Classical music and opera - including contemporary forms - from London and beyond.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Alone in an unbearable world

Wozzeck, ENO, Coliseum, London

It would be very easy indeed to leave the theatre thinking about the plight of soldiers and their families, or the particular evils of specific wars, or the inadequacies of psychiatry. And to provoke such real-life thoughts is one thing the arts can do. But Berg’s Wozzeck asks us to refrain from treating this human tragedy as a case study.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Competing claims of love and the glory of war

Medea, ENO, Coliseum, London

In spite of being based broadly on Euripides’ character, Charpentier’s Medea is curiously modern, and at times her modernity emerges into the music, with harsh discords that strain against baroque formality.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

‘Dear God, to die so young’

La Traviata, ENO, Coliseum, London

Peter Konwitschny has cut the piece back to its simple lines: boy meets dying girl; they fall in love but society tears them apart; he comes back to her but she dies. Played straight through, with no interval, it runs under two hours.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Under the sun

Carmen, ENO, Coliseum, London

You can imprison her, hurt her, kill her, but she will live and die free. Constrained as she is, like all her milieu, by poverty, sexual exploitation, military repression, she will not submit.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Crocodile shoes

Julius Caesar, ENO, Coliseum, London

Sometimes the dancers function as symbols or sylphs, for example appearing as birds to comfort the lonely Queen or as fawning girls to dote and climb adoringly all over Caesar. At other times they serve to paint a character’s emotion more vividly or convey a sense of overall musical mood.

Sarah Boyes in • MusicOpera
Friday 21 September 2012

A world without cause or consequence

Julietta, ENO, Coliseum, London

Martinu’s vocal lines have a lightness of touch that makes room for comedy as well as romance and jeopardy. The vocal echo is a recurring motif, adding to the sense of unreality and disorientation. Beauty runs through, among the witty instrumentation and dramatic crescendo

Saturday 7 July 2012

Sounds of belonging and loneliness

Dixon Clark Court Symphony, by Sarah Strang with Nathaniel Robin Mann and Daniel Merrill, performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, Union Chapel, London

The experience was enveloping and immersive, very much assisted by the chapel’s booming acoustic, which the musicians played into with glee (memorably, the machine-gun clatter of two snare drums grew into a deafening roar).

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Clearly, he is mad

Caligula, ENO, Coliseum, London

The heartbeat is a theme that runs through the piece, forcing us to stay inside the madman’s view of the world, sharing his crisis of the meaninglessness of everything.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Terrible burdens of the Promethean spirit

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner, ENO, Coliseum, London

The music takes its temper and tempo from the sea, with its growling timpani thunder and the swirling chromatic whirlpools of strings. The sea also represents both the site of the Dutchman’s fateful aspiration and his current prison and jailer.

Thursday 22 March 2012

London town in all its technicolour gore and glory

Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre, London

The complexity and stretch of Sondheim’s score is breathtaking. Not a second, or a voice or a single utterance is left to float free from the music. Instead, every ‘yum’, as Mrs Lovett’s customers dig into their fleshy pies, is thread into the music. Every swoon is a note. Every scream becomes a chord.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Wherever it is water-nymphs are meant to live

Rusalka, Royal Opera House, London

There are, though, moments of directorial wit as well, and their characterisation of Rusalka – adorably played by Camilla Nylund – is delightful, as she struggles in her high-heels and gets her wedding outfit wrong. Up until the rape bit, the giant cat’s a laugh too.

Paul Kilbey in • MusicOpera
Monday 27 February 2012

Decisively passive

The Death of Klinghoffer, ENO, Coliseum, London

As a contemporary work, it expresses a dilemma of our time. Do I take sides, or do I invite everyone in to have their say? Do I tell the story my way, or present the audience with fragments and let them make up their own narrative?

Tuesday 7 February 2012

‘How can this come to pass?’

Der Rosenkavalier, ENO, Coliseum, London

If you wanted to take Rosenkavalier at face value as a tale of young love you could, just about, with eyes half shut. But with eyes wide open the tragedy of the Marschallin, engineering the very abandonment she foretold, adds depth to the story.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Struggles with abstraction

Symphony, BBC4

If we subscribe to the belief that the symphony is the ultimate symbol of classical music generally, the highest, purest classical form, it follows pretty quickly that the best of classical music is firmly confined to the past. Pushing so hard to expand the cultural reach of mainstream symphonic tradition is ultimately a deeply conservative thing to do.

Paul Kilbey in • FilmMusic
Friday 9 December 2011

Total immersion in a musical world

Why perform Schubert's Winterreise with puppets and animation?

I thought I knew the piece when, some years ago now, Thomas Guthrie asked me to accompany his version with three-quarter life-size puppet and animation. And the dramatic focus provided by the puppet transformed the experience for me. I found new things to enjoy – things I could take back into puppet-less performances with other singers.

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Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

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