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

Friday 19 August 2011

A spooky gloss

Parade, Southwark Playhouse Vaults, London

Terry Doe is a real and exciting talent, who could not be generic if he tried. Yet there is a risk of ‘sameness’ in this production as a whole, which is often impressive but occasionally crude. For a piece that examines all manner of racism, it’s a little too black and white.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

La vie bohèmienne

La Bohème, ENO, the Coliseum, London

In fact, central to bohemianism was a kind of ambivalence – were these real artists, or were they simply avoiding the traditional expectations of their stations by legitimising their own pleasure-seeking? This question of the status and quality of art was a genuine one and remains with us today, albeit tangled in quite contemporary concerns.

A most formal resolution in Thrace

Radamisto, ENO, the Coliseum, London

The only untied end is Tigrane - who is left dangling - his love for Polissena unfulfilled and perhaps not quite fitting into the final order of events. In some ways it is him who is easiest to identify with: he seems the more mysterious yet most real person of the piece.

Sarah Boyes in • MusicOpera
Saturday 2 July 2011

Unconventional city sounds

Nonclassical at the Spitalfields Music Festival, London, June 2011

Prokofiev provides the DJ with several opportunities to improvise – ‘cadenzas’, if you want (apparently the DJ’s score reads ‘go nuts’) – and Switch capitalised on these opportunities fully. The performance was a remarkable display of virtuosity, both performative and compositional, with Prokofiev juggling between his divergent influences with sincerity and ambition.

The old shock of the new

Two Boys, ENO, Coliseum, London / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne Festival

The layers of Craig Lucas’ libretto for Two Boys build a nuanced look at a generation that’s grown up spending its social life onscreen as much as face to face, and at how they’re regarded, often with bafflement and fear, by what Mulhy’s called ‘the analogue generation’. Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg also hinges on a middle-aged character trying to make sense of a changing world.

Thursday 30 June 2011

A Beatnick Blade or a Maverick Sabre?

Maverick Sabre at the Jazz Café, London, 9 June 2011

This ability to appeal to different types of crowds is what I believe will separate Maverick Sabre from the typical unlucky in love male singer-songwriters whose lyrics range from heart-wrenching tales about the women they loved and lost to equally tear-inducing stories of the women they love and haven’t yet lost but (due to their aforementioned bad luck) are likely to lose in the near future.

Monday 20 June 2011

Blood ties and beyond

Simon Boccanegra, ENO, Coliseum, London

Bruno Caproni’s Simon Boccanegra first appears as an overweight Fonz, but fortunately this won’t last. The opera’s prologue features the two events that will transform Boccanegra from a lovestruck pirate into a compassionate statesman.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Ah, the innocent cynicism of youth

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ENO at the Coliseum, London

How should we view Oberon’s casual intimacy with Puck, sharing cigarettes with him (the ‘magic herb’ which turns lovers’ heads) and involving him in his own very adult relationship with Tytania? Is it just favouritism which carelessly harnesses the powerful emotions of adolescence, or an abusive betrayal of childish trust?

Monday 9 May 2011

With the Devil as our impresario

The Damnation of Faust, ENO at the Coliseum, London

But it’s a night at the opera, not a dialectical analysis of Romantic-into-modern Germany. And as a dramatisation of a distinctly undramatic musical work, it works. Letting the words float on the surface of a powerful drama, instead of having to carry the narrative, takes the pressure off the libretto’s weak points, and lets its more poetic passages fly free.

Sounds exactly like opera to me

Séance on a Wet Afternoon, New York City Opera, Lincoln Center, New York

If you must slaughter the innocent, it is best if you do so in Italian, or better yet, Czech. But if there is no getting round the business, all you can do is extenuate it and hope you will somehow retain the audience’s sympathy by emphasising that well, yes, Myra is a child killer, but it’s not really her fault. Yeah, good luck with that one.

Friday 1 April 2011

Not what you expect from opera?

Birmingham Opera Company and the politics of outreach

Niall Crowley asks if the work of Birmingham Opera Company – featured in a recent BBC documentary along with a screening of their unique production of Verdi’s Othello – and their goal of ‘making opera speak to a broad audience’ is just another attempt to use the arts for the purposes of social engineering or something to be celebrated.

Niall Crowley in • EssaysMusicOpera
Monday 28 February 2011

The possibility of renewal

Wagner's Parsifal, ENO at the Coliseum, London \ Mahler’s Second symphony, Guildhall Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by James Gaffigan, Barbican, London (12 February 2011)

The ritual of the Grail, unveiling the divine to spiritually restore the knights, has the emotional impact it needs. This is what sustains Amfortas’ father Titurel so far beyond his natural lifespan that he’s a living corpse. As a musical statement of belief in the redemptibility of humankind, it cuts through the despair of Act 1 like a laser.

Saturday 27 November 2010

‘Look, he’s smoking’

A Dog’s Heart, ENO, Coliseum, London

There are themes that outlive the specifics of 1920s Moscow, questions about what defines us as human, for example. But in the frenetic vision of an apartment being gradually reduced to chaos by a foulmouthed ex-canine, there is little space to contemplate them.

Sunday 21 November 2010

‘Beat me, beat me!’

Don Giovanni, ENO, Coliseum, London

Don Giovanni is amoral, willing to sacrifice his own loyal manservant to escape punishment. Yet, faced with damnation for his wickedness, he refuses to repent. ‘My fate is in my own hands, I’ve made my choice… repentance is for cowards’. Suddenly there is a whiff of Faust about him.

Thursday 30 September 2010

How grim, to have to live so long

Faust (Gounod) and The Makropoulos case (Janacek), ENO, Coliseum, London

There’s a comic streak through this production of The Makropoulos Case too, but it’s a dark comedy. And, in a sense, it’s the 20th century mirror image of the Gounod piece. Faust wanted only youth and love. Marty has more than enough of both.

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