It’s that time of year when it’s traditional to do best of the year lists. Fortunately this is all about music because in most other respects 2016 was a bit of a horror show. So here goes. As far as opera proper was concerned it was a pretty good year. There were no real howlers in the COC’s season. It was solid and, at its best, better than that, For me, Ariodante was the standout; an intelligent, thought provoking production backed up by extremely good acting and singing. I was really expecting to like the Claus Guth Marriage of Figaro more than I did. I enjoyed it but I was a bit perplexed by the lightening up that had taken place since Salzburg in 2006. Opera Atelier had their best show in quite a while with Lucio Silla but even Wallis Giunta couldn’t save a misconceived Dido and Aeneas.
There must have been a lot of cash slopping around in the music world in Mahler’s day. Imagine taking a new work to a symphony management today and saying “I’ve got this hour and a half long piece that needs a star mezzo and three choirs for about ten minutes. Fancy giving it a shot? Oh and it needs a bazillion players in the brass section.” Anyway that’s Mahler’s 3rd symphony for you and the TSO did it last night with Jamie Barton as soloist and the ladies of three choirs plus a children’s chorus. All in all it had far too much of the Mahler I don’t much care for; repetitively bombastic, and not enough of the kind I do; the bits with a kind of ethereal transcendent beauty. And it really goes on a bit. The last movement in particular has so many climaxes, and anti climaxes, that, at the end, the audience weren’t sure that it was really, finally over. I’ll take the 2nd or the 8th or one of the shorter pieces over this one anytime.
The lunchtime concert series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre kicks off on Tuesday with the traditional opener; a concert by the members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It’s always a good opportunity to level set for the season ahead. Noon in the RBA. Then on Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm the TSO are doing Mahler 3 with Jamie Barton as soloist. I was tremendously impressed with Jamie’s Koerner Hall recital and am quite excited to see what she can do singing with an orchestra.
American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, 2013 winner of Cardiff Singer of the Year, sang at Koerner Hall last night with veteran Bradley Moore at the piano. Her first set; Joaquin Turina’s Homenaje a Lope de Vega gave us a pretty good idea of the basic value proposition. She has a fantastic instrument. There is power to burn, a pleasing dark tone, accuracy and musicianship. She never sounded remotely strained even while pushing out a very impressive sound. The rest of her first half programme; Chausson’s Three Melodies and four of Schubert’s Goethe settings showed that there was more than just a big accurate voice. Basically, it’s all there. She can vary colours and scale vibrato up and down. There’s some agility. She can float quiet high notes and she can tell a story. Her diction was clear in all three languages. I would say at this point the only question mark I had was around her ability to engage the audience. If I were to judge by the very highest standards, and I’m think Bryn Terfel or Karita Mattila, there was something just the merest shade cold and technical. The second half would see whether she could, as it were , lighten up a bit.
It’s forty years since Sir Andrew Davis first conducted the TSO and to celebrate the fact the TSO programmed a run of Verdi Requiems with Sir Andrew conducting. I caught the last performance last night. It’s in some ways a curious piece; very operatic and not especially liturgical but it does have its subtleties; the very quiet opening and the tenor solo Ingemisco for example but there’s also some moments of drama that are far from subtle. The Dies irae is appropriately loud, even terrifying and it’s used as an accent before the Lacrymosa and during the Libera me. It’s quite a compelling 90 minutes or so.
I just listened to my new copy of An AIDS Quilt Songbook:Song for Hope and I’m in a bit of a state of shock. It’s nearly 80 minutes of music featuring many of America’s best singers and musicians singing songs inspired by AIDS along with some poetry readings. Participants include Yo Yo Ma, Joyce DiDonato, Tony Deane-Griffey, Matthew Polenzani, Isobel LeonardSharon Stone and many more. All profits go to amFAR; the Foundation for AIDS Research. www.amfar.org