Wednesday, 13 September 2017

A Summer Round-Up (2017)

It's September now but, before I forget, here are most of the lyric stagings I had the (largely) good fortune to go and see over the Summer.

First up was The Magic Flute at the King's Head Theatre. There was an inspired umbrella concept of putting it in the Amazon (or somesuch), conferring some purpose on the usually rather milquetoast character of Tamino. Plenty of effort had gone into the set design and this if nothing else had the cast rushing about with all the energy that this panto-by-another-name can demand.

If The Magic Flute was a Spielberg/Zemeckis adventure movie in close-quartered song, then the English National Opera Dream of Gerontius (with added BBC Singers) at the Festival Hall was... well, I don't know. Derek Jarman? An earnest, barely-staged production by the lighting designer Lucy Carter promised the best of both available worlds: an opera company given the opportunity to perform in concert, whilst bringing that staging sensibility to a concert work with all the inherent drama of Verdi's Requiem (and of course, quite a bit of the music of Wagner's Parsifal). Simone Young steered a steady course down the centre of the available melodrama. A unique event but with plenty of potential for revisiting (perhaps with other concert works), we hope.

There was a new (dir. Keith Warner) Otello at Covent Garden, the first in a quick succession of Shakespearean operas to be seen. The Royal Opera is a company that knows how Verdi goes, especially under the musical direction of Sir Antonio Pappano. It might be fair to say that the show had been constructed around the talented principal tenor Jonas Kaufmann; what I was perhaps least expecting was that his command of the role allowed him to act with great detail and really essay the part. I found I was less interested in the thrill of a challenging romantic role than I was with the choices he took with the character, afforded to him by never having to fight the music.

Glyndebourne's new Hamlet also put a tenor through his paces. Brett Dean's operatic version of one of Shakespeare's most literary plays also has substantial roles for many others and the cast was a pretty fair cross-section of some of the best talent in the UK (and the US - super idea casting Rodney Gilfry as Claudius). Allan Clayton's performance in the title role was phenomenal. I saw it in a cinema relay in London.

Quietly chasing these two flagship shows was an already tried and tested Merchant of Venice, a production staged by WNO (also directed by Keith Warner) which came to Covent Garden at the tail end of the season. it was interesting to see the audience for this show, as very different, largely younger clientele - were they expecting Pyotr Tchiakovsky only to leave - as many did - at the interval of this recently dusted-off piece by André Tchaikowski? They shouldn't have gone, as this proved itself to be a fine piece worth an outing, perpetually alert to the measure & music of Shakespeare's text.

After all these substantial meals from the Bard's cookbook, I was looking forward to revisiting Grimeborn in Dalston. Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen isn't the ideal opera for the inevitable reduction treatment as so much character and colour is in the score. Again, the director Guido Martin-Brandis had given the design and costume team hefty support to realise a convincing forest. The cast took care of the rest, with Alison Rose's eponymous Vixen a winning, independent fox.

The summer was in full swing now and it was time to catch part of the Tete-a-Tete Festival. The Cubbitt Sessions are al fresco lyric shows and I saw Impropera in a series of sketches rounded off with a full length confection based on audience suggestion (a sort of contemporary Fledermaus sequel). In these very much postmodern times, it takes something to be funny, as they were.

Finally, there was a concert performance of Mussorgsky's Khovanschina at the Proms. This is an epic opera and lived principally through the rendition of the score by the BBC Symphony under Semyon Bychkov and some uniformly remarkable singing from a largely Russian cast - though the handful of BBC Singers men who came down to the front of the stage must also be applauded for performing without copies in convincing vernacular.