Thursday 29 September 2011

WNO - The Vimeo Years

A bit like digging around in a supermodel’s knickers draw, WNO’s Vimeo page has a couple of natty things to pique your peeking interest. Don Giovanni leads the way, with director John Caird and designer John Napier talking about their involvement in the production, followed by a snippet of dress rehearsal footage.

Not to be left out of the limelight, unlike the saggy, but strangely comforting pair of pants / knickers to be found in most folks underwear draw, The Barber of Seville gets to show off its frillies, with Christine Rice singing Una voce poco fa during the dress rehearsal.

John Caird Talks Don Giovanni

John Napier on Designing Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni Dress Rehearsal Footage

Christine Rice as Rosina (Dress Rehearsal)

Sunday 25 September 2011

The Barber of Seville - Wales Millennium Centre, 22nd of September 2011

Borrowed from WNO

Figaro - Jacques Imbrailo

Count Almaviva - AndrewKennedy
Rosina - Christine Rice
Doctor Bartolo - Eric Roberts
Don Basilio - Clive Bayley
Berta - Megan Llewellyn Dorke
Fiorello - Philip Lloyd-Evans

Conductor - Alexander Polianichko
Orchestra and Chorus of WNO

Director - Giles Havergal
Designer - Russell Craig
Lighting Designer - Gerry Jenkinson

I’m holding my hands up, and typing this with my bose. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to tripping out to see The Barber of Seville, partly because WNO perform it in English, but mainly because it would have been my third serving of Giles Havergal’s production in recent seasons. If you’ve seen it, chances are you’ll have liked the self-conscious nature of the production, with its very own onstage stage and audience – you even have caped conductor Alexander Polianichko swapping a few words with cast, and crew (dressed up as busty wenches) before a single note has been played. It is an entertaining production - but see it too often and the enjoyment can wear off. To counter familiarity WNO came up with a smothering of canny casting for opening night, helping to turn a ho-hum evening into an enjoyable one.

Jacques Imbrailo’s Figaro is an elegant creature, maybe not the rambunctious character you’ll meet most days in Rossini’s masterpiece, but he proved to be a winning performer. The strength of his performance lay in his lyrical baritone, which stood up to the vocal demands of the role. As his employer, Andrew Kennedy gave the turn of the evening as Almaviva. Like Imbrailo before him his singing was seemingly effortless, and he was a joy to listen to – a smidgen too sober for my liking in the drunk scene, he garnered the cheer of the evening at the curtain call.

Christine Rice made for a formidable Rosina, perhaps too formidable in the first act where I would have liked a touch more guile to her portrayal. Although her top was a tiny petal short of full bloom on the evening, her lower register was 88% cocoa and was a welcome reminder that mezzos should be more than sopranos with a low register. And on a purely puerile level, she is a very fine looking Rosina.

Of the boo brigade I felt that Eric Roberts was curiously off form as Doctor Bartolo. He has been one of the highlights of this production in recent revivals, and I can’t help but think I caught him on an off night. Clive Bayley played his partner in slander with arid, malevolent magnificence; pale of face and green of coat, his Don Basilio was the calculating git he should always be.

Stepping up from the chorus Megan Llewellyn Dorke brought character a-plenty to the role of Berta – as did fellow chorus escapee for the evening, Philip Lloyd-Evans (Fiorello). Their lowly colleagues in the chorus shone, as is their wont.

In the pit Alexander Polianichko, conducting the piece for the very first time, brought a sprinkling of new ideas to the score – but nothing obtrusive. Once or twice the unison between stage and orchestra felt strained, though in general the performance of the orchestra was, as ever, sumptuous. It would be interesting to catch a later performance to see how Polianichko's take on the score develops.

Far be it of me to suggest to a professional opera company what works they should, and shouldn’t, perform – but I would like to think that WNO's Barber would be given a few seasons off following this run. You can’t always strike it as lucky as WNO have with this cast, and should it return in the near future casting would be more crucial than ever. My moan out of the way I’ll get around to spreading the word that this is a show worthy of opening your wallets to. Kennedy gives a Golden Lock of the Night Award ™ winning performance, and is surrounded by a well oiled cast and production that can silence even your noisiest neighbour (yes, you with the bloody whispering and sweet unwrapping). Details of when and where to catch the opera with the zippiest overture in opera can be found here.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Don Giovanni - Wales Millennium Centre, 16th of Sepetember 2011

Photo - Wales Online Don Giovanni (David Kempster) gets to know Donna Elvira (Nuccia Focile)

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

Conductor – Lothar Koenigs
Orchestra and Chorus of WNO

Director – John Caird
Designer – John Napier
Assistant Designer - Yoon Bae
Choreographer – Kate Flatt
Lighting Designer – David Hersey
Fight Director – Kevin McCurdy

Another new season, another new Don Giovanni. Does the world need a fresh retelling of Mozart’s hell bound opera? Probably not. Does WNO’s new production shed new light on the only man in operatic history to have RSI of the groin? Again, probably not. Is it worth you travelling out to see? Definitely yes.

John Caird gives us a traditional telling of the opera – good and bad are clearly drawn, the humour in the work is played for laughs, not for introspection. Salzburg audiences would more than likely turn their noses up at it, but judging by their fashion sense a Salzburgian disapproval would surely count as a vote of approval elsewhere. I’ve seen many different takes on Don Giovanni, all fascinating and striving towards an exploration of the protagonist / society – and quite often they succeed, but Caird has given us something just as equally important as a deconstruction of the text, and that is to give us a Giovanni of enjoyment, a Giovanni that Mozart would recognise. In this, he is ably assisted by John Napier’s foreboding, yet beautiful designs – a set of moveable walls, inlaid figures echoing classical images of hell with their tormented poses. Apart from being a feast for the eyes, the walls allow a visible refreshing of scenes, and avoid playing against a blank canvas that can often be the case with many Mozart operas, given the nature of their numerous, and rapid, scene changes. Central to the design, indeed, the genesis for the design as a whole, is a scaled up version of Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, which open up and take Don Giovanni to an effective flaming hell, ultimately giving Star Wars fans a nice Han Solo ending for our anti-hero.

Photo - The Arts Desk © Richard H Smith Leporello (David Soar) and his boss (David Kempster)

With the scene, and directions set, the next piece of the puzzle is the cast, led more than ably by David Kempster’s devious Don. Devilish, with a hint of malice, he was convincing in the role, switching from heartless to horny with his generous baritone conquering (nearly) all the women in his path. As with any great role versatility is required, and Kempster displayed plenty with Fin ch'han dal vino and Deh vieni alla finestra sung with ease. A nice touch by Napier and his team had the Don dressed in white clothing, turning the idea of a knight in shining armour on its head. His reward for giving such an accomplished performance was to be roundly booed at the curtain call, a sure sign from a WMC audience that you’ve played a good baddie.

The task of playing the Don’s put-upon servant fell to David Soar. Long time readers of the blog will know that I’m a big fan of his, and his Leporello did little to diminish his rising stock – following appearances at Covent Garden and Salzburg he is due to make his Met debut in the 2012 / 13 season. Caird had him play Leporello as a wannabe Giovanni, coming to his master’s aid in the opening duel (enabling Giovanni to kill the Commendatore) and looking to have his wicked way with anything in a dress at the drop of his worn, cavalier style hat. Throughout the evening he made light work of the quick fire demands made on him vocally by the role with superb enunciation, and the money aria for any Leporello (Madamina, il catalogo è questo) was munched nicely by his dark chocolate bass of a voice.

So the bad men covered themselves in glory – but what about the “good” guys?

Donna Anna’s owner for the evening, Camilla Roberts, put in a shift and a half as the wronged woman with vengeance on her mind. It’s easy for Anna to be seen as little more than a beige background to Giovanni’s antics, but Roberts breathed a tumult of emotions into the character, never allowing any hint of apathy to be directed towards her by this particular audience member (he’s a truly nasty piece of work, but sometimes I can’t help but want the Don to escape the mob’s clutches). It’s often said (by me) that you need a four seasons in one-day kind of a voice for Donna Anna, and Roberts carries a waterproof coat, a pac a mac, sunglasses and a winter coat throughout her performance.

Despite the numerous impressive performances, the revelation of the evening (for me) was Robin Tritschler’s Don Ottavio. I’ve seen Tritschler a few times, and though I’ve always liked the beauty of his voice I’d found, until Friday, it suffered in the volume department. On opening night it was as if Tritschler had discovered a booster button, crucially without affecting the light natured timbre of his voice, and it gelled well with his firm middle and he gave a gloriously well-rounded performance both vocally, and visually, achieving the impossible in having me look forward to Don Ottavio’s arias – who surely is one of the most boring characters in opera. For this, Tritschler receives my Golden Lock of the Night Award ™.

Photo - The Arts Desk © Richard H Smith Donna Anna (Camilla Roberts) and Don Ottavio (Robin Tritschler)

For his second role with WNO Gary Griffiths was inch perfect as Masetto. His effortless baritone swayed this way and that with Masetto’s ever changing love-addled emotions, capturing the audience’s heart, judging by his reception at the curtain call. Like most voices of depth he is blessed with an imposing frame, which was put to great use as his Masetto couldn’t help but whisk his Zerlina off her feet with gentle precision throughout the performance.

Claire Ormshaw was her usual pocket rocket self as Zerlina. Coy, artful and heartfelt she wrapped Masetto around her little finger as easy as she reached her creamy high notes. I get the feeling Mozart would have loved the sight of the diminutive Ormshaw becalming Griffiths’ imposing Masetto as she sang Batti, batti, o bel Masetto.

Only the casting of Nuccia Focile as Donna Elvira chimed at odds with the rest of the production. With her sparkling, flighty voice, and her undoubted skills as a comedic actress, the decision to make Elvira a far more comic role than I’ve seen before could have been the icing on the cake, but despite her succeeding with the comedy, I felt the role didn't suit her vocally, which is a shame as I’ve enjoyed Focile in every other role I’ve seen her in.

The job of dragging Giovanni to hell was given to the impressive Carlo Malinverno. The Commendatore has to be the greatest part-time gig in the whole world of opera, with the showstopper of all showstoppers in the shape of Don Giovanni, a cenar teco. I’ve seen quite a few Commendatores sink beneath an orchestra, so it was particularly thrilling to have a bass who could go deep sea fishing with the score.

Adding their support the chorus were boringly excellent as usual (have an off night so I can moan about you once in a while) – the male section getting to dress up as hooded monks who roamed creepily about the stage throughout the performance.

Lending superb support throughout the evening was Lothar Koenigs and his band of merry men and women. If any of you haven’t heard these folks in action you’re missing out on a real treat. Supple, muscular, chilling and thrilling, Koenigs led the orchestra and singers through the score, allowing both to shine – winds of all names, strings of all sizes, brasses with fire in their arses and percussions of the kitchen and beyond brought Mozart’s music to life, reminding you, if you didn’t need reminding already, just how brilliant this music is.

The ovations at the end of the evening told the story of this premiere. John Caird and his team have given us a Don Giovanni that, while traditional in its presentation, is an eerie feast for the eyes. The performers cannot help but give memorable performances, with solo and ensemble singing to die for, aided by Lothar Koenigs’ dazzling orchestra. There will be starrier productions of Don Giovanni hitting stages, and cinema screens, around the globe in the coming months, but you would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying cast, and production, than WNO’s. With Davids Kempster and Soar leading a cast of genuine substance you would be doing your ears, and the devilish part of your souls, a great favour in catching a performance, either in Cardiff or on its travels.

Friday 16 September 2011

I Read the News Today

To mark the opening of WNO’s new season Wales Online have a pair of articles worthy of your perusal.

Director John Caird talks to Mike Smith about how Rodin’s sculptures have influenced his team's approach to Don Giovanni. A spoiler alert if you are going to see it in the flesh – some details of the production appear to have been let out of the bag like a cat on a moped.

The second article sees David Pountney, WNO’s Chief Executive and Artistic Director, chatting with Karen Price about his role with the company, “there’s room for more excitement in the artistic planning and that’s why I’m here really,” his part in introducing Lothar Koenigs to WNO, and his ideas about possible future productions, “I’ve never done a Ring…I always have an interest in new pieces and unknown pieces.”

Read, and enjoy!

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Zom Giovanni

Borrowed from WNO

You’ll all be familiar with the plot of Don Giovanni (murderous lounge lizard gets his comeuppance at the hands of a zombie), so I’ll crack on with some DG musical highlights in anticipation of WNO’s new production, which opens the 2011/12 season this Friday.

Jimmy L and Met Orchestra giving it some welly.

Leporello explains how many hot dinners his boss has had. (1.53)

Don Giovanni in action. Smooth operator.

Donna Anna cottons on to Don G. Wants blood.

Despite being on the run he just can’t help himself. He should really be on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Zombie gets its man.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Cineworld Cardiff to Show Anna Bolena

Lovers of aural gratification in Cardiff will be pleased to learn that the Met Live in HD broadcast of Anna Bolena on the 15th of October, starring Anna Netrebko and Ekaterina Gubanova, will be beamed to Cardiff Cineworld after all. A plain old error updating the cinema’s original advance booking page led to the date being left off the list. To book the performance, click here.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Don Giovanni Tweets For Your Eyes Only

Original photo Brian Tarr

Have you ever wondered how a singer prepares for the bad boy role of Don Giovanni? Does he listen to recordings? Maybe he talks to other singers who have played the role? Or does he just spend a week in Amsterdam with Charlie Sheen?

Answering these, and other (more intelligent) questions, will be David Kempster, WNO’s Don Giovanni in their forthcoming new production, as he tweets live from rehearsals this Friday for @WNOtweet.

If you have an itch to scratch about Don Giovanni, or if you want to ask Don Kempster any other opera related questions, all you need to do is tweet a question to @WNOtweet between now and Friday.

If tweeting isn’t your thing you can always email a question to and the best questions will be passed on to the Don himself. If you haven’t got the time to follow the tweets in real time WNO will be rounding them all up and publishing them next week.

And just as the Don roamed the globe in search of his 2000+ conquests, WNO would like to hear from tweeters and emailers from all around the globe, so shake a question loose from your mind and ask the Don a question he can't refuse.

I'll now stop with the Don references before I slip in a Dom DeLuise reference by mistake...