Monday, 19 July 2010

Don Giovanni part 2

More pics from Don Giovanni

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Don Giovanni - Somerset Opera

A few of my pictures from my production of Don Giovanni. Blog software reorders in wrong order for some reason!


Katie Mitchell's monster at the Coliseum

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

My review of WNO's stunning new production.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

CARMEN at Holland Park

Review of Carmen at Holland Park

The Pearl Fishers


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

La Fille du Regiment

Review of Dessay and Florez in La Fille du Regiment

Gerald Finley at the Wigmore

Review of Gerald Finley's recital

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Rolando Villazon sings Handel

Click on the title if you dare!

Juan Diego Florez at the Barbican

My review of JDF's superlative recital at the Barbican

Friday, 23 April 2010

Andreas Scholl and the Shield of Harmony

Click on the title to link to my review of the divine Andreas at the Barbican last Monday

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Kick Ass

Go see this film - Genius!!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Young Singers Welfare Foundation Concert

Click on the title for the review of this concert at the Wigmore Hall

Review - Il Turco In Italia at the Royal Opera

Click on the title to link to the review

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


I had to share this wonderful paragraph from WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel
"In the forest you may find yourself lost, without companions. You may come to a river which is not on the map. You may lose sight of your quarry, and forget why you are there. You may meet a dwarf, or the living Christ, or an old enemy of yours; or a new enemy, one you do not know until you see his face appear between the rustling leaves, and see the glint of his dagger. You may find a woman asleep in a bower of leaves. For a moment, before you don't recognise her, you will think she is someone you know"

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Love Never Dies

Few shows of recent years have created more internet controversy than Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest musical. Ranging from the insane ramblings of "Phans" of the orginal through to some critics who habitually rubbish the noble Lord's output it is now hard for anyone to attend the show with an unsullied critical mind. Lloyd Webber's output in recent years has been at best mixed - WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, although dramatically tight and containing much enjoyable music, can seem perilously close to Meatloaf tribute show; THE WOMAN IN WHITE a hugely promising subject and a good production by Trevor Nunn was hampered by lyrics so jaw droppingly bad that one is left baffled how they were ever accepted.
However I'm going to stick my neck out and say that, despite some faults, LOVE NEVER DIES is one of his best shows in a long time. Listening to the recording there are numerous moments which, even on repeated listening, still give me goosebumps.
Much of the critical (official and web based) opprobium has been based on the caveat that several of the characters have changed hugely from the original Phantom characters. Given that there has been a 10 year gap between the two sets of events I am at a loss to understand why this is such a stumbling block unless it is purely a problem of a sentimental aversion to change. But which of us can say hand on heart that we are not hugely different from how we were 10 years ago? 10 years ago voting Labour seemed a good idea. Now I'd be hard pushed to find any politician I wanted to vote for.
So Raoul has changed from the cardboard romatic hero of Phantom 1 to a soured drunk? Given the right circumstances that could happen to most people - Why is it so unbelievable in a musical? So Meg has turned from a ballet chit to a hard bitten player in the dubious dealings of Sodom by the Sea? Given that her mother has whored her to seal the deals that doesn't seem much of a stretch.
I don't think I am giving much away if I reveal that Christine is shot and killed in the final scene. This again has aroused huge critical ire chiefly, it seems, because the tragedy is not in some way telegraphed or set up. Well that's the problem with a bullet folks - if you could see them coming there would be an awful lot less dead people!
Anyway I finally got to see the show for myself last Thursday and, despite the best efforts of the audience around me, enjoyed it very much. As I said there are problems but none are insurmountable.
1)The show takes too long to get going - One of the strengths of the original Phantom was the stunning opening transformation from the auction room to the Paris Opera. The long projected sequence leading into the first Coney Island scene goes on just a bit long despite the undoubted beauty of some of the images.
2)The Phantom's first appearance lacks the theatricality of the original. He's just suddenly there. However his first number "Till I hear you sing" is a cracker and superbly sung by Ramin Karimloo.
3)Meg's descent into insaity needs a more detailed set-up - it rather comes out of nowhere.
4)The crucial dressing room scene where both Raoul and the Phantom try to force Christine to do their will is too slow - There should be no gap between Raoul's exit and the Phantom's arrival. Also they miss a trick here regarding the Phantom's entrance. Having him enter through the door is just dull.
5)The final scene on the pier including the tragic denoument is far too long and slowly paced (and not well blocked either, by the way) However Lloyd Webber was probably on a hiding to nothing here - if it had been quicker he would, no doubt, have been accused of trivialisng the events.

Now for the good points. Lloyd Webber has assembled an excellent cast without reliance on stars. Both Sierra Boggis and Karimloo encompass the wide range of notes and dynamics required and move with their respective plights. Summer Strallen is a good Meg although I would have liked her to have had a big emotional number as well as the Coney Island show songs.
Joseph Millson is very strong in the initially unsympathetic role of Raoul and his scene in the pier bar at the top of Act 2 was both moving and believable. Appropos of nothing he looked quite uncannily like Simon Williams 20 years ago.
Liz Robertson, freed at last from the yoke of years of "wholesome" roles, gleefully hammed it up as Mme Giry looking, for all the world, like a French Mrs Danvers.
However almost the most striking performance was that of Charlie Manton in the role of Christine's son, Gustave. Extraordinarily talented, yet wholly without the stage school muppetry which usually has me reaching for a gun, he creates an utterly believable and sympathetic character. I was not suprised to read that he has already portrayed Miles in Britten's THE TURN OF THE SCREW and indeed there are aspects of Gustave's character which put one in mind of Britten's creepy child protagonist. But perhaps that's just me - It's hard to see treble singing boys in sailor suits without thinking of Britten!
Anyway I've probably rambled on enough - My main point is that I urge people to ignore the critics and make up their own minds about the show (You can put the fiver in the post now, Andrew!!)

Friday, 12 March 2010

Giselle - Preston

A few pics of the revamped sets for EYB's GISELLE. Sorry about the crappy photo quality. I only had my snap camera with me! Thanks to Lisa who, as usual, did a stunning job on turning my sketches into vibrant and beautifully painted reality.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Handel Singing Competition

My review at Opera Britannia. Click on....oh you know the drill by now!

Measha Brueggergosman at the Wigmore Hall

Click on the title to link to my review at Opera Britannia

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Ah, Paree

A few thoughts on my much needed sojourn in Paris. Starting with a hideous car drive to Ashford to pick up the Eurostar. Driving rain slowed everything to a crawl damn nearly resulting in me missing the train. However screamed in on the bell and hoisted my oversize suitcase into one of the undersized luggage racks and I was on my way. I love the Eurostar - Quick and easy check in, no endless waits near the suffocating perfume counter at Heathrow or in rancid hell of Stansted and a train which lands you bang in the centre of Paris, a mere two stops from my cousins in Montmartre.
Lovely to be back in Paris after a couple of years but horrible to realise that my once passable French has deteriorated still further. I managed to make the man at the Metro understand that I wanted a five day pass then cursed myself as I remembered that the passes run in days not hours so I had essentially wasted one day as it was already early evening. Heigh ho - It's only money..
Next morning straight onto to the internet to find out about exhibitions and earmark the opening day of a Munch exhibition and an drawing/watercolour exhibition at the Louvre. The Munch opened that day so the queue was long but I got in eventually. It was a fascinating retrospective of his work leading up to "The Scream". What became apparent is that some traumatic event must have affected Munch since he changed almost overnight from a merely competent imitator of other artist's work to a highly original talent producing work that is haunting, almost terrifying. The constant, often undefined threat which lurks in his watercolours and paintings bespeak a mind pursued by nightmares. His obsession with death's heads and hollow eyed cadaver like women is extremely disturbing. All in all the exhibition was a fascinating insight into a unique artist.
On from the exhibition in an attempt to get a return for LA SONNAMBULA with Dessay at the Bastille. No luck with the unhelpful box office lady. I comforted myself with a 3 course set menu in a cafe round the corner. Fantastic value - Even with wine and coffee it came to less than £18.00.
Saturday and the weather mixed. My cousin and I decide to try the Lisette Model exhibition at the Jeu de Paumes. I had never even heard of Model who worked in Paris and New York from the 30's to the 60's. I can't imagine why she is not better known. Even now the images have a vibrancy and eye for strangeness which is breathtaking. I don't know if the exhibit is due to tour but, if it comes to London, it is a must-see.
In the evening to A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the lovely Theatre Chatelet. I have always been lucky at this theatre and this was no exception. Lee Blakeley's excellent production showed off a top notch cast lead by Greta Scacchi who, rather to my surprise, was the best Desiree of my experience since Judi Dench. I had slightly mixed feelings about Leslie Caron's Mmme Armfeldt. It was certainly different but, for my taste, a little ungrounded. No complaints about the rest of the cast and there was a superb quintet of Liebeslieder. Great band too - Good to hear the score again with a full complement in the pit.
Sunday proved a frustrating day as I failed to get into either SONNAMBULA or the dance show at the Theatre de Ville. Still a good meal at a nearby restaurant followed by THE WOLFMAN at one of the cinemas in the Champs Elysees. An extremely silly and bloody film and just about my level after earlier frustrations.
Monday was Louvre day - Superb value as usual. I spent four hours there and barely scratched one of four floors! In the evening to a fun dress rehearsal of FALSTAFF courtesy of the lovely Anna Caterina Antonacci. I will observe the tradition that one never critiques dress rehearsals and content myself with saying that Anna was lovely and unexpectedly comedic (one is so used to seeing her in high octane roles like Carmen or Medea that it is a surprise to find her as Alice Ford)
On Tuesday I decided to have another go for SONNAMBULA. Unfortunately Dessay is off but the plus side is that I get a return fairly easily. Iride Martinez is an excellent replacement and the rest of the cast are all of a high standard. The production is the same one recently given at Covent Garden and Vienna. A bit odd but one has seen far worse. By all accounts the Met's version is an absolute shocker! The Bastille audience remain near the bottom of the league for audience behaviour. The constant unrestrained coughing was unbearable - Clearly Paris is still the home of final stage consumptives!!
Wednesday commences with pouring rain but then brightens in time for me to take a quick turn around Montmartre and Sacre Coeur which is lovely as ever. A quick struggle with cases on the Metro and back onto the Eurostar. I arrive in Ashford as it starts to rain heavily..

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Paris je t'aime

Sorry I have been so dilatory recently. I will post re my visite a Paris in the coming week, I promise!

Angelika Kirchschlager and Roger Vignoles

Click on title for link

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Monday, 25 January 2010

Sleeping Beauty SHHHH!

By the way a big shout out to the morons who sat behind me at the ballet. I really enjoyed the way you got into the spirit of the evening by talking loudly during the bits that you (presumably) found boring, laughing at inappropriate moments and finally responding with abuse when asked to be quiet. Way to go and great that you learned how to behave approriately before coming to theatre!

Sleeping Beauty at the ROH

Tamara Rojo

Went to see SLEEPING BEAUTY at the ROH on Saturday (after queuing in the freezing cold). Apart from the gorgeous Tamara Rojo it was a rather underwhelming evening. Chiefly responsible for this was the prehistoric designs which are marginally updated versions of Oliver Messel's Sadlers Wells designs. I cannot for the life of me imagine who thought that these would work on the vast expanses of the Opera House stage or be acceptable to modern audiences used to huge elaborate sets. They must have looked conventional even just after the war - Nowadays I would have to say I have seen better panto sets than this.
The sense of postwar skimp extended to the costumes which often appeared drab and ordinary.
The other reason for complaint was the very ordinary conducting with many of the moments in Tchaikovsky's matchless score going for nothing. Also several key points which should sync perfectly with dance moves were missed. Worst of these was the chord which should match the pirouette into arabesque in the Grand Pas before the slow arabesque penchee.
The first Carabosse scene was fatally reduced in impact by the conducting. I actually missed the "she shall die" moment as I was so unengaged. Gillian Revie was actually quite good as Carabosse (although I prefer a man in drag in this part) but her strange costume (More Carry on Screaming or 60's fringe party than Evil Fairy) did her no favours.
The transformation scene at the close of Act continued the cheap theme with a few featureless cutcloths tracking in. By this point I was praying for the return of the much maligned Dowell/Bjornson production.
The dancing was all to a good standard but without much individual stamp being put on the roles. The wonderful sequence of Fairy variations passed without remark. Even the grand variation for the Lilac Fairy (which has the potential to thrill) aroused little excitement in me (or the remainder of the audience)
Rupert Pennefather was a good Prince without ever making more of the role than that. Admittedly the production gives him no help in this. The crucial confrontation bewtween good and evil near the climax of Act 2 goes for nothing in this version as there is no sense that the result could go either way.
So the one shining light of the evening was Tamaro Rojo's Aurora. She surmounts every mountainous challenge of this role with apparent ease. She pirouettes on point better than most men do on flat - I think the last pirouette in the diagonal section of the Act 1 variation was a Quintuple turn! If only she had had a better frame in which to shine. The sooner this production is junked the better!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The end is nigh!

And so to the final performance of the pantomime followed by a lovely get-out in the perishing cold. MMMMM!
And only 11 months till it all starts again....

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Cardiff Miserables

Having seen this and had time to collate my thoughts here are a few of them.

Firstly the design is very different from the original. The designers have used a combination of Hugo's own paintings and some new (Dore influenced) plates. These are projected using a highly sophisticated system and look very fine. However the combination of what is essentially projected "cloths" and solid scenery actually conveys a rather traditional and conventional stage picture. It is certainly less interesting and fluid than Naper's groundbreaking original designs. However the simplifying of the set and the loss of the revolve and large barricade trucks make a production which can be loaded in and out in a much shorter timeframe than the old touring set. Money talks....
I found the direction of the new team adequate but no more. They have clearly absorbed some of the complexities of Hugo's vast work but this has led them to add some spoken lines which are inserted (rather hurriedly) into gaps in the through sung score. The lines are meant to illuminate aspects not covered by the existing score but for me they emphatically do not work as they feel forced in the context of a through sung piece. A pity that some proper re-composition couldn't have been effected.
So much of the direction just fails to add anything new to Nunn and Caird's extraordinary original. A typical example is the suicide of Javert which is quite a complex sequence in this version. It is reasonably effective but compared to the brilliant simplicity of the original solution it fails to come up trumps.
The sound was for the main part good with a full, fat sound picture. My only quibble was occasional odd sounds from relay speakers which almost felt like an effect without the original source - Odd.
I was slightly disappointed with Paule Constable's lighting. She is a designer I usually admire enormously but here she seemed so intent on not aping David Hersey's iconic original look that she failed to put her own stamp on it. Incidentally (IMHO) the use of roving lights to signify the shots at the barricade does not work at all - They just look like searchlights which is incongruous in a work set in 1832.
The cast are mainly good without being exceptional. John Owen Jones is an effective and well sung Valjean (an ugly breath before the final note of "Bring him home" excepted) but for me he just misses the titanic emotions that Colm Wilkinson brought to the part. Best of the bunch is Earl Carpenter's Javert who is almost on the same level as Philip Quast (I can't think of higher praise in this part). The Thenardiers go some way to reversing the misconception of the roles as merely comedy parts. Anyone who has read Hugo will understand how wrong this view is. Unfortunately they are still saddled with the school of panto costumes for the Wedding scene - I sense the hand of Mackintosh here!
So to sum up - This is a worthy attempt at a re-think of the original which will allow the producers to take it into theatres previously unable to host the show. But it is unlikely to replace the groundbreaking original in the longterm.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Miserable Cardiff?

Off today to Cardiff (really, really looking forward to the drive down!!)to see the new production of Les Mis at the WMC. Rather conflicted feelings. I worked on the third year of the original production when it was particularly strongly cast (Peter Karrie, Phil Quast, Barry James and Linzi Hateley amongst the principals)and the original production is an absolute classic in terms of direction and design. Can a new production offer a valid alternative or is it just going to be a pallid re-imagining?

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Weh! Weh!

Still no answer from Bayreuth. I am starting to lose hope.....

CARMEN in New York

Richard Eyre's new CARMEN in New York looks stunning! Click on the title to link to the pictures