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.
It was my first time seeing Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel live and my expectations were high. They were met, possibly exceeded, but not perhaps in the way I expected.The singing was brilliant across a wide spectrum of moods and genres (I’ll come back to that) but what really stood out was the man’s rapport with the audience which was extraordinary. It’s really hard to describe but let me try with just one example. It’s that thorny issue of people applauding for ages in the middle of sets. The usual approach is to have some functionary come out and announce that “Herr Poffel-Woffel respectfully (huh) asks that the audience not applaud until the end of the set because he believes it spoils the atmosphere”. Bryn’s approach was to wait for the first time it happened, gently shh the audience and announce “I don’t mind at all if you applaud every song but we’ll all get a home a lot earlier if you wait until the end of the set”. There was a lot of that kind of thing and it seemed quite natural and not at all stagey.
I usually only review CDs on first release but I came across one on the weekend that I need to rave about. I guess it’s not exactly a secret that I’m a huge fan of early 20th English art song. So, when I found a CD with most of favourites sung by one of my all time favourites it was pretty much bound to be a hit. It’s a 20 year old recording by Bryn Terfel and Martin Martineau and it’s called The Vagabond and other songs. The disc includes Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel, Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring, both of Butterworth’s Housman cycles and three settings of John Masefield texts by John Ireland. The young Bryn’s voice is a touch lighter than today but it’s still a brooding dark thing though with delicacy enough for, say, Is my team ploughing? Martineau is a most skilled accompanist and the recording, made in Henry Wood Hall, is very good indeed. I can see this getting played a lot!
The recording of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten made at the Salzburg Festival in 1992 is very much Sir Georg Solti’s show. The conducting is superb and the Vienna Philharmonic, of course, respond for Solti. From the opening, shattering cords through the various orchestral interludes to the final ensemble and chorus Solti is utterly convincing in his command of tempi and dynamics.
The Royal Conservatory has now announced the 2015/16 season. The full details plus how to subscribe, buy tickets etc is here. It’s the usual rich mix of music in a wide range of genres. Here are the things I will be looking out for:
April 24th 2016 in Koerner Hall at 3pm there’s a recital by Bryn Terfel with Natalia Katyukova. This is definitely the big name vocal gig of the season.
The Royal Opera House production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer finally made it to Toronto yesterday with a showing of the film at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. There areva couple of Toronto connections. The production was created by Tim Albery, although Daniel Dooner directs this revival, and the Senta is sung by Adrianne Pieczonka who was present with her family and introduced the film. The Dutchman, of course, is played by hulking Welshman Bryn Terfel who wasn’t there. He was probably crying into his beer somewhere at Wales coming up short in the Six Nations. Continue reading
Royal Opera House cinema screenings are back at the Bloor Cinema and it seems that the full season will be available. ENO are you watching or is your sense of Ontario gepography akin to your business acumen?
First up, tomorrow, at noon they’re screening Giordano’s Andrea Chenier directed by David McVicar with Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek.
March 22nd sees Tim Albery’s production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer with Adrienne Pieczonka and Bryn Terfel. Ms. Pieczonka will be on hand to introduce the piece.
On June 28th we get a new John Fulljames production of Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Anne Sofie von Otter.
July 26th sees John Copley’s venerable production of Puccini’s La Bohème. This production is almost as old as I am. Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja play Mimi and Rodolfo.
Finally, on August 30th we can see a new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell directed by Damiano Michieletto with Antonio Pappano conducting. The cast includes Gerry Finley and Malin Bystrom.
Cecilia and Bryn at Glyndebourne is the DVD recording of a concert from 1999 featuring two of those singers who prove you don’t have to be dead skinny to be a great singer and have a commanding stage presence. It’s great fun, focussing on the lighter end of the repertoire for the most part. It’s mostly Mozart with some Rossini, Donizetti, Haydn and Handel thrown in. There are a couple of overtures and a few arias but the greatest pleasure comes in the duets. For the second time in a week I got to see Lá ci darem la mano sung by singers of extremely contrasting heights and where else is one going to see Mr. Terfel and Ms. Bartoli sing the Pa-pa-pa-pa duet from Die Zauberflöte. As ever Ceci’s coloratura is a thing of wonder and Bryn is no slouch. The accompaniment is ably provided by Myung-Whun Chung and the London Philharmonic. It’s the perfect antidote to a week of watching Wozzeck.
We got to see Kasper Holten’s new Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera House in Toronto yesterday. It wasn’t live but I really don’t think that matters. I’m not going to dwell too much on production or performance because it’s already been extensively reviewed elsewhere. I concur with the general tenor of the reviews that the singing and acting is extremely strong. Certainly Holten got a more intense performance out of Mariusz Kwiecien than Michael Grandage did at the Met and Veronique Gens was a very fine Donna Elvira. There really weren’t any weak links.
Puccini’s Tosca doesn’t seem to lend itself to Regie type treatments. Even quite adventurous directors seem to mostly stick to the very specific time and place of the libretto (even though, as Paul Curran pointed out to me, the plot makes no sense in the Rome of 1800). In the 2012 Royal Opera House recording Jonathan Kent certainly takes very few liberties with the piece; the church is a church, the palace a palace and the castle a castle. There are a few deft design touches. Both Cavaradossi and Tosca wear very bright colours indicative of the new dyes that became available at the period (actually I think this is a slight anachronism – must check with the fashion lemur) whereas Scarpia is more conservatively attired. Generally though it’s pretty straightforward.