Thursday, 30 September 2010

Hairman at the Opera gets to know…Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (Part 1)

Photo taken from WNO

The sharp eyed among you may have noticed a change of emphasis in the title of this post. I may be many things – Supreme Hairdresser-in-Chief to the Stars, a daring shark tamer, the world’s greatest blinker – but as yet my opera plot untangling skills aren’t quite there to lay claim to Meisterteller levels just yet. You may want to close your eyes as I begin my quest to find Ariadne, Naxos and, if I’ve got the time, auf.

The first thing that struck me even before I get round to listening to the opera was the character list:

  • Prima-Donna / Ariadne
  • The Composer
  • Zerbinetta
  • The Tenor / Bacchus
  • A Music Master
  • The Major-Domo
  • An Officer
  • A Dancing Master
  • A Wig-maker
  • A Dancing Master
  • A Footman
  • Harlequin
  • Scaramouche
  • Truffaldino
  • Brighella
  • Naiad
  • Dryad
  • Echo

Can you spot what it was that kapowed me? With the exception of Zerbinetta all the characters are referred to by their occupation or as figures from the commedia dell'arte and Greek mythology. Hardly personable stuff. It reads more like an Ikea character list. Fancy writing an opera? Then follow this blueprint and you’re half the way there! And then there was the description of the work as being an Opera in one act with a Prologue. Hmmm. Not what I’m used to seeing and though I’m not usually a creature of habit, I like to know where I stand with a work, and all I was seeing with Ariadne was distancing effects.

Hiding my reservations with a heavy dose of optimism I started in on the libretto. The story for the Prologue goes something like this…

The setting is a rich man’s house in Vienna where two groups of artists are preparing their separate performances for an unseen moneybags’ dinner party entertainment. One group is very serious, or with pretensions of high art. The second group is far more light-hearted, and realistic in their approach to their work.

The Composer heads the first, and most prominent, of the two camps. Passionate and serious about his art, prone to dramatic outbursts and submissive of anything that hints towards enjoyment / fun he’s like an angst ridden A-Level English Lit student. There is one important aspect to the role – it’s actually a trouser role, so expect to hear a mezzo, not a tenor.

Backing up the Composer is the Music Master, a pliable man of art who learns that a bit of comedy is to follow his pupil’s solemn work of art. Something that won’t go down well with the sulk.

Prima-Donna and the Tenor, both of whom are concerned about how great they are as artists, make up the rest of the gang. They probably have the best known bit of Moonlight Sonata as their ring tones and stride around Tesco, grandly placing a Pot Noodle into their trolleys.

The second group of performers is led by Zerbinetta, a Mae West character. She cares little for the overly serious approach to life and art. For her life is to be enjoyed. In her corner of the ring are her four sidekicks Harlequin, Scaramouche, Truffaldino, Brighella and the Dancing Master.

Gluing both these camps together is the Major-Domo or, as he should have been called, Major Ass Kisser. Smugly delivering His Master's Verbals he unloads the priceless bit of information that his boss wants a mash up of both works so he can fit in a fireworks display before the end of his dinner party.

Cue Composer losing it, Music Master pointing out that they aren't endangering Gramophone Magazine's Top 1, 000,000 Lowest Earners List and that they need the gig. The Composer's will wobbles and is completely wobbled when Zerbinetta flashes her lashes. But not for long. The Composer freaks out when the reality hits the fan of what will happen to his work. Exit Composer stage left, carrying fan.

That, in a nutshell, is the Prologue. On the surface of things it's pretty much a comedy with well-defined characters. You could say stereotypical characters, but their words are far more interesting for them to be labelled as run of the mill creations. They touch on quite thoughtful questions with regards to art and love and, in a way, life in general. It's a bit like X Factor, except no one is dredging a tear up for the camera or loving everybody.

So how's the music? Unfortunately, due to a technical #fail, I can't bring you the excerpts I wanted to. This leaves me to fill in the gaps with some pesky words. RomanticbelcantovaudevillegospelWagner is a term not used too often by music critics, but it should be. The score plays like a river, sometimes gentle, sometimes choppy, and sometimes raging – but never dull and with moments of heartbreaking melancholy.

Stay tuned for my encounter with the second part of the opera (known as Opera), by which time I hope to have thumped some sense into technology with a brick thick book and be able to bring you an example of Ariadne aufing it on Naxos. The book, in case you are wondering, is War and Peace – not a novel I'd suggest you read, but it makes a great founding stone on which you can balance all manner of PC related junk.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

WNO's Rigoletto on BBC Radio 3

From Top Left: Simon Keenlyside (Rigoletto); Sarah Coburn (Gilda) and Gwyn Hughes Jones (Duke); David Soar (Sparafucile); Keenlyside, Coburn, Leah-Marian Jones (Maddalena) and Hughes Jones. All photos Clive Barda - taken from BBC

Just a reminder that WNO’s summer production of Rigoletto, with Simon Keenlyside making his debut in the title role, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this Saturday (2nd of October) at 18.00 UK time. If you can’t listen in don’t be downcast. It will be available on the BBC i-Player for seven days after the broadcast. The rest of the cast includes Gwyn Hughes Jones (Duke), Sarah Coburn (Gilda) and David Soar (Sparafucile).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Magic Flute - WMC 24th of September

Ever since its premiere scientists, mathematicians and statisticians have argued over the exact ratio of ZACKY present in Die Zauberflöte / The Magic Flute. Arguments have raged, punches have been thrown and abaci throwdowns have been swift and violent with tiny wooden balls marking the places where much ZACKY has been spilled. General consensus among ZACKY scholars had been thought impossible, until recent happenings brought about a nodding of heads and puffing of pipes at the 218th International ZACKY Conference in London, where I, dear fellow zachies, was, of course, the fulcrum of events. After much debate, it was decided, following my daring speech, in which I used my pearl handled comb and Fabergé mirror to demonstrate my calculations, that The Magic Flute is indeed nine tenths zany and one tenth wacky. In purely scientific terms it is known simply as the far catchier 9ZA1CKY.

Armed with my superb new discovery I blew dried my hair with exultant fervour and headed towards the Armadillo eager to see if WNO's The Magic Flute would be 9ZA1CKY or its poorer relation 7ZA3CKY.

Fellow ZACKY scholars, for the duration of this paper I shall have to talk to those less fortunate than you or, especially, I, in a manner that their sadly undeveloped ZACKY minds can understand...

Okay, a giant lobster, a set made of a corridor situated among blue skies and fluffy clouds with the addition of high heel wearing birds (oh come on, the feathered variety) and bowler hat wearing Oranje chorus rates as bona fide 9ZA1CKY. Dominic Cooke (director), Julian Crouch (set designer) and Kevin Pollard (costume designer) give us a Flute that lives up to the fantastical nature of the plot with heavy doses of Magritte and Monty Python(?). Of course there are more than enough nods towards the Masonic threads that framework the opera but this is a Flute that can live on many levels, especially as a visual treat for any children who find themselves dragged along by their parents.

Photo by Bill Cooper taken from MusicWeb International

On a personal level I have to admit that although I like The Magic Flute, it's not my favourite bit of Mozart, so if I was going to enjoy myself a lot would depend, not only on the look of the production, but also on the sound of the production.

Peter Wedd (Tamino) is a muscular sounding tenor, and it was the strength of his voice (no pun intended) that threatened to waylay his performance, but as he settled down his singing softened (maybe not as much as I would have liked) and he gave an all out performance. I quite liked the way he played Tamino with a touch of the berk of the role included, and fair damsels and dudels among the audience do not fear, he looks the part of a dashing prince.

As his dame in distress Elizabeth Watts (Song Prize champeen of BBC Cardiff Singer 2007) brought a burgeoning reputation to the stage and showed what the fuss is all about with a superb role debut as Pamina. Gloriously moreish like a box of Lindt Lindor Truffles her Ach, ich fuhl's, es ist verschwunden* was the recipient of my Golden Lock of the Night Award™ in recognition of the pin drop moment of the performance.

But Watts wasn't the only BBC Cardiff Song Prize winner on stage, and in Neal Davies (1991 champeen) Papageno was brought to life with elegantly crafted singing that on times had the intimacy of lieder to my ears. Of all the singers he seemed most at ease with his character and was not only my personal favourite of the evening, but also the audience in general judging by his reception at curtain call time.

The rest of the cast weren't lacking in substance on the night either. Laure Meloy looked, and sounded, the part of the Queen of the Night, managing her thunderfoot / tippy toe Der Holle Rache with the same confidence as she did her dress / ballgown / tent. The Three Ladies (Camilla Roberts, Carolyn Dobbin and Joanne Thomas) dressed as Victorian maids, in keeping with the vibe of the production, served their mistress finely and played the production's comedic angle with aplomb. Pa-pa-paing her way quite nicely Claire Hampton (Papagena) once again showed the quality of WNO chorus members, as did Howard Kirk, who was suitably booable as Monostatos. Tim Mirfin's Sarastro was elegantly delivered but lacked in vocal heft on the night. A special mention too for the three boys, who blended together to achieve that admittedly creepy harmony that works so well in the opera. They were three of these six listed Guy Roberts / Rory Turnbull, Robert Field / Henry Payne, Erwan Hughes / Josh Morgan.

The chorus, as usual, did their bit with aplomb from the most unlikely of places – often with only their heads poking up from the stage floor. The orchestra, under the batonage of Gareth Jones played nicely, if a little tame at times for my liking – but this could well be more to do with Mozart than those in the pit.

A quick recap is that this Flute is suitably bizarre, playing up to the pantomime feel of the work, with performances from the cast, especially Davies and Watts, making it a night worth trekking out for.

*Although the opera is sung in English I prefer to stick to the original German when discussing arias.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's not Wotan...

Torso inspired by frozen chicken

True story time. Really.

Back when newspapers were in black and white, The Red Hand Gang flared on my family's mercurial Grundig during summer holiday mornings and a packet of crisps cost 7p I became bewitched by something that has drifted in and out of my life ever since. Comics. Batman and Green Lantern to be more specific – quit the sniggering, Wotan and co aren't exactly of this realm.

...In case you're wondering this does lead to an opera related post, but you'll have to buy a ticket to my train of thought to reach journey's end...

I became gripped by the stories on the soft, colourful pages and spent my pocket money trying to keep up with storylines that I usually followed out of synch because my local newsagent wasn't a firm believer in customer service. Despite finding out the end of a story before I reached the middle I kept on buying the comics because I loved the enjoyment they gave me but, as in most comic stories, things hit the skids when my local newsagent went from not believing in customer service to giving no customer service when he stopped ordering my Batman and Green Lantern comics. Holy cow poo! To say I had a pwdi lip the size of a saucer for several weeks would not be an overstatement. My world had come to a shuddering halt.

Then, as I was at my lowest superheroless ebb, salvation came from the most unexpected source. A neighbour, a man I thought of as being a mean old so and so, who worked in the far off metropolis of Cardiff heard about my plight (okay, he saw me having a right old strop that involved kicking and screaming) and took it upon himself to buy me my Batman and Green Lantern comics from a newsagent close to where he worked. I never knew why he did this, perhaps because he was afraid my next strop session could see me hacking his shin, but whatever his reason it allowed me to get back to enjoying my comics and the worlds in the stories I had come to love.

Fast-forward a few decades and to the point of this post. Preferring to walk the walk, rather than talking the talk, WNO actively go out into communities and try to make opera as accessible to as many people as possible, this includes providing performances that are geared towards operagoers who are blind or have a visual impairment. But isn't opera an aural entertainment? Not really, otherwise companies would only put on concert performances. Opera is theatre, it's stories told by singers wearing costumes and acting roles on stages full of sets. WNO provides the opportunity for blind or visually impaired audience members to have the physical drama on the stage described to them through their free Audio Description service. In addition to this they also run a free Touch Tour prior to performances allowing blind or visually impaired operagoers to get their hands on the set and costumes before a performance.

And now this is really the journey's end of this post – although the Audio Description / Touch Tours are quite rightly provided free of charge WNO does need a little bit of help towards the running costs of this fabulous service. Although most of us (okay me) would like to think that we (me) are a Batman-in-waiting, we (I) know deep down that we're (I'm) more of a Kick Ass, which is quite alright by me because he got things done by hook or by crook. So if you're feeling like being a superhero today (minus Kick Ass' corpse riddled storyline of course), or an enigmatic neighbour, you can do so from the comfort of your computer room chair / sofa / train seat by following this link where you can help towards WNO's £5, 000 target. Whether the amount you can afford is £3.50 or £350 both will come with cape attached.

Fidelio and, if my research is correct, Die Fledermaus and Turandot are the Audio Description / Touch Tour operas in the 2010 / 2011 season.

The Fidelio Audio Description / Touch Tour performance venues and dates are as follows (but check with theatres to be on the safe side):

8th October WMC
22nd October Bristol Hippodrome
5th November Liverpool Empire Theatre
12th November Birmingham Hippodrome
19th November Venue Cymru Llandudno
3rd December New Theatre Oxford

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Fancy Being a Singer of the World?

Ekaterina Scherbachenko 2009 Winner Photo BBC

With a nod towards the highly unlikely scenario that a singer (aged 18-32 on the 1st of June 2011), marooned in a hotel room, staving off boredom by surfing the web for hairdressers has come across this blog I thought it best to draw their attention to the news that the deadline for registering interest in BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition 2011 is the 30th of September. By my reckoning that's next Thursday. Not long. Especially if you're reading this on the 29th of September. To get in touch with the people who are running the competition simply click here for contact details.

The competition, which also incorporates a Song (Lieder) Prize, runs from the 11th to the 19th of June 2011. Visitors will be glad to hear that a swanky new set-up, sated with plenty of restaurants, has replaced the Mad Max building site outside St David's Hall.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Fidelio - WMC 17th of September 2010

Ah...the plaintive call of seagulls, the breeze coming off the bay playing my hair like an ethereal harpist, the sound of stomp-stomp-stomp-bugger-bugger-bugger-slop-slop-slop as I raced across the bridge towards the Armadillo, knocking grannies, children and mimes all to the floor meant only three things. It was the opening night of WNO's 2010 / 11 season, I was late...and I was dribbling.

I know what's crossing your mind my dear readers – were the multiple grazed knees and hands caused by your hirsute host worth it? Did Fid give me some elio? Did I forget about the curling tongs I'd left on? Were my toes-a-tapping and my hips-a-grooving, giving the complete stranger next to me the wrong idea who swapped with her burly beau after the interval?

That last bit probably gives the answer away.

Meistersinger was always going to be an impossible act to follow, and while the professional reviews (when they come out) may not be as ecstatic for Fidelio the effect on this man with hair was enough to put some zing in my locks. The reasons for this are three fold, and happy that I've decided on the best way to go about this review I'll carry on with...

Fold one – The production

Dominated by separate rows of mobile prison bars, which could be joined to make a cage, to look at Giuseppe Frigeni’s Fidelio is the sombre coloured affair you’d expect of a prison set story. The sets are minimal, although not lacking in detail. From my vantage point the stage floor had an architectural map of the prison drawn on it that played nicely with a bit of spotlight action towards the end of the first act between Rocco and Pizarro's knocking off Florestan discussion scene. The costumes too, by Amélie Haas, add little in the way of hope with colours, in the main, subdued and Pizarro wearing a Gestapo style leather trench coat and black leather gloves as befits his bad boy image – though things did get confusing for some audience members at the curtain call when they booed Fernando who happened to be wearing similar garb.

Whether you take to the production depends on how much you’re prepared to buy into Frigeni’s approach to direction. Unlike a large number of directors he comes to opera not as a theatre director but as a dance director and there was certainly a sense of stylised chorographical movement on show that evoked in me a sense of a dream like state gone bad with characters sometimes adopting exaggerated poses.

In the main I enjoyed his approach as the staccato nature of the first act, despite its gorgeous music, deters a naturalistic flow to the drama . However, there were one or two occasions where I felt more rational direction wouldn't have gone amiss. A slightly longer pause between O wär' ich schon and Mir ist so wunderbar would have helped to pause the conveyor belt of tunes hitting my ears and give audience members, unused to the story, an extra bit of time to clue into the relationships between the dudes and dudettes on the stage and help glue the action together more securely. Similarly I would have liked Pizarro and Leonore to have been packing a pointy weapon and some heat between them when things began to get a bit dicey in the dungeon.

Fold two – The performances onstage

There seems to have been a run of debut roles at WNO in recent productions and Fidelio was another night for some young, and not so young singers, to make their role debuts. As far as I could work out the debutants were Scottish soprano Lisa Milne as Leonore, and veteran Welsh tenor Dennis O'Neill as Florestan – though I wouldn't be surprised to learn that one or two others were taking their characters out into public for the first time (due to ages rather than quality of performance).

As the heart and soul of the work Leonore was well served by Milne, employing her light, yet strong, soprano (it makes sense believe me) to good effect and her performance gained in authority as the evening wore on. If there was one thing that Milne lacked on the evening it was a greater presence in her lower register, but this is only a small detraction from what was a very enjoyable and promising debut.

As Florestan O'Neill was given the double-edged sword of having to impress with half the opera already gone and with a demanding aria that requires lungpower set at Desperation Mark 10 from the get-go. Thundering out the opening of Gott, welch Dunkel hier! he succeeded in conveying the desolation of his character and navigated the remainder of the aria with sure footedness. I've been debating whether or not to include the next observation but as I value honesty over empty platitudes I've decided to go with it. As impressive a performance as he gave (and believe me, it was a good performance) on one or two occasions I felt a younger O'Neill would have grasped the aria with more comfortable passion, as the Verdi in his voice is undoubtedly well suited to the role.

Opera de Bordeaux Fidelio photo by Frédéric Desmesure Canvas Management

So what of the remainder of the cast?

Deserving of his applause at the curtain call Clive Bayley was at home in Rocco's skin, giving a confident performance as the jailer. As his daughter, Marzelline, Elizabeth Donovan was my personal favourite on the night. A bright colourful soprano she was a perfect fit for her role. As her would be wooer Robin Tritschler looks the part, unfortunately his elegant voice failed to reach me through the orchestra, a shame as he possesses an intelligent instrument – I think he'll be more suited to the role of Ferrando when he returns in Cosi later in the season. Robert Hayward (Pizarro) was in a similar position as O'Neill with his opening aria and he certainly went for it like a man possessed. A difficult role to sing, as it demands Psycho Singing throughout, he managed to carry off the role and was suitably booed at the curtain call – I would have liked a little bit more relaxation in his voice but I think the tempo employed made this a challenging effect to achieve. A special mention also for the ensemble singing as it really hits the mark.

And the chorus? I have to admit that their O welche Lust was slightly disappointing with their normal cohesion off by an inch or so with individual voices poking through, but come the closing chorusfest I was tingling and feeling the urge to jump up and join in, which would have been a disaster for everyone involved, so normal service was resumed. On a closing note it was pleasing to see the first and second prisoners sung assuredly by chorus members Simon Curtis and Stephen Wells.

Fold three – The performances offstage

Ugh. I've doggy paddled like crazy so far, and now I'm at the Niagara Falls of my reviewing – the orchestra and conductor. Deep breath and off I go...

After a slightly shaky beginning I felt the orchestra found their stride soon thereafter. Lothar Koenigs drove the orchestra forwards at a quick tempo that paid off in the dramatic passages, although I felt that on a small number of occasions the singers were being asked to keep to an uncomfortable pace. Despite my slight reservations about the tempi I would take Koenigs' approach over a slower one as the beauty of Beethoven's score loses its sublime nature when slowed to walking pace. And in case anyone is thinking (if you're still with me that is) that Koenigs doesn't allow for a slowing of the tempo when needed he does, most of the time.

So for a quick recap – a few first night glitches aside it was a hugely satisfying evening as evidenced by the audience reaction (sorry burly beau for elbowing you), and I'm looking forward to catching a later performance. The production may not float everyone's boat but then I doubt there's been a production of Fidelio that has. Usually the key to any successful performance, in my eyes, is if I'm humming bits and pieces the following morning. Not this time. The marker for me was would I be able to forget my numbed face (with a hint of pain) from a visit to the dentist in the late afternoon (slobbery jaw reference)? By the end of the night the answer was a resounding yes, and if you're wondering, I was also humming tunes when I woke the following morning.

Friday, 17 September 2010

What to Wear?

Being this fashionable is a natural born gift

With just a few hours to go until WNO's season opening Fidelio I'm stuck with what to wear. Hoping to avoid last year's debacle of wearing shorts and a beige plastic mac I've narrowed down my options to one of the two outfits above. But whether you turn up as fashionably chic as moi, or if you opt for something less glamorous I hope you all enjoy a grand night.

Thoughts, responses, musings, reflections and general babbling on the night's events will appear here tomorrow, or Sunday depending how quickly I can return my didn't think I'd bought them? Oh, and don't expect any miracles – my reviewing is still at Richmond Tests level.

Monday, 13 September 2010

St David's Hall 2010 / 2011 Part 2

Photo sort of came from here

The International Concert Series begins on the 7th of October with a visit from the LPO and pianist Jean-Hawt Boy Bavouzet, but pressed for space I've jumped ahead to next year for my picks of the series. A note on my slightly peculiar programme layouts – as much as I am in awe from the tips of my toes to the roots of my hair at the musicianship skillz on display I think that sometimes it's nice to big up the composers responsible for the notes on the pages.

Sat 15 January 2011
Bartók Suite, The Miraculous Mandarin Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 2 Stravinsky The Rite of Spring
Piano Kirill Gerstein
Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen
Philharmonia Orchestra

Wed 16 March 2011
Mendelssohn Overture, The Hebrides Dvořák Cello Concerto Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4
Cello Steven Isserlis
Conductor / piano Andras Schiff
Philharmonia Orchestra

Fri 8 April 2011
Nielsen Aladdin Suite Sibelius Violin Concerto Grieg arr. Kristjan Järvi Suite, Peer Gynt
Violin Julia Fischer
Narrator Tbc
Conductor Kristjan Järvi
London Symphony Orchestra

Fri 29 April 2011
Wagner Siegfried Idyll Bruckner Symphony No 7
Conductor Lothar Koenigs
Orchestra of Welsh National Opera (okay, so they're not exactly strangers)

Thu 12 May 2011
Schumann Overture, The Bride of Messina Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations (again, I know) Brahms Symphony No 1
Cello Leonard Elschenbroich
Conductor Christoph Eschenbach
The Staatskapelle Dresden

Sun 29 May 2011
Beethoven Piano sonata No 3 in C,Op.2 Beethoven Piano sonata No 23 Op.57 ('Appassionata') Albeniz Iberia Book I Prokofiev Piano sonata No 7 in B flat major Op.83
Piano Lang Lang

For a full ICS pdf brochure click here.

St David's Hall 2010 / 2011 Part 1


Visitors to this blog may be mistaken in thinking that I only accompany my hair, pearl handled tangle tamer and compact mirror to the opera, but from time to time I like to take in such things as Man v Pigeon racing (waiting for my first victory after thirty-one contests: 30 losses 1 dead heat), Breakfast Cereal Night Classes (oxymoronic class on the hazards of mixing your Snap with your Bix) and Correct Oxymoron Quiz Nights (held at The Quiet Night pub on Elm Street).

I also find time to fret over my hair at St David's Hall, where the BBC National Orchestra of Wales is the band in residence. But it's not only BBC NOW who appear at St David's Hall. Throughout the year a mixture of international orchestras and soloists ply their wares under the guise of the International Concert Series.

So what's on at Neuadd Dewi Sant over the 2010 / 2011 season?

Quite a bit. I failed at narrowing down both BBC NOW's concerts and the ICS concerts to a-typical Top 5s, settling instead for Top 5s + 1s. To avoid confusion I've split my highlights with BBC NOW appearing in this post, and the ICS highlights appearing in the next post.

In a refreshing break with celebrity culture the ticket availability is the opposite of what you would expect. The BBC NOW concerts are heavily booked (with tickets still available) and the ICS concerts are moderately booked with plenty of tickets left in all price bands, despite including the likes of Lang Lang, Julia Fischer and Steven Isserlis. Not that the BBC NOW season suffers from an inferiority complex with Gautier Capuçon, Katarina Karnéus (BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Winner 1995), Viktoria Mullova and Miah Persson on the team sheet. The reasons for this bucking of trends is a mixture of long standing audience loyalty to BBC NOW and a reflection of their more affordable pricing with tickets ranging from £6* - £25.

Without further delay, the highlights of BBC NOW, according to my uneducated taste buds:

Fri 17 Sep 2010
Mussorgsky Night on a Bare Mountain Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme Rimsky-Korsakov Overture, May Night Shostakovich Symphony No 6
Cello Gautier Capuçon
Conductor Thierry Fischer
BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Fri 1 Oct 2010

Mahler Symphony No 3
Mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus
Conductor Tadaaki Otaka
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
BBC National Chorus of Wales
Gloucester, Hereford & Worcester Cathedral Boys

Sat 5 Feb 2011
Liszt Mazeppa Beethoven Violin Concerto Bartók Concerto for Orchestra
Violin Viktoria Mullova
Conductor François-Xavier Roth
BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Fri 15 Apr 2011

Berlioz Roméo et Juliette
Mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley
Tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt
Bass Jonathan Lemalu
Conductor Thierry Fischer
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
BBC National Chorus of Wales

Fri 27 May 2011
Four Last Songs Bruckner Symphony No 9
Mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus
Conductor Jac van Steen
BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Fri 24 June 2011

Fauré Pavane Dutilleux L'arbre des songes Ravel Daphnis et Chloé (Complete)
Soprano Miah Persson
Mezzo-soprano Pamela Helen Stephen
Tenor James Gilchrist
Bass Peter Rose
Conductor Thierry Fischer
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
BBC National Chorus of Wales

You can download a full BBC NOW St David's Hall pdf season brochure by clicking here. For details of BBC NOW BBC Hoddinott Hall events rest your finger here. For Brangwyn Hall (Swansea) events slide your arrow here, and for further concerts around Wales drop in here.

* Student rate

Sunday, 12 September 2010

20 Ways to Talk About Opera

Photo, for once, be me. On an armchair. Yep. An armchair. I'm available for weddings and books on armchair photo shoots only.

Being (hugely likely) the one and only segment in the series Hairman at the Bookstore I thought I would dig out my sand coloured corduroy jacket, thrust my pipe into my mouth and bring to your attention some operatic tomes to peruse at home with a mug of cooking sherry. Unfortunately quite a lot of opera books fall into the charge whatever you want area of retail so prices tend to be as flexible as a Rossinian plot making this a sporadic segment at best. But enough of my moral outraging. It's time to sell a book!

The book in question is Living Opera (Oxford University Press) by Paris based American scribe Joshua Jampol. Roping in the likes of Pierre Boulez, Robert Carsen, Plácido Domingo, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Natalie Dessay, Simon Keenlyside (and another fourteen other opera luminaries) he partakes in a series of interviews / conversations that centre on the participants approach to opera / music making, giving a snapshot of both the opera world and the participants themselves.

So what is it like? Erm, so far I've only read the first interview with Pierre Boulez and interesting page flicking it made – though I have to admit to complete ignorance when the discussion focused briefly on tonal music. But generally speaking it made for an engaging introduction to the book with a flavour of Boulez the person appearing alongside his ideas on music and opera.

Whether or not the remaining interviews follow in the same appealing vein is a mystery I'm planning to solve over the coming weeks. But in case the book slips into the black hole of publishing and ends up taking the warehouse / bargain bin / pulping route I thought I'd bring it to your attention now...thereby saving myself from having to write a review and simply enjoying it at my leisure while buffing my hair with a silk duster and imagining Joyce DiDonato is reading her interview to me dressed as Rosina...umm, where was I?

Buying advice is the usual places – Amazon UK Germany France Canada, Waterstones, Blackwells, WH Smith, Barnes & Noble. I picked up my copy for a wallet friendly £11 from one of Amazon's independents compared to the £16-£17 the biggies are charging, although these prices are the norm for hardback copies. Remember to figure in delivery charges to your abode – but you won't need me to tell you that. And please note that the book is currently only available in English.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Diplomacy of Mmmmmm...(the full version*) (and now another ** to check up on) (and a final *** to read)


As Tony Harrison pointed out, the Vs of life are many and varied and can quite often be at their most heated between bedfellows, or in this instance between the ROH and their independent numero uno blogger. Anyone who has read Intermezzo's blog will know that it's written by someone who a) Knows what they're talking about and b) Cares passionately about the opera and classical music world. You may agree with what's written on there, or you may not. What can't be denied is that it acts as an invaluable advertisement for the opera / classical music scene in London and other stops around the UK, and the continent, and does so in a way that's accessible to the casual, and the not so casual visitor alike.

While I appreciate that the ROH are well within their legal rights to enforce copyright control over the images they produce / commission in this particular case I feel the letter of the law has been adhered to far too strictly. The whole idea of being a performing arts company is to show off exactly what it is you're famed for and if your message is spread should be the overriding factor rather than how it is spread. In a way it would have been far more worrying for the ROH if Intermezzo hadn't taken the time to share her experiences of performances at Covent Garden, but had instead blogged about the benefits of saving grass cuttings to use as biodegradable fake moustaches.

Having chosen to approach the situation in the way that they did has obviously backfired, but hopefully a greater awareness will now exist at Covent Garden about the potential power for good (feeling like Spiderman as I'm writing this) the Internet can bring them if the whole company can embrace the nuances of the net and appreciate the symbiotic nature of today's new media. It would be a great shame if a groovy way out can't be found out of the situation as in Intermezzo the ROH have a uniquely placed, and immensely popular blogger, who converts many souls to the religion of opera and the ROH. It's time for the messenger of love and tranquillity to do his thing...

Or at least that's what my inner hippy thinks. Thankfully it looks as though the Pipes of Peace are in the process of being blown and an end may be in sight to Mezzogate over the coming days.

*Call me sloppy, lazy, and unprofessional or just cursed by an evil Gremlin called Janice but the earlier version wasn't my intended post.

**The Love Gods of Opera have now done their thing with Intermezzo having official access to the ROH's press images and Wagner, Verdi and the boys breathing a collective sigh of relief.

***I'm not adding another asterik to this post.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Lothar Koenigs Talks to Culture Critic


Ahead of WNO's season opening Fidelio Lothar Koenigs chatted to Culture Critic about WNO's new season, his interest in Der Blaue Reiter art movement and a (possible please be true) hint at WNO's next venture into Wagner.

You can read the article there.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Ask and You Shall Receive

I should make my wishes public a lot more often if this week is the yardstick of reality. No sooner than I'd had a moan than news filtered through that BBC Radio 3 would be broadcasting two WNO productions this autumn.

The first is Verdi's Rigoletto from the recent summer season with Simon Keenlyside making his role debut as the eponymous funny guy without humour. Joining him as the Duke is Gwyn Hughes Jones, Sarah Coburn making her WNO / UK debut as the jester's daughter (Gilda), Leah-Marian Jones as the psychotic tart with a heart (Maddalena) and David Soar as plain old psychotic Sparafucile. Conducting the performance was / is Pablo Heras-Casado. I thoroughly enjoyed this in the theatre with strong performances all round but as I missed Hughes Jones as the Duke I'm definitely recording this one when it's broadcast on the 2nd of October at 6pm UK time.

The second BBC Radio 3 broadcast comes on the 13th of November (6pm UK time) and is Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. A strong cast is headed by Sarah Connolly as the Composer, Orla Boylan (Ariadne) and Gillian Keith (Zerbinetta). WNO's Music Director Lothar Koenigs will set the groove. I can't say much about this one as it hasn't been performed yet.

The broadcast times may change so I'll keep an eye out for any movings around. You can listen through the usual ways - Radio, Digital TV and via the Internet (even outside the UK). All of this means you can finally hear what it is I blabber on about for once.

Thanks to Hariclea Darclee of Opera is Magic! for the tip.

Monday, 6 September 2010

"I couldn't believe they were all so thick": Leonora lets her hair down with Hairman at the Opera

Photo and wig from here

Before I lose any semblance of respect I'll begin by suggesting you may want to jump to the musical excerpts. If on the other hand you've had a drink, are feeling in a good mood or are curious to see what a cock-up I've made of sticking to this idea then by all means carry on reading.

Hairman: First of all many thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Leonore / Fidelio:
It is a pleasure, but I’m refusing to praise the great martyr Don Pizarro.

H: Duly noted.

L / F:
To think what that man subjected Florestan to and he is now being commemorated as if he was a great and good man…ach!

(Throws hands up)

H: We’re here today to talk about your impressions of late eighteenth century Seville, more specifically the reports that Seville prison experienced a rare, but devastating outbreak of Chronic Gullibility Syndrome, or CGS for short. As someone who was present at the time in question do you think the claims are well founded?

(She laughs)

H: I’ll take that as confirmation?

L / F: You may.

H: What makes you think that people were suffering from CGS?

L / F: How much do you know about the episode?

H: What do you mean?

L / F:
It was more than just CGS that was at work during my time in the gaol. There were also spontaneous occurrences of singing taking place throughout that ghastly place. I would be walking from my room to the kitchen when without warning I would be singing about the joys of leg extension. Everybody, and everything was affected. Men, women, children, birds, There was even an orchestra hidden away in the gaol. It was all very fantastic.

H: I guess it would have been.

(Silence while I wait for a response from Leonore who hums quietly to herself)

H: Any specific examples of this singing and CGS?

L / F: Too many to number! But there are a few that I can recall without difficulty to this day. Marzelline, the gaoler's daughter, was a sweet girl who was forever being bothered by Jaquino, the porter. He was quite harmless really but he was one of those infuriating men who need to be informed repeatedly that their advances are simply not welcome. It was because of him that I think Marzelline fell for her father’s assistant. His name was Fidelio, a young man starting out in life. The trouble was that Fidelio was I, and I was there to rescue my husband from his doom, dressed in a frankly pathetic disguise that included the most capacious shirt and hat you could ever wish to see. Despite this ridiculous costume she couldn’t deduce I was a woman. I knew straight away that something was amiss when I heard her singing this touching song.

L / F: I was surprised she never wondered why her Signorinashave blades began running out the time I came to the gaol. But she wasn’t the only one not to realise I wasn't a young man. Rocco and Jacquino were just as appalling. Take this example when we broke out into song at the same time. You would have thought one of them would have questioned why my voice was more akin to Marzelline's than to theirs. But perhaps they were too taken with their hopes and cares to realise something was wrong.

H: It is quite obvious that your voice isn’t that of a man.

L / F: You can tell, sitting here. But if you had been there at the time in question you would have been as hopeless as the rest. But Rocco, the gaoler, was also blinded by something other than this CGS. He was eager for his daughter to marry and I am of the opinion that he was willing to ignore the truth. He was like us all really, wishing things were different than they were...and he did have a weakness for money, especially gold and how it affected the quality of happiness a person could hope to experience in their lifetime.

L / F: I couldn’t accuse the prisoners of being gullible, locked away as they were in those pitch-black cells they could hardly see the gruel, and thankfully not the maggots, in their bowls. They were quite overcome when Marzelline and I encouraged Rocco to allow them to be let out in the yard. It may have been some years since many had been outside, let alone seen the sun.

L / F: Florestan was by far the worst of any of the prisoners. The poor man was losing his mind. Pizarro had him hidden away from the other prisoners, kept alone in the bottommost dungeon. A terrifying place for any soul. This was his reward for telling the truth.

H: Did anyone suspect who you were?

L / F: Not one person. I cleaned up after everyone, always insisted the toilet seat be put down, never did I take part in their sport of pelting the village idiot with rotten tomatoes. I had protuberances where they hadn’t any, and vice versa. Even Pizarro failed to recognise me, and he possessed the senses of a hawk. Pardon me for saying this but I couldn't believe they were all so thick. But that was before this CGS of yours stopped working its witchcraft on us. Did you know this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened in Seville?

H: Erm. No.

L / F: It seems that a teenager called Cherubino was mistaken for a girl. And then there was a count who dressed up in all manner of disguises. Even though he was well known throughout the countryside and town nobody recognised him. Of course he never pretended to be anything other than a man so perhaps it doesn’t tally with your CGS. But they all broke into song.

H: Did they now?

L / F: But I doubt they sang anything as joyful as everyone in the gaol did to celebrate our deliverance from Pizarro's clutches and my rescuing Florestan.

L / F: And then, as soon as we finished singing this CGS of yours weakened its grasp. But not utterly. Pizarro, following his death was pardoned by our new ruler and is now heralded as a martyr. The poor souls he tormented will be forgotten. Are we finished now?

All recreations were undertaken by:

Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Arnold Schoenberg Chor Wien (Chorus Master Erwin Ortner)
Claudio Abbado: Conductor

Peter Mattei: Don Fernando
Falk Struckmann: Don Pizarro
Jonas Kaufmann: Florestan
Nina Stemme: Leonore
Christof Fischesser: Rocco
Rachel Harnisch: Marzelline
Christoph Strehl: Jaquino
Juan Sebastian Acosta: First Prisoner
Levente Pall: Second Prisoner

Their efforts will be recognised with a CD release in early 2011 on the Decca label.

In a Please don't sue me notice the recordings will cease to exist after the final performance of WNO's Fidelio at Oxford's New Theatre on the 3rd of December.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Picture Says It All

Photo from here

I don't do predictions – just ask my bookie, Knuckles ap Kneecaps. My speciality is more Things I'd Like to See Happen in 2010 / 2011. Call them whims, moans and wishes, in no scientific order of preference the list goes something like this…

5. S4C / BBC Wales to record at least one performance out of each of the seasons. That is a grand total of three operas. Not many. If both these organisations, who have the brief of reporting on Welsh life, would lose a rugby match here, an obscure Katherine Jenkins documentary there I'm sure they could fit in the filming of performances for the benefit of those who can't make it to the theatres, at the same time preserving the work that goes on at WNO.

3. The management of the Wales Millennium Centre to put up better signs for the toilets. After several years of pointing the confused members of society towards the wc's I'm in possession of enough evidence to say that the original signs just aren't working. I can't fault the toilets themselves – top notch, just as long as aimers hit their targets…

8. A younger audience. To be fair the age of the audience at WMC is quite varied but on certain nights I feel quite young, which I don't mind given the realisation that my significant birthdays now fall every ten years. However, for the sake of future audience figures it would be nice to see an influx of younger folk in attendance as they will be the oldies of the future.

7. People travelling up from London to quit moaning about the time it takes to get out of the WMC at the end of the night. Of course not every visitor moans but having experienced the traffic jam in the Amphitheatre at Covent Garden quite a few times and then taken part in the demolition derby that's the cloakroom in comparison getting out of WMC isn't the major hassle some people suggest it is. I agree that there should be an extra set of lifts on either side of the building but generally speaking it isn't a huge slog to leave the Armadillo.

89. I decide on Hairman, HairMan or Hair Man as my name.

21. If #5 proves a bit of a struggle how about BBC Radio Wales / Cymru recording the performances? Lose a rugby match here, a Katherine Jenkins concert there...

2. A suitable replacement for John Fisher is found. I don't want to see a rushed appointment that fails to work out, but at the same time I wouldn't want any extra pressure to fall on Lothar Koenigs' shoulders. Stability really is the key and the sooner WNO can find a replacement the better for the company as a whole.

9. Surtitles failure. For some reason the English surtitles at the WMC can go AWOL from time to time but luckily for me I can speak / read / write / dream in Welsh so I slide my eyes to the right to read the Cymraeg. However, many people (including Welsh folk) can't understand the Welsh surtitles so my wish is that the English surtitles don't succumb to exhaustion as much this year.

34. Sweet suckers. So you eat sweets – I don't care. So you unwrap them during the quietest bits, ummmmm, I care. So after the final curtain has gone down you've left your rubbish behind – I really care. If you're too lazy to take your rubbish with you, don't bring it in the first place.

54. Stop moaning so much. I'll try.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Last Papagenofighter

Could this be the Papageno Kill Screen moment?

No – your eyes are not playing tricks. 1015 – how do you like them apples baby?

Before things get out of hand I admit there may have been a slight technical fault with Mini – P, but I was on 345 when time ran out.

Honest guv.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

He Would Have? Wouldn't He?

Just another seventeen points and I can get to bed tonight

I like to think that Mozart would have enjoyed WNO's Papageno Game. I can imagine him with a glass of wine to one side and his powdered wig upturned, on the other, housing a collection of Viennese nibbles keeping the rumbles at bay while he spent hour after hour sending Mini-Papa rushing across the screen with the recitative going something like this:

Run! Run! Oh don't catch the umbrella! Don't! Don't you dare...Oh you bloody idiot!!! Do that again and I'll feed you to a giant snake...Right! That it! Thaaaaaat's it!! I've had enough. Where's Mayor Wilkins?

Or this is what I thought at 2.04 am this morning by way of false reassurance that I was not in danger of joining the cast of The King of Kong. If you think I'm talking baloney then I suggest you try it out for yourself. As for me I'm hanging up my net...when I crack 100. Pass my wig, it's going to be a long night.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A Preview of the Autumn Preview (aka Pre Recycling of Posts)

Photo from here

Dust off your tuxedos, unmoth your gowns, spit on your shoes and starch your undies; WNO's season opening Fidelio will soon be with us! Although the two Ps of international season openings will be absent (paparazzi, plastic [surgery devotees]) there is no denying the sense of expectation that has been building in some tents over the summer break. But what's this? Turbulence in the anticipation? Ye gods and forsooth an army of Macbeth's finest hags! Following the ecstatic end to the 2009 / 2010 season with Meistersinger at the Proms WNO's groove has been grived with John Fisher's decision not to renew his contract next summer. All of a sudden things have become complicated and confusing. It's like an old fashioned Saturday morning at the pictures cliff-hanger. Will WNO Get Its Groove Back? Will I Learn To Punctuate? Will management at the Wales Milennium Centre stick up better toilet signs? The only way to find out is to get on over to the opening jive of the jamboree later this month.

So what's on offer at WNO this autumn? Well, obviously Fidelio since I've already mentioned it. It's often been described as a hymn to freedom and humanity, but never as an examination of a rare outbreak of Chronic Gullibility Syndrome in 18th century Seville. A recent critical paper, by myself, has proven to be a controversial, yet groundbreaking event among Beethoven scholars and I will reveal my findings in a future post – I couldn't believe they were all so thick: Leonora lets her hair down with Hair Man at the Opera.

The second offering is Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. Playing out like a metaopera it's a new one on me and as such I've decided to award it with Getting to know...with Hair Man at the Opera status. I can't promise you a comprehensive understanding of plot, musical structure or anything else of worth so you may want to skip those posts. But you'll know this already.

The last work to trill the boards during the autumn will be The Magic Flute. I'll moan once again about it being sung in English but it's still brimming with Mozartian goodies and will more than likely be the top seller of the Season of the Falling Leaves*. To get your juices flowing WNO have created an entertaining website including an addictive game where you control an itty bitty Papageno trying to catch flutes and bells in a net. If that isn't enough interactive action for you there's also a Zaubertwitter page where you can catch up with the behind the scenes preparations.

In-Game Papageno action - look out for the umbrellas!

I'll now bid you adieu and hope, with a flourish of my gleaming, golden, gorgeous locks that you make it to Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, Llandudno, Southampton or Oxford this autumn!

*I'd like to lay claim to this wonderful little description but it's a reference to a cycling race in Italy, Il Giro di Lombardia / The Tour of Lombardy, also known as the Classica delle foglie morte / The Race of the falling (dying) leaves.