Monday, 31 January 2011

Alive and Kicking

There's little more than 24 hours to go until the curtain goes up on Dragon Opera’r Ddraig's The Marriage of Figaro. The award winning company, fairly unique in being run by young people for the benefit of young people, is based at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. It aims to show audiences usually inclined to running 26 miles and 385 yards at the thought of going to the opera that it isn't the snore-fest it's sometimes made out to be.

Running for four performances (Feb 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th) at The Gate, the cast and crew are drawn mainly, though not exclusively, from students at RWCMD. Tickets are an affordable £10 (£6 concessions) and are available by ringing 02920 48 33 44 or by following this link.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

One, two, buckle my shoe

John Fisher, Bryn Terfel and Lothar Koenigs with award presenter Lesley Garrett Photo Ian Gavan/Getty Images Europe

Following on from its recent success at the TMA awards in November WNO has picked up a second award for its 2010 production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The Richard Jones directed show that had critics raving, and this already raving blogger raving even more has won Best Opera category at the revamped The South Bank Show Sky Arts Awards.

Featuring Bryn Terfel, in his role debut as Hans Sachs, the production held off stiff competition from ENO and Glyndebourne to win the award. Readers with access to Sky Arts can catch the awards ceremony on Sky Arts 1 from 9pm this evening.

Readers without access to Sky Arts can gobble up some clips of the BBC Proms performance*, an excerpt from the actual production from WNO, a pair of Bryn Terfel interviews (also from WNO) and watch Stephen Fry chatting with Hans Sachs prior to his Proms performance right here (sort of). So buckle up and let the Orchestra and Chorus of WNO, led by Lothar Koenigs, take you back to Johannistag one more time.

Prelude to the whole thing

Stage excerpt from Act II (via WNO)

Prelude Act III

Wach auf!


Stephen Fry talks to Bryn Terfel

Bryn Talks Meistersinger Part 1 (via WNO)

Bryn Talks Meistersinger Part 2 (via WNO)

*In defence of Bryn Terfel, who was battling the Royal Albert Hall’s unique airless conditioning system, in the three performances I saw at the WMC he never once came close to losing his voice.

Robin Tritschler at Wigmore Hall

Photo © Sussie Ahlburg

Former WNO Associate Artist Robin Tritschler returns to Wigmore Hall this Sunday (4pm London Time) to recitalise his way through a programme including (among others) Mozart, Poulenc, Schubert and Head.

Accompanying the Irish tenor will be pianist Graham Johnson. Tickets are a very affordable flat rate £12 (£10 concessions) throughout the hall for a prizewinner from Wigmore’s 2007 International Song Competition.

It's one of those if I could I would recitals - but unfortunately I'll be sat (I assume) roughly 180 miles to the left of the Wigmore.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Croeso Cynnes Dame Kiri Te Kanawa!


With BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 little over five months away a changing of the guard has taken place within the competition. As you will know, the competition’s Patron, Dame Joan Sutherland, sadly passed away last year. It goes without saying that she has left an enduring impression on the competition both in her role as a jury member, and also as Patron. So how do you replace someone of such stature? With great difficulty, although I guess La Stupenda would gently suggest I’m talking rubbish. And I’m guessing she would also say something along the lines of that we should remember the love she had for the competition, but that life must always move on. And I'm also guessing that she would be correct in saying all of this. And another and - and I guess she would be rather happy as to the identity of her successor.

So to the very welcome news that the competition has a new Patron. Funnily enough she too hails from the Southern Hemisphere – this time from New Zealand. And funnily enough, she is also a soprano, and a Dame – Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. I’m assuming I don’t need to add a hyperlink to Wiki for anyone? It goes without saying that if I had been given a choice of who I would have wanted as a new Patron Kiri te Kanawa was a name that would have fallen rather easily from my lips. As well as acting as the competition’s Patron she will also be sitting on the jury where she will join John Fisher (Chair of the Panel), Dennis O’Neill, Håkan Hagegård and Marilyn Horne. The rest of the jury has yet to be named but Fisher, Horne and Hagegård will also sit on the Song Prize jury along with Bengt Forsberg.

Speaking to BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Dame Kiri had this to say:

“It is a thrill and honour to be asked to be Patron and jury member for this year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition...The event is of great significance to the Opera world, giving young talented singers the opportunity to perform in the beautiful St David’s Hall in Cardiff, where they will be heard on BBC radio as well as viewed by millions on television."

And also this:

"From my own early experiences of studying at the London Opera Centre in what is now the National Opera studio, I understand how essential it is to be given such a unique opportunity as this at the outset of one’s career. There can be no doubt that the 20 singers will have a unique opportunity to be assessed by professionals from the world of music during the week, with each event presenting high standards of singing. It is an occasion which will reveal the finest quality of singers and I am very pleased to be a part of this extraordinary competition.”

Given her long standing commitment to nurturing young talent Dame Kiri's appointment is a reaffirmation of the competition's fundamental aims of encouraging young singers from all over the globe and shining a light on their talents. In short(ish), it's a competition headed by singers for singers.

Full details of the 20 competitors, and the two juries will be released in March. If you're interested, and itching to attend the week long celebration of singing you can download a pdf booking form from the BBC or if you prefer you can email with your name and address and they will send you a brochure / booking form in the post. If online isn't your thing you can write to St. David’s Hall, Cardiff CF10 1AH with your details and they will mail you a brochure / booking form. Remember, all applications are to be made by post only and should arrive at St David's Hall no later than the 4th of February.

Prices range from £50 to £190 and include tickets for all the preliminary orchestral concerts, Song Prize Final and the Main Prize Final - all to be held at St David's Hall. Subscriptions for the Song Prize Recitals preliminary concerts held at the New Theatre Cardiff are £24, while tickets for the Master Classes held at the New Theatre Cardiff, and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on the 18th of June are £8.

Telephone, online and in person booking will be available from the 1st of March, although to guarantee your ticket for the final it's a good idea to book a subscription for the week.

So it's a croeso cynnes to Kiri Te Kanawa, and the other jury members!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Opera - TNG

Next Friday (28th of January) BBC Hoddinott Hall, hidden Tardis-like at the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC), will play host to the National Opera Studio (NOS) and some of its current trainees. Acting as a link between music colleges and the six main opera companies in the UK the NOS plays an important, if unheralded role, in the development of young singers and repetiteurs. Graduates include the likes of Gerald Finley, Kate Royal and Ivor Bolton.

Among the singers scheduled to appear are John Pierce, this year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Welsh representative and, recent RWCMD graduate, mezzo-soprano Justina Gringytė. Lending orchestral support will be the Orchestra of WNO under the direction of Jeremy Silver.

But this is no belt an aria evening, if the dry run of this Tuesday’s (25th of January) upcoming recital is to be believed, with the emphasis placed on ensemble singing with, among others, the Act 1 duet and trio from L’elisir d’amore (Adina, Nemorino and Belcore) and the sextet from Così fan tutte.

Tickets are £10 and are on sale from WMC. Those of you who are unfamiliar with Hoddinott Hall might like to take a gander at the BBC NOW introductory video to the hall and its inner workings. And don’t be afraid, but you will run into some Welsh, which isn’t the pebble-dashing language you’ve been led to believe it is.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Feel the Beet for £3


Have you got a spare £3 burning a hole in your pocket? Are you under 30? Are you harbouring a hidden interest in classical music? Perhaps you’ve already got a thang for Beethoven and Bach?

If this sounds like you then why not take advantage of a generous offer from the Orchestra of WNO to take in this Friday’s concert at St David’s Hall and chat to orchestra members before, and after, they take to the stage, all for £3.

If you're interested then use that new fangled electronic message device and email with your details so your seat(s) can be reserved and that they can send you more details. For further information you may like to click on this link.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

WNO 2011 / 2012 Season


Most Mondays my post consists of takeaway leaflets and little else. If I’m lucky the odd car insurance offer will park itself on my mat (I can’t drive) or some journal I subscribed to for a year in 1998 will try and lull me back by offering half a year for free (if I was bored of it then, I’ll be bored of it now). But generally speaking it’s normally just the takeaway leaflets. I’ve often thought that there was an unwritten rule that on Mondays only businesses would get their post and that we, the unknowing masses, would have to wait until Tuesday for our letters, parcels and more takeaway leaflets.

In a break with weekly tradition, this morning’s post brought me something other than Ninety-One Ways to Encourage Heart Disease. By the distinctive shape of the envelope, and WNO’s logo emblazoned on it, I knew straight away that it was the subscription booklet for the 2011 / 2012 Season. I felt a sizeable colony of butterflies migrate to my stomach and in time honoured fashion I tore the envelope open and partially ripped the booklet.

Letting my eyes do their manic devouring of the covering letter, I tiptoed around the highlighted sentences because I wanted to hold off from knowing all about the season like a child keeping their biggest parcel until last of all on Christmas morning. I settled for the morsels of booking dates...until I could wait no longer and plunged into the booklet proper.

And without further hesitation, here are WNO’s offerings for 2011 / 2012...with my thoughts on each of the season’s strands.

Autumn 2011

Don Giovanni (Mozart) New Production

Conductor Lothar Koenigs
Director John Caird
Designer John Napier

Don Giovanni David Kempster
Leporello David Soar
Donna Elvira Nuccia Focile
Donna Anna Camilla Roberts
Don Ottavio Robin Tritschler
Zerlina Claire Ormshaw
Masetto Gary Griffiths
Commendatore Carlo Malinverno

The Barber of Seville (Rossini)

Conductor Alexander Polianichko
Director Giles Havergal
Designer Russell Craig

Count Almaviva Andrew Kennedy
Figaro Jacques Imbrailo
Rosina Anna Grevelius
Bartolo Eric Roberts
Basilio Clive Bayley

Katya Kabanova (Janacek)

Conductor Lothar Koenigs
Director Katie Mitchell
Designer Vicki Mortimer

Katerina Kabanova Amanda Roocroft
Kabanicha Leah-Marion Jones
Tikhon Stephen Rooke
Boris Peter Wedd
Dikoy Clive Bayley

Hairman Says…

An astute opening to the new season with a strongly cast Don Giovanni leading the way.

I’m slightly frothing at the mouth with the thought of Davids Kempster and Soar sharing the stage in Don Giovanni, and that’s before I get around to thinking about Focile, Ormshaw, Tritschler and Griffiths turning up as well. Throw in the fact that it’s Lothar Koenigs conducting and the never less than brilliant team of Caird and Napier creating the new production and this could well be the highlight of the season.

The casting is also strong for the Barber, which is a good thing as it’s the third time Havergal’s production has been seen in recent years. Much will depend on the performances of Kennedy, Grevelius and Imbrailo but with Roberts and Bayley teaming up there should be plenty of know-how on show to avoid familiarity breeding boredom. Curiously this will be conductor Alexander Polianichko’s first time conducting Rossini’s comic masterpiece.

Finishing off the Autumn strand of the season is another well cast production of a composer I have a lot of time for. Thankfully audiences will get to hear Roocroft, Jones, Rooke, Wedd and Bayley (yes, him again) singing in the original Czech. Lothar Koenigs’ conducting and Katie Mitchell’s acclaimed production give me some justification for complaining about Katya Kabanova’s very limited two date run at the WMC.

Spring 2012

La Traviata (Verdi)

Conductor Julia Jones
Director David McVicar
Designer Tanya McCallin

Violetta Valery Joyce El-Khoury
Alfredo Carlos Osuna
Giorgio Germont Jason Howard
Baron Douphol Eddie Wade

Beatrice et Benedict (Berlioz)

Conductor Michael Hofstetter
Director Elijah Moshinsky
Designer Michael Yeargan

Beatrice Sara Fulgoni
Benedict Robin Tritschler
Hero Laura Mitchell
Claudio Gary Griffiths
Ursula Anna Burford
Somarone Donald Maxwell

Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart)

Conductor Anthony Negus
Director Lluis Pasqual
Designer Paco Azorin

Figaro David Soar
Susanna Elizabeth Watts
Countess Almaviva Rebecca Evans
Count Almaviva Dario Solari
Cherubino Cora Burggraaf
Dr Bartolo Henry Waddington
Marcellina Sarah Pring

Hairman Says…

Three revivals make up the offerings for a thankfully full Spring season.

I’m a big sucker for La Traviata so I’m looking forward to the return of David McVicar’s production. The added interest comes in the shape of the young leads, El-Khoury and Osuna, respectively contracted to the Met and Wiener Staatsoper. Throw in Jason Howard as Giorgio Germont and Julia Jones making her company debut with the baton and this could be a surprise hit. As much as La Traviata can be a surprise hit.

I’m now holding my hands up and admitting I’ve never heard a single note of Berlioz’s B&B. The cast (Fulgoni, Tritschler, Mitchell, Griffiths, Burford and Maxwell) offer a healthy mixture of experience and youth but someone had better air the costumes as it’s the first time in over a decade that WNO is performing the Moshinsky directed piece. Conductor Michael Hofstetter returns to the company for the two Cardiff performances.

Lluis Pasqual’s inventive, if uneven take on the Mozart / da Ponte classic sees Soar (Figaro), Evans (Countess Almaviva) and Pring (Marcellina) return from the original Cardiff cast with Watts (Susanna) and Burggraaf (Cherubino) getting to show off the stuff they, erm, showed off on tour last time around. Dario Solari debuts as the Count while WNO’s Anthony Negus conducts.

Summer 2012

Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)

Conductor Lothar Koenigs
Director & Designer Yannis Kokkos

Tristan Jay Hunter Morris
Isolde Ann Petersen
Brangaene Susan Bickley
Kurwenal Phillip Joll
King Marke Matthew Best
Melot Simon Thorpe

La bohème (Puccini)

Conductor Carlo Rizzi
Director Annabel Arden
Designer Stephen Brimson–Lewis

Mimi Anita Hartig
Rodolfo Alex Vicens
Marcello David Kempster
Colline David Soar
Schaunard Gary Griffiths

Hairman says…
A stirring end to the season!

Judging by the excited squeals I made when I saw it was listed Tristan und Isolde will surely herald a new bout of Wagnermania at the WMC in May 2012. Making their UK debuts American tenor Morris (Tristan) and Swedish soprano Petersen (Isolde) are joined by Bickley (Brangaene), Joll (Kurwenal), Best (King Marke) and Thorpe (Melot). There are only three Cardiff performances (for obvious reasons) so tickets will surely be at a premium to catch Lothar Koenigs conducting his first ever T&I.

The second new production of the 2011 / 2012 Season sees Annabel Arden taking on Puccini’s ultimate tearjerker. Given her past record expectations are riding high from where I’m sitting. The cast is internationally diverse with Romanian soprano Hartig (Mimi) succumbing to many things, including Spanish tenor Vicens (Rodolfo). In a bookending stroke of fortune Davids Kempster (Marcello) and Soar (Colline) are reunited with Griffiths (Schaunard) adding more lustre to the lads. No word yet as to who will be singing Musetta. Former WNO Music Director Carlo Rizzi conducts. As a point of interest the production is to become the focal point for WNO’s first ever audience appeal in helping to create a production. For more information on how you can donate click this link.

And that’s it.

Despite the recent sense of doom and gloom that has settled on the arts the season looks to be well balanced and, more importantly, peppered with enticing productions. At first glance the standouts are Don Giovanni, Tristan und Isolde and the new Bohème, but rather quickly other works are added to the list of must sees. It goes without saying that I’m very pleased to see David Soar’s name attached to several productions and I have to admit I’m interested in seeing Gary Griffiths in the several roles he takes on as a WNO Associate Artist. Probably the most pleasing aspect of the season is seeing the number of operas rise to eight, as in recent seasons the number had dropped worryingly. Of course, I’m not wearing too rose tinted spectacles to assume that the addition of Barber to the calendar might have been at the expense of another new production – pure conjecture I admit, but I feel it in my hair.

Ticket prices for WMC have remained fairly similar with prices stating at £5 and going up to £39. But there is a different pricing structure for Tristan und Isolde - £5 to £50.

If you’re thinking of taking in a few operas it could be worth your while to take out a subscription to the season. Book 7 or 8 operas and you save 30%, book 6 operas and you save 25%, and save 20% if you book 5 operas.

Subscriptions are available by post only. To get hold of a form you can ring 0800 328 2357, email or to get hold of a brochure (and I assume a form) email

Booking Dates

Friends Subscription Priority Booking Period - From now until the 14th of February.
Public Subscription – 14th of February onwards.
Friends Individual Opera Priority Booking Period – 14th to the 24th of March.
Public Online, Postal, Phone and Counter Bookings – 25th of March.

All these dates and prices are for Cardiff only - I'll add news about the other WNO venues when concrete info becomes available.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Boys (and Gals) are back in town!

The photographer quickly regrets offering to buy the first round. Photo

And stretch! And relax. And stretch! And relax.

Now shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

And stretch! And relax. And stretch! And relax.

Oh, hello there dear readers. You've just caught me shooting my new Extreme Hair Care Survival DVD. It's something I like to do at this time of the year when many in the Northern Hemisphere are suffering from centrally heated frizz bombs. It's an all round programme designed by yours truly, encompassing modern, and not so modern, treatments and exercises to keep the shine in your hair. But less of my philanthropic deeds, I've got a concert to tell you about.

I'm not sure about the state of their hair but the Orchestra of WNO are tripping out to St David's Hall this Friday with a quartet of pieces spanning over 250 years of music making. Joining the orchestra and WNO's Music Director, Lothar Koenigs, for a bite of Bach, a bit of Bartók, a kernel of Kurtág and a bulk of Beethoven is pianist Peter Donohoe.

You can listen to brief clips of what to expect via WNO's website, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard sheds more light on the Kurtág on You Tube. The concert begins at 7.30pm and tickets are available from St David's Hall with prices ranging from £10 - £32.

Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
Conductor/ Lothar Koenigs
Soloist/ Peter Donohoe, Piano
J. S. Bach /Brandenburg Concerto No 3 10'
Bartók /Piano Concerto No 2 25'
Kurtág/ "... quasi una fantasia ..." 10'
Beethoven /Symphony No 7 40'

Friday, 7 January 2011

Cardiff Cineworld Shindig

Anna Netrebko is still spotting my golden locks

Before I return to a more regular schedule of rambling / blogging this is a quickie post for readers in the Cardiff area to remind them that Cineworld are showing the Met Live in HD Broadcast of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West tomorrow evening at 6pm (UK).

The cast includes Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani and Lucio Gallo. Extra bits, pieces, odds and some bobs for this yee-ha! opera can be found on the Met's dedicated Fanciulla page.