the quality through the rest of his performance. More please.

A quick note on the production - I'm a big fan of updating opera to more modern times and was looking forward to this production. Though I still have no major arguments with the decision to set it in the world of sixties American politics I do have reservations of setting up the Duke as the US President simply due to believability. The reason why the Duke can get away with acting the student in the original setting is that there was a slight lack of televisions, photographs and general media in those days. Bringing it forward to the 20th century should be done with a recognition of this significant fact and that perhaps the Duke could have been set up as being someone not quite so close to the top as it would have taken more than a scarf to disguise a JFK or a Tricky Dicky in my books. But overall it was a good idea,and the closing scene with a heavy whiff of Goodfellas was riveting in its dramatic tension.

Overall it's more than worth the trip out, and with the addition of GHJ to the cast I wish I wasn't otherwise engaged for the remaining Cardiff performances.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Hot off the press! Sort of...

Time waits for no man, or in this case Hair Man waits not for The Independent. While I gave a characteristically long, and detailed example of how not to review a performance there have been several examples of how you should pen to paper. With Rigoletto only a hop skip and a jump away I'll have to push on with my roping of the reviews, apart from The Independent. And also The Times and the FT since I can't link to them now Rupert Murdoch has decided to implement phase 1001 of Project I Want To Own All Your Money.

Predictably the pros decided to wait until I'd rushed my review out before they scavenged it for all the best bits; WNO, Meistersinger, ., the. But my colleagues and I came to the same conclusion. Meistersinger was just a bit good.

Rupert Christiansen shed tears.

Jane Oriel loved the pyjama riot.

David Nice found that the bedrock of this towering company show is WNO music director Lothar Koenigs's natural grasp of the score's rich ebb and flow.

George Hall discovered the cast as a whole is impressive.

Stephen Hough on seeing Wednesday's performance found Bryn Terfel constantly finding Lieder-like moments of intimacy and subtlety.

Rian Evans scribed that the overall success of this “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” is timely and irrefutable proof of the quality and worth of this company when at its traditional best.

Andrew Clements scored it four stars out of five which pretty much equates to seven stars in real money.

If you're hankering for more Meister action WNO have released a few minutes of Bryn Terfel singing a bit of Hans Sachs reflective action from the set. And below you'll find a funky little behind the scenes documentary taken from WNO///3's website. And from The Independent? Probably a Meistersinger / Rigoletto double-header. I hope.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Opening Night


This is going to be a long, amateurish post, so I suggest you If on a Winter's Night a Traveller yourself and get comfortable. And by the way – the rest of the post is dotted with SPOILER ALERT material so look away now if you're going to see it in the opera house. It was very good in case you are wondering.

As James once sang, How was it for you? For me it was exceptional. The applause that thundered at the end of last night's opening performance of WNO's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg told the story of a magical night, and one that will long be remembered by those who were there. Wagner is many things to many people – for some he is the Master, for others he is overrated and dubious to boot; but last night he was fun to be with, and more than that, he was generous and uplifting. Of course, you need the right combination of cast and crew for anything to succeed and WNO certainly had all the bases covered. Or, to borrow another baseball analogy, they hit a bases loaded home run at the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series.

On first base there was Richard Jones and his creative team of Paul Steinberg (Designer), Buki Shiff (Costume Designer), Mimi Jordan Sherin (Lighting Designer) and Lucy Burge (Choreographer).

Before the opera began I took part in a nice game of Guess Who the Famous People of (Mainly) Germanic Origin Are?* with a Sgt Pepper style cover sheet. It kept me entertained until a certain degree of stupidity stopped me in my tracks with roughly 97% of the faces left nameless.

Wandered for a while there…back to the opera.

Jones opted for a split period approach with hints of late Victorian meets the Renaissance that I’m guessing was a reflection of Wagner's own time and the period in history he was attempting to recreate. The costumes were pretty sublime even from my vantage point and were representative of the characters themselves – suave, well schemed tailoring for Beckmesser and unfussy, honest working clothes for Sachs. Robe lovers among you may take a liking to the Meistersingers Sing School kit. Hat aficionados are also well catered for.

The sets are split into two camps – functional, impersonal green coloured spaces for the more overt public scenes as opposed to the detailed, more elaborate settings for private and communal scenes. The highlight is without doubt Hans Sach’s shoe shop. Imbued with a careful understanding of the character it’s a wonderful example of how to design and dress a set. You have the whole of Sach’s life encapsulated in one room from his cobbling work, to his poetry and music books, to a portrait of his wife and a teddy bear on a rocking chair that was thankfully left alone throughout the scene but acted as a moving reminder to all that Sach’s once had, but had now lost. This was a living, breathing space that embodied the nature of his character. The inventiveness, and detailed artistry that has gone into the production can't be praised highly enough.

The direction itself was in keeping with the spirit of the work and one that those who favour traditional over looser interpretation will most certainly like. Which is not to say that the direction is staid in any way. The characters aren't rigid in their actions, and at one point a group of box headed Hitchcockian dream figures appear as Walther (Raymond Very) raves about his treatment at the hands of the Meistersingers. The direction allows the story to be told, but in a way that makes you feel you are watching events unfold naturally before your eyes, which given the size and scope of Meistersinger is no mean feat and many long hours of thought and practice have gone into making things appear as effortless as they do on stage. More importantly one aspect of the storytelling is never allowed to dominate over other aspects and as such everything feels just right.

Sachs (Bryn Terfel) and Walther (Raymond Very) talk shop - photo by Catherine Ashmore, taken from The Arts Desk

On second base there was the cast. Leading the pack was Bryn Terfel in his role debut as Hans Sachs. Gregarious, affable and large of spirit, voice and body he has long been marked out as possessing all the traits that are needed for one of Wagner's most demanding roles. It's fair to say that he didn't do too badly. As he'd hinted in interviews prior to the production pacing is one of the greatest keys to playing Hans Sachs and it appeared that he'd found the correct rhythm for the role with no sense of strain or coasting throughout the evening. His Hans Sachs is essentially a good man (if a bit prone to deviousness where Beckmesser is concerned) who lives his life in two worlds – that of work and music, but neither can fill the loneliness that envelopes him. The obvious highlights were Was duftet doch der Flieder and Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn! that were accompanied by the still breath hold of an audience that always comes along when something really special is happening on stage.

Watching Terfel I began to understand why Sachs is such a hard role to sing – you need to have the full package as a singer to genuinely crack the role and it's lazy writing, but truthful writing, to say that he does have it all. Included in the package is an easy acting style that fairly sizzled in the quietest of moments – breathing in the midsummer evening air never looked so evocative and waking at the beginning of the prelude to the third act had one restless night's sleep written all over it. I could, and probably should, go on with more examples but there are others waiting to be praised so I'll finish with a simple he was very, very good.

For every Superman you need a Lex Luthor and in Christopher Purves you could find no better a man to play Sixtus Beckmesser. Okay, so Beckmesser isn't trying to take over the world, but he's still a preening figure who likes to put people down. I've heard Purves on quite a few occasions but I'm not sure if I've ever heard him sing as well as he did last night. Rock solid and almost with a hint of blues to his voice he served up a Beckmesser to root against, but to also welcome to the stage. He picked out the comedic aspects of the character with ease, and I guess with a large chunk of relish given how he mooned the audience while inspecting a large bruise at one point. Against my better judgement I've come to like Beckmesser as a character purely because he is an example of the pettiness of people in positions of power and Purves highlighted this side of the character with enjoyable precision.

Amanda Roocroft
gave an enjoyable performance of a young woman not satisfied with her lot in life. From youthful contentment to youthful poutiness she had you convinced that she knew exactly how Eva should act. I hate to use highlights too often as they tend to be the same old highlights in every production, but her leading of the quintet in Act III was quite poised and beautiful – and let's face it, it's a significant highlight of the work and the pressure is considerable to get it right.

Sachs sings for his supper - photo by Elliott Franks taken from The Guardian

Singing for Eva's hand Raymond Very looked the part of the dashing young knight who'd just turned up in town. He gave Walther a bit more humility than I'd imagined him possessing and my (very slight) antipathy towards the character gave way quite easily when faced with Very's efforts. I don't think I'm whistling in the dark when I say that Walther has a right old Devil's Delight of a jingle to sing. Morgendlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein is a great big old romantic tune, with the rather nasty surprise of being a) Bloody tricky to sing and b) Coming roughly five and a half hours after the performance has begun. Sing too much in the early part of the performance and you're looking at a sticky end to the evening. Sing too little and people are thinking, five minute wonder. To my ears Very, with his bright sounding tenor voice, measured his performance just right and gave a Morgendlich leuchtend that the evening deserved.

The second set of lovers was admirably served by Anna Burford as Magdalene and Andrew Tortise as David. Burford's mezzo was an ideal foil to Roocroft's soaring soprano and you could easily see how she could bewitch the trigger tempered David into submission. Tortise, armed with a light tenor voice, was a terrific bit of casting as the apprentice to Hans Sachs. It was only when I was sat watching the performance that I realised to have had a rougher, more powerful tenor in the role would have unbalanced the plausibility of the character who should be a youthful (admittedly over exuberant) man about to set out into the world, not one who's been there, done it and who now wants to have a t-shirt printed with Grizzled Tenor for Hire.

Of the remaining main principals Brindley Sherratt impressed as Veit Pogner. It was my first time hearing him and as soon as he began to sing I thought, hmmmm, he's good. But still, he puts his daughter up as a prize in a singing contest! The Meistersingers themselves gave great support and it was nice to get to hear Simon Thorpe singing after his last appearance in a non-singing role a few months ago. And of course, as ever, there was David Soar – this time in a brief cameo as Nightwatchman (he's Sparafucile in Rigoletto) looking as though he was Death in The Seventh Seal as dreamed by Tim Burton.

Are you still with me? Congratulations! We'll be at the end before long.

Okay, on third base was – the chorus! Beefed up with forty excellent ringers they electrified the air with their singing. Or at least the air surrounding the hair on bits of my body. The precision, and pronunciation of their singing was awe blindingly magnificent as usual. From beautifully quiet and reflective to Force 10 I Can't Hear Myself Think they thrilled me more than they have done before – and as I usually think they're the best around says something. And no, these aren't empty words.

So who's at home plate and swinging for the fences? It's Lothar Koenigs and the Orchestra of WNO. In recent years it's been mainly an orchestra of Italian opera, which isn't a bad thing, but to play like they did last night was a grand declaration of what they can do. From Prelude to Endlude they followed Koenigs' direction to perfection. And I'm still no closer at writing anything with more insight than that when it comes to the orchestra I'm ashamed to say.

Am I finished?


Not yet.

I can't finish, without talking about the ending. It's a sad fact that Meistersinger has had a troubled connection with the Nazi party, who took a twisted liking to the piece, and I'm guessing especially Verachtet mir die Meister nicht that closes the opera. So as Bryn Terfel thundered out the ending it's inevitable that as much as I tried not to think about historical events certain phrases triggered my memory bank. As the chorus joined in they began to reveal portraits of the very same faces who had been staring out at the audience before the beginning of each act. It had a magically liberating effect, banishing grimly nagging thoughts and replacing them with the far greater celebration of the achievements of Germanic people throughout the ages. It was a truly thrilling, and deeply moving moment, and one that an opera as humane as Meistersinger deserves to have. It was a celebration of the greatness of humanity, of the good that people can create and achieve and that for me was a joyful end to the performance. Simply magnificent.

I'm ringing Gwyneth Paltrow now to see how she managed her Oscar moment...

Tickets are running out quickly for the Cardiff performances so hurry if you want to see it, but if you miss it I have a sneaking suspicion that one or two performances will be filmed by S4C. But do make it if you can as you'll be treated to something mighty special. Unusually for me I booked a few times so I'm looking forward to spending a few more days in Nürnberg.

Gotta run now, Gwyneth's on the other line.

*If you are attending performances don't refuse the offer of a postcard at the end of the evening. It has a scaled down version of the cover sheet on your way out. Whoever gets the most answers will have a weekend trip of their choice to either Berlin or Munich.

Friday, 18 June 2010


From print, to sound to vision WNO's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has been getting the billboard treatment in recent weeks, and with a day to go until opening afternoon / evening / night I thought you all deserved to have the whereabouts of the bits and pieces collected for you in a Meistermobile Library of sorts.

Fancy having a taster of what you will see on stage? There's no better place to go than WNO///3's Flickr page that has shots of detailed props in the making and also illustrations by artist Jane Webster of cast and crew throughout rehearsals.

Staying with WNO///3 their audioboo MeisterMole page is worth a visit. It has a raft of boos from the likes of Christopher Purves and Andrew Tortise in rehearsals, a Bryn Terfel Q&A session and also assistant stage manager Katie Heath-Jones revealing the need for a photographic memory if you want to get the job done.

But goodness! Sirs, siresses, ladies and gentlemenses what about the written word? Enough of this newfangled witchcraftery I want something that doesn't go boo in the night! If you are hankering after newspaper articles they are out there. The Guardian ran a piece earlier this month by Martin Kettle looking at the Meistersinger in general with a contribution from director Richard Jones, the man with the Hans Sachs plan for WNO's production. Earlier this week the FT (scribed by Richard Fairman) published an interview with Bryn Terfel talking in depth about Hans Sachs, taking in Geraint Evans and Gwyneth Jones among others along the way. And in today's Wales Online there's another interview with Bryn Terfel, this time with Mike Smith doing the jotting with the emphasis placed on Terfel's working approach to Meistersinger. Unlike most articles released to coincide with the opening of a production all three are worth your time – as you can probably tell by the chunky nature of this paragraph.

BBC Radio 3 has been getting into the Meistersinger groove with last Monday's In Tune's guests including WNO's Music Director, and Meistersinger conductor, Lothar Koenigs and stage director Richard Jones with Christopher Purves (Beckmesser). You can hear the Boys from the Pitch Stuff on the i-Player for three more days. Fast forward to about twelve minutes in to listen to the whole segment with music included. There's also an opportunity to hear Bryn Terfel talking to Petroc Trelawny about Meistersinger on tomorrow's Music Matters on Radio 3 from 12.15pm.

Anything else? Of course there is! Why not pop over to WNO's own site to watch two videos with Bryn Terfel discussing all things Meistersinger. You'll find the first video here. And you'll find the second video here.

Last of all – if you fancy taking part in some tweeting from the WMC tomorrow evening just #meistermole and your tweet will appear as if by magic here.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

It's the Final Countdown! Meistertunes Act III

I'm back to where I began with my first choice for the third, and final act with a prelude. Unlike the first this isn't a sock it to your ears number, but an introspective Sachscentric one. There are hints at brightness, but at the moment Sachs is mired in his musings. Karajan and the Dresden Staatskapelle are the folks on stage for this.

Prelude Act III

Picking up from the melancholy of the Prelude Sachs is dumbfounded by the idiocy of people with a capital P and how self destructive madness lies within everyone. Even in his hometown. But don't fret – Sachs isn't throwing the towel in...Theo Adam is doing the musing.

Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!

Of course, Sachs should really think through his intentions more clearly. No sooner than Walther and Eva have signed up for The Love Boat than he's having a right old strop. Eva calms Sachs by thanking him for all he's done for her, and he admits that his game is up. Grumbling for your pleasure is Theo Adam, and becalming (with quite a bit of passion it has to be said) is Gwyneth Jones as Eva from a live Bayreuth performance.

Hat man mit dem Schuhwerk nicht seine Not! … O Sachs! Mein Freund! Du teurer Mann!

Do I need to say anything about this next selection apart from sublime? Helen Donath (Eva), Theo Adam (Sachs), Rene Kollo (Walther), Peter Schreier (David) and Ruth Hesse (Magdelene) puncture Wahn's bubble for a while.

Selig, wie die Sonne

Grab your hankies – it's time for Walther to sing his song. And if you aren't humming this on the way out then you'd better check to see if some of Nürnberg's pixies haven't upped your grumpiness levels. Ben Heppner is doing the biz.

Morgendlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein

And so, we reach the end. After a few hours of pretty damned good music it would have been a shame if Wagner did a Don Giovanni on us and left a mishmash of an ending – but thankfully he didn't. Allowing Sachs to have his say on the importance of art and culture to people he finishes with all and sundry on stage giving it their all like Guitar Heroes. Get ready for the umpteenth raising of hair!

Verachtet mir die Meister nicht

And that's all folks! You can find the Karajan recording at Amazon US, the live Bayreuth here and Ben Heppner's Met DVD here.

I'll leave you with a fine cheese, but also a good thickness of hair. Not sure if this will be playing backstage before the curtain goes up on Saturday - but you never know...

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Meisterwalkers Climb Every Mountain

Die Meisterwalkers

Julie Andrews wasn't in sight, nor was Christopher Plummer, but a group of six Meisterwalkers from WNO recently completed the famed Three Peaks Challenge that involves climbing the three highest peaks in Wales, Scotland and England within a twenty-four hour period.

Drawn from various sections of the company Georgina Govier, Sarah Teagle, Ian Douglas, Donald Clist, Andy Cookson, Phil Boughton aided by their logistical team John Newberry and Rocky (Adriaaaane! – sorry, I couldn't resist), of Pegasus Coach Agency Ltd, completed their challenge within the twenty-four hour limit.

The aim of the challenge was to collect £1600 in donations to help the charity Tenovus reach their target of £100,000...Money raised will go towards their Mobile Chemotherapy Unit that is travelling around South and West Wales delivering chemotherapy to people and offering support services.

Well, they've gone and raised the £1600 and are now looking to see if they can get to £2500. You can help the Meisterwalkers reach their target by making a donation through their page at Just Giving, where you can see photos and read more about their gruelling twenty-four hours – including the scary fact that they all headed straight back in time for this afternoon's dress rehearsal of Meistersinger.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

When Marty McFly met Marvin Berry...Meistersinger Act II Highlights


If you're familiar with DMvN you won't be very surprised to learn that the second act is my favourite of the three. From beginning to end it's nigh on seamless in its storytelling and music making, which makes picking out my favourite bits as easy as saying to Monica Bellucci , You have terrible hair and please stop calling me night and day to style it for you.

But it's a funny old world because I informed Monica Bellucci last week that she had terrible hair and to stop calling me to style it for her and as a result I've scratched my head, and my nose to come up with a few of my personal highlights.

Having entered his daughter as the main prize at the 3.40 at Kempton Veit Pogner begins to doubt his decision, but like any true leader he quickly indulges in a spot of self-persuasion that doubles as assurance for Eva that he's done the right thing. It may not be an obvious highlight, but in my (unweighty) opinion it's a snappy example of the mercurial nature of the score. Karl Ridderbusch is Pogner and Helen Donath is Eva.

Lass seh'n, ob Meister Sachs zu Haus

Still reeling after Walther's song Hans Sachs is tempted to briefly escape Meistersinging and hide away in cobbling for the rest of his life, but he regains his senses and comes to grip with the beautiful shock to his system. It's pretty much what happened when Marvin Berry met Marty McFly. Bryn Terfel, with Christian Thielemann, show us how it should be done.

Was duftet doch der Flieder

You just have to love Walther. He's a handsome dashing knight, with some serious family money, who has upped sticks to make a move on Nürnberg's hottest wench. Thinking on it, I don't like him. I mean he's a bit of a Freddy Krueger just waiting to happen in the next of my choices. Luckily there is some Robocop presence on the streets in the form of a Nightwatchman to quell Walther's unhinged rants. Gwyneth Jones is Eva to Waldemar Kmentt's Walther. Janis Martin is Magdalene and Kurt Moll as the Nightwatchman gets to sing possibly one of the most appealing cameo roles in opera in a gorgeous manner.

Da ist er! ...Geliebter, spare den Zorn!

For weeks I've had several chunks of Meistersinger rolling around in my head – and Jerum! Jerum! Hallo Hallohe! is without doubt the most tenacious of the lot. I'll now pass on this can't get it out of my head jingle to you. But just the one verse though. Theo Adam is Hans Sachs with Geraint Evans (Beckmesser), Helen Donath (Eva) and Rene Kollo (Walther) chipping in with their reactions to Sach's unsubtle commentary on current events.

Jerum! Jerum! Hallo Hallohe!

Beckmesser and Sachs (with the help of nearly the entire cast) bring to a close my selections for Act II. Apparently coming to a truce of sorts Sachs agrees to hear Beckmesser's song for the competition, with the proviso that he'll act as a cobbling marker. Hoping to snare his pray with his night time serenade Beckmesser agrees and subsequently a good old fashioned riot kicks off. Think of Paint Your Wagon and you'll have an idea of what I'm rambling about. Heading the bill are Geraint "Knuckles" Evans (Beckmesser) and Theo "The Terminator" Adam (Sachs).

Den Tag seh' ich erscheinen...Mit den Schuhen ward ich fertig schier!

The recordings are the same as last time - if you want to get hold of the ridiculously hard to find Karajan recording click here for Amazon USA. To catch Gwyneth Jones as Eva click here.

Time for clunkily inserted You Tube excursion with Marty McFly. And when I say clunky, I mean clunky...

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Professionals

Fingers O'Steel, that well-known piano player for hire, was in town this week as Meistersinger rehearsals went to DEFCON 3. TraviataJones, on her 20th cup of coffee early on Wednesday afternoon tweeted, So we are in Act One of our first full piano dress rehearsal. It's gonna be a marathon!!

Elsewhere the Mole has been covering his back after he forgot to buy a birthday card, Will the entire chorus sing happy birthday to director Richard Jones (and can they manage a second verse for Tom Jones) – I hope he remembers that Christmas is coming in a few months time or else the Orchestra of WNO may get roped in as well.

Illustrator Jane Webster's sketches caught the Mole's eye again, Pic of Amanda Roocroft (as Eva) in her dressing room minutes before the stage and piano rehearsal. Pop over to WNO3's Flickr page and you'll see the rest of her sketches.

The Mole's tweet that most caught my eye was, Bryn Terfel says DieMeist conductor Lothar Koenigs "reminds me of one of the conductors I most admire ... Claudio Abbado." Now that's a compliment.

Last tweet of this post though belongs to WNO for the Pythonesque, From DieMeist rehearsals: "Ladies and gentleman of the chorus could you please change into the correct footwear for the riot."

(Note to self – never turn back on WNO's chorus)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Missy Elliott and the HairMan invite you to get Ur Freak On!


With little over a week until the curtain goes up on WNO's Meistersinger I thought I'd share a few of the numbers I'm looking forward to hearing.

First up is the mighty prelude - usually clocking in at over nine minutes let yourself be swept along by the sheer energy of the piece and be prepared for goosebumps as it arrives at dénouement city. Playing for your ears are Georg Solti and the Boys not from Brazil but the Vienna Phil.

Next up is David explaining to Walther the slightly long set of rules included in Meistersinger open mic nights. Those in the biz would more than likely refer to it as the bit that begins with Der Meister Ton' und Weisen. Doing the teaching is Peter Schreier (David) and doing the Homer Simpson stare is Rene Kollo (Walther).

Karl Ridderbusch takes up the role of Veit Pogner next and lets everyone in on the prize of the next singing contest. His daughter. You just wonder what happened to the rest of his family - bartered for a brand new wheel and a ladle? Anyway, here's Das schone Fest, Johannistag.

Although he may be booed at the end of the performance I've come to like Beckmesser quite a bit. Here's local boy Geraint Evans reluctantly agreeing to do his duty as the marker for Walther's oral exam (Ein saures Amt, und heut’ zumal).

Can he do it? Can Walther get into the gang? Judge for yourself as Waldemar Kmentt belts out So rief der Lenz in den Wald in a live Bayreuth performance.

So there's my own highlight reel from Act I. If the prelude got you hot to trot for Solti and the Viennese boys you can catch them here. If you're interested in hearing more from the Schreier / Kollo / Ridderbusch / Evans recording you'll find more details here, although it is tricky to get hold of. To see how Kmentt gets on with his exams you'll find more about the recording here.

Now Get Ur Freak On!

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Professionals

* All will be explained...

Week 59

Water's running low. The last of the Twiglets were used as firewood three days ago. Sparrows are circling endlessly overhead. Outbreaks of Justin Bieber fever are proving contagious. Lederhosen have shrunk in the wash. Dirndl's suffered the same fate last week. Down to the last stocks of wild garlic. No word from the scouts. No word. No word. No word…this may have been a mistake.

Luckily the JonesMole Gang declined my invitation to take part in the first ever Trans Saharan Rowing Challenge, which means while I, and my three man crew, slave away in a tiny cwrwgl, the Meistertwitters of WNO have Carried on Tweeting.

The Mole has been leading the way this week tweeting the existence of artist Jane Webster's sketches from rehearsals – I'm thinking the Mole has a thing for fashion… Plenty of natty shirts in rehearsals. Especially the chorus. Our director's shirt is seen from the back here – his love of all things haute couture continued with, The set's moved out of rehearsals and onto stage. Been like Pickfords Removals here with enough shoes in transit to impress Imelda Marcos. The eagle eyed among you will have noticed something other than shoes – The set is out of the rehearsal room and up on the stage and today the cast will test out what they've been rehearsing for weeks and weeks. But then again the psychic among you will have predicted a return to form, Andy from props asks company to check at home for any men's shoes they don't need. He needs loads as window-dressing for Sachs' shop.

For the Rumble in the Nurnble scene a fight expert has been called in, Meistersingers getting lessons in combat from fight director who's an expert in Bartitsu. I'm thinking that perhaps it would have been simpler to have given Liam Gallagher a call as he could have connected with WNO's cast on a deeper artistic level. I'm also having doubts about the roots of Bartitsu despite what the Mole's You Tube link suggests. It sounds suspiciously like something Bart Simpson would have invented...

The Mole also tweeted the whereabouts of an interesting Meistersinger article by Martin Kettle in the Guardian with a contribution from Richard Jones on how to approach Meistersinger. You'll also get a peak at Bryn Terfel's beardy appearance.

But what about TJ Twitter? Shortly after my last post came the revealing life of those people involved in the arts, It's 9.25 on a Friday night. Am I out starting the bank holiday weekend? No I'm boiling eggs in prep for a scene tomorrow morning we are rehearsing. I'm not sure if there's a Cool Hand Luke moment in the production, but rehearsing on a Saturday morning is what's known as dedication in my books – cue Roy Castle!

Strangely enough, considering how much an avid fan TJ Twitter is of Heat magazine's style section there were no Mole stylee mentions of shoes – only, So this morning is our last Studio rehearsal. From tomorrow afternoon [Thursday] we are on stage and starting the even harder work!

WNO have also tweeted news of planned events, labelled Meisterfringe, at the Armadillo to celebrate the opening of Meistersinger. Among the events planned is a session with WNO’s Chorus Master Stephen Harris and singer Kate Woolveridge as they give people the opportunity to learn and perform a chorus from Die Meistersinger.

* In case you're wondering – the Mole tweeted that the cast and crew have renamed the show, Sachs and the City.