Saturday, 16 January 2010

WNO 2010 / 2011 Season

Creeping up like a ninja with roses the WNO 2010 / 2011 Season Subscription Booklet came in the post a few days ago, and thanks to my super postie it was free from any snowage damagicus. Unfortunately financiage damagicus appears to have struck WNO with a shortened season of productions bringing the number down to a worryingly catwalk model size seven.

The immediate difference from recent years is the unsurprisingly large number of Germanic works given that this is Lothar Koenigs' debut season as Der Meister der Mensch von WNO. The remaining three operas are provided by Italian opera. But life being what it is things aren't quite that simple as this is the Year of Eternal Light, WNO's series devoted to the opera of Germany and Austria, so if we're going to get technical then the score is Gerstria 5 – Italia 2.

So the question is, who, what, when and where Mrs Fletcher?

Photo by Frédéric Desmesure taken from Canvas Management website.

Conducted by Lothar Koenigs the Season opens in Autumn with Giuseppe Frigeni's production of Fidelio that began life at the Opera National de Bordeaux in 2007. Heading the cast is veteran tenor Dennis O'Neill as Florestan and Lisa Milne as Leonore. Being a slightly big sucker for Beethoven I'm looking forward to this chorus friendly production but with a Mars bar sized chunk of apprehension at the possible Hugh Hefneresque age difference between Leonore and Florestan. Saying that I'll eat a double slice of Marmite humble pie if Dennis O'Neill has me going back for more Dungeons & Pizarro.

Photo from WNO

Next up is a revival of Dominic Cooke's and Julian Crouch's fantastical The Magic Flute that deserves to be sung in German, but is instead sung in English*. Among the cast are Elizabeth Watts (Pamina), winner of the Song Prize at Cardiff Singer of the World 2007 and WNO regular Peter Wedd (Tamino). Waving the stick is Gareth Jones. It's Mozart so you can expect serene tunes as well as the ear-piercing Queen of the Night number.

Photo by Clive Barda from MusicWeb-International

Returning to conducting duties Lothar Koenigs sets the tempi for a revival of Neil Armfield's take on Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. This, I admit, is a new one for me but the return of Sarah Connolly to WNO is worth a mention. When the final curtain closes on this at the WMC the WNO will be packing their bags and going off on tour, not to be seen until February 2011.

With the last of your Gran's Christmas shortbread biscuits picking up more damp than a train station waiting room WNO's spring begins with a brand spanking new production of Johann Straus II's Die Fledermaus – the name on the wrapping this time is John Copley, so the eyes will be in for a treat. Again I'm meeting this one for the first time but know enough to realise that I won't be the only one in the audience to be thinking, "What's Batman doing on the stage?" Among the cast are WNO regulars, and also husband and wife combo, Nuccia Focile and Paul Charles Clarke. The conductor for this one is Thomas Rösner.

Photo by Brian Tarr from Spaghetti Gazetti

Move over Sachertorte – the pasta's coming! Returning a tad quicker than I would have thought wise, Il trovatore, Verdi's tale of bad parenting and misplaced matches breaks up the Fest. I'm not averse to Verdi, or Trovatore, in the least (he makes up a substantial pile of CD's / DVD's / programmes / tea-towels in my music collection) but I would have preferred to have seen something else by the man with the elegant tash. Saying that the cast looks ooohhhhh with Gwyn Hughes Jones making his debut as Manrico, Katia Pellegrino reprising her role from 2007 (how will she have developed in the intervening years?) and David Soar making his regrettably sole appearance of the season as Fernando. Add to the brew David Kempster as Count di Luna and Patricia Bardon as Azucena and my grumbles have given way to, "Pass me a pocket anvil, I'm off to work!" Andrea Licata returns to his recent stomping ground.

With summer returning in who knows what kind of shape Mozart gets another run out in the form of Così fan tutte. A new production by Benjamin Davies is given a youthful cast including the promising baritone Gary Griffiths as Gugliemo making his professional company debut with WNO and Camilla Roberts as Fiordiligi. Daniele Rustioni conducts.

Either it's Clive Barda or Brian Tarr behind the lense, but I know the picture was taken from MVDaily

The last offering is Puccini's Turandot, directed by Christopher Alden. Lothar Koenigs conducts a cast including Gwyn Hughes Jones as Calaf and Rebecca Evans making her role debut as Liù in what will probably be the biggest selling production of the whole year. Do I need to write anything else about it? Oh yes, Lothar Koenigs conducts this final production in what is his first true year as Music Director.

On the whole it looks an interesting batch, perhaps one of the Strauss' could have made way for something else as I'm not sure if they'll be too similar (castigate me now if you want to) but all in all the choices make a welcome break from the Italian opera that has been the mainstay in recent years. I can't hide my disappointment at the shrinking number of productions and wonder whether Die Fledermaus should be the production with the most dates (six, compared with an average three and a half for other productions).

Outside of the production area WNO are continuing with their meet and greet ventures that are worth going along to if you have the time and I'm happy to see that their audio described performances and touch tour are returning again to the WMC. Ticket prices at the WMC have in most cases held firm, although the top price tickets are now fifty pence from the £40 barrier.

The main booking dates are...

From now until the 12th of February is Friends of WNO Subscription Postal Booking.
12th of February Public Subscription Postal Booking.
15th of March Friends of WNO Individual Opera Postal Booking.
26th of March it's a free for all online, telephone, postal, in person but no pigeon post.

I can't finish without a little thank you to WNO & EMI for the surprise taster CD for the 2010 / 2011 Season with excerpts from EMI's catalogue and introductions by WNO's Dramaturg Simon Rees that came with the booking forms. A nice little touch that gives a flavour of what's to come.

* Explanation time. In my humble / berkish opinion there's something disappointing when the original language the work is composed for is elbowed out of the way to make things apparently more accessible for linguistic novices in the audience (yes, me). Part of the charm of opera for me is sometimes being freed from meaning and knowing everything that's going on and enjoying the sounds coming from the stage. The music quite often lets me know what's generally going on, and in many ways discovering the nuts and bolts of character's actions takes a pleasurable while to settle in my wood block. And let's face it, English is not the nicest language for opera singing…

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Sweeping it under the carpet

There are times when I think to myself, "You know HairMan, I wouldn't mind seeing that again." No, not the reflection of my hair in my thrice hourly polished mirror, but certain productions that grab me by the seat of my pants. One such production was the 2007 WNO co-co-co-co production of La Cenerentola that wasn't to everyone's taste, but which I thought mirrored the fun nature of the work. Anyway, by the magic of DVD my hair can enjoy it once more. The slight difference being a different cast involved with Juan Diego Florez and Joyce Di Donato leading the way.

Of course there'll be people saying out there that this doesn't technically qualify as the same production I saw, which I'll acknowledge with a "Yes, you are sort of correct." On the other hand I liked the comic book setting so much that I'm willing to put up with the second string cast on this DVD...

[Stand up for WNO moment here - the cast I saw led by Colin Bell* and Marianna Pizzolato were worth combing my hair for]

One slight quibble with the DVD is that the recording is overly tipped in favour of the singers and the orchestra seems to be playing backstage while drinking sangria (apologies for lame stereotypying segue into the fact that this was shot in Barcelona).

* This, of course, should have read Colin Lee - but while writing this up I was listening to Erasure...