Philharmonia Britannica Orchestral Workshop: Shostakovich 15

Grace Williams  Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes
Shostakovich  Symphony No.15

Time  6.00pm Saturday 17 January

Place  London Welsh Centre, 157-163 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8UE

Tickets  Suggested donation £5 adults, £1 children

Philharmonia Britannica: Eroica

The power of Beethoven’s groundbreaking Eroica symphony, the delicacy of his F major Romance, and the premiere of David Bozzo’s lyrical violin concerto, preceded by a rousing overture by Arriaga, who was nicknamed ‘The Spanish Mozart’!

Arriaga  Overture ‘Los Esclavos Felices’ (1820)
David Bozzo  Violin Concerto (world premiere) – with Francisco Jimeno
Beethoven  Romance in F for violin and orchestra
Beethoven  Symphony No.3 in Eb (“Eroica”)

Time  7.30pm Saturday 14 March

Place  St James’s Church, Picadilly W1J 9LL

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)

Fulham Opera: Il Tabarro / Gianni Schicchi double bill

Puccini  Il Tabarro & Gianni Schicchi (fully staged, reduced orchestration)

Time  7.30pm Fri 20 Mar, 7pm Sun 22 Mar, 7.30pm Fri 27 Mar, 5pm Sun 29 Mar

Place  St Johns Church, North End Rd, London SW6 1PB

Tickets  £25 (concessions £20) from fulhamopera.com

Whitehall Orchestra: Mahler 2

Mahler  Symphony No.2
with Rebecca Holden (Soprano), Anna Harvey (Mezzo-Soprano) and The Mahler Chorus

Time  7.30pm Saturday 25 April

Place  St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church, Holborn Viaduct, EC1A 2DQ
http://bit.ly/StSepulchre

Tickets  £12 (concessions £10)

Amici Orchestra: War and Remembrance

A concert to commemorate 70 years since VE Day. Music to include: Kamen- ‘Band of Brothers’, John Williams – ‘Schindlers List’, Carl Davis- ‘The World at War: France Falls Suite’, Walton – ‘Battle of Britain’, Glenn Miller – Medley, Coates – ‘The Dambusters March’ and more!

Time  7.30pm Saturday 2 May

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico SW1V 2AD
http://bit.ly/StGabriels

Tickets  Free entry, retiring collection with proceeds to be split between The Royal British Legion and The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home

** Plus Fulham Opera Orchestral Workshop shortly to be announced **

Fulham Opera: Siegfried

Fulham Opera begin 2013 and continue their mandate of “Big Opera on a Small Scale” with the third opera in their unique portrayal of the Ring Cycle: Siegfried. An innovative staging by Max Pappenheim keeps the audience once again right in the centre of this most intimate of Wagner’s operas.

Time  6.00pm, Tue 12 / Fri 15 / Sun 17 February

Place  St John’s Church, Fulham, SW6 1PB

Tickets  and further details at fulhamopera.com

Philharmonia Britannica: Tosca

Two semi-staged performances of Puccini’s dramatic masterpiece sung in Italian. The action takes place over 24 hours in June 1800 and is dominated by the police chief Scarpia, who rules Rome with an iron rod on behalf of the King of Naples. But Rome is now threatened by Napoeleon’s invasion. Into this politically charged and bloody story Puccini poured some of his best-known lyrical arias, with wonderfully evocative orchestration.

Time  7.30pm, Sat 16 / Sun 17 March

Place  St John’s Church, Waterloo,  SE1 8TY
http://bit.ly/StJohnsWaterloo

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)  and further details at ph-br.co.uk

Whitehall Orchestra

Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, Chausson’s Poeme for violin and orchestra, and finishing with the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony No 3. Our leader Nathaniel Vallois will be the violin soloist and we are delighted to be joined again by David Bednall on the organ.

Time  7.30pm, Thursday 21 March

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, SW1V 2AD
http://bit.ly/StGabriels

Tickets  £9 (£6 concs)

Philharmonia Britannica

The silent film ‘The Battle of the Somme’ was watched by half the British population when it came out in 1916. We will be screening this extraordinary film, on loan from the Imperial War Museum, accompanied by a live performance of the evocative score written by Laura Rossi.
Further info: http://www.laurarossi.com/live-music-to-silent-film/somme/

Time  7.30pm, Saturday 25 February

Place  St John’s Church, Waterloo,  SE1 8TY
http://bit.ly/StJohnsWaterloo

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)

Fulham Opera

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, sung in English, in Fiona Williams’s new edgy translation, set in 1960s London. With the Fulham Opera Chamber Orchestra, in a new orchestration by Ben Woodward.

Time  8.00pm, Tue 20 / Wed 21 / Fri 23 / Sun 25 March

Place  St John’s Church, North End Road, Fulham, SW6 1PB

Tickets  and further details at www.fulhamopera.com

Whitehall Orchestra

Tchaikovsky’s stirring 4th symphony, paired with two pieces by Walton – his popular coronation march ‘Crown Imperial’, and his violin concerto, played by our leader Nathaniel Vallois.

Time  7.30pm, Thursday 29 March

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, SW1V 2AD
http://bit.ly/StGabriels

Tickets  £9 (£6 concessions), with group discounts available

Image borrowed from www.thisislondon.co.uk

Image borrowed from http://www.thisislondon.co.uk

I generally have a preference for tragedy, drama, gloom and doom in opera, so when I was offered a ticket for this light comedy double bill, I thought it would be educational for me. The fact that it had Bryn Terfel in it may also have had something to do with it, as I’ll watch or listen to him in pretty much anything*. I should also perhaps remark that my enjoyment of the two pieces may have been affected by the fact that for the first half I had a standing ticket, and my knees were bloody hurting, whereas for the second half I dived for an empty seat I’d spotted, and could watch in great comfort (from the stalls circle, no less).

So, L’Heure Espagnol. The gauze curtain set the tone, being painted with an enormous pair of boobs (in polka-dot dress), Ã la seaside postcard. The sets and costumes, when revealed, were unremittingly ugly, consisting of as many garish colours and clashing patterns as it is possible to fit in a small box-shaped room. (Yes, the return of the Covent Garden famous wonky box staging – although actually it wasn’t wonky this time.) Around the edge of the box, there was more hideous wallpaper, patterned with chillies; I think these may have been intended either as phallic symbols, or to represent Concepcion being ‘hot’. Or both. Very naff, but I assume intentionally so. The story centres around Concepcion (Christine Rice), a housewife desperate for an extramarital shag while her clockmaker husband (Bonaventura Bottone) is out for the day. A great deal of silly farce ensues, with two potential (but ultimately unsatisfactory) lovers hiding in large clocks, which a third potential (and ultimately successful) lover lugs up and down the stairs to her bedroom for her. Sophisticated humour it wasn’t. However, the nicely-judged acting and characterisation of all cast members managed to make it genuinely funny. Yann Beuron, in particular, had a brilliant sense of comic timing as the daft poet Gonzalve, and Christopher Maltman was perfect as the intellectually-challenged hunk Ramiro, effectively doing an hour-long striptease as he removed an item of clothing every time he had to carry another grandfather clock up the stairs.

Despite the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer story, Ravel’s music was inventive and cleverly nuanced, managing to constantly reference both the actual onstage clocks and the general oppressive feeling of time ticking away without ever becoming tedious. It was performed with liveliness and precision by both the orchestra and singers, but doesn’t really do an awful lot for me. I’d rather hear Andrew Shore sing Wagner (well, duh), and I’ll be looking out for Maltman in future, preferably in a role with a bit more to sing.

Some Moulin Rouge-style dancing girls randomly appeared at the end. I couldn’t quite see the point of this; however, it was one of the funnier moments when one of them produced a lasso and tried to catch Ramiro with it, but instead got it stuck in her own headdress.

Gianni Schicchi began with a big picture of some spaghetti, thus replacing the sin of lust with that of greed, perhaps**. The bad-taste 60s-ish visual theme was continued in the beehive hairdos and ugly dresses of the younger female cast members, but less prominently than earlier. The story centres around a bunch of stuck-up relatives bickering over the will of the universally disliked Uncle Buoso (a silent role, who dies as the opera starts). The comedy was obviously rather darker than in the first half, particularly the frequent manhandling of poor old Buoso’s corpse, including shoving him under the floorboards at one point. The acting was generally decent, but often OTT, and not very consistent. However, the exception was Terfel as Schicchi, who was absolutely hilarious. From the moment he slouched onto stage, dressed as a scruffy car mechanic, complete with cloth cap and fag in his mouth, the opera took a turn for the better. Having (personally) come to identify him with roles like Wotan and the Dutchman, it was also highly entertaining to see him on stage doing a funny dance in his boxers.

Puccini’s music was pleasant, and again, well-played/sung, but didn’t do an awful lot for me. There were some very nice voices in the cast with not an awful lot to do; apart from Terfel, obviously, there was Gwynne Howell (Simone), Elena Zilio (Zita) and Henry Waddington (criminally under-used as Spinelloccio). The cheese-feast O Mio Babbino Caro is the most well-known ‘hit’ from this opera, and was actually sung really beautifully by Dina Kuznetsova – possibly the only genuinely moving moment of the evening. All voices on stage sounded pleasant, in fact, apart from the horrid little brat that turned up to irritate now and then.

Overall, yes, I did enjoy the performances. However, that should be taken in context, as I’ve yet to go to an opera and not enjoy it. And no, I’m not a convert to musical comedy. Yet.

* Except that ghastly crossover drivel he sometimes sings.

** I didn’t think of that myself; Simon T said it first.

Image borrowed from www.musicomh.com

Image borrowed from http://www.musicomh.com

Tosca was the 2nd opera I ever heard, and along with Carmen and the Ring, were the only operas I knew at all, until a couple of years ago. In fact, come to think of it, Tosca is the only opera (apart from the Ring) that I’ve seen twice live. Shame that I have such a rubbish memory that I can’t do much in the way of comparisons, as all I can remember of seeing it before was James Morris stomping around as Scarpia with long boots and a riding crop.

I know lots more about opera now, of course, but even so, I ain’t a singer so please take any comments about the singing with a big pinch of IMHO.

So, although I generally try and avoid other reviews, I could hardly fail to notice all the discussion about Angela Gheorgiu’s unusual interpretation of the character of Tosca, and her (alleged) slagging off of Callas. People have been saying that she’s playing Tosca as too innocent and ‘girly’, more like a Mimi. I think they’re wrong. I think that in Gheorgiu’s version, Tosca is one of those awful forty-something women who put on a girly-act, simpering around as if they’re teenagers (not that actual teenagers are usually anything like that). Older women who’ve been around a bit and ‘seen the world’ can be very attractive, but not when they’re prancing affectedly around in yellow dresses with bows in their hair like little miss buttercup – although there are some men (i.e. Cavaradossi) who clearly do find this behaviour attractive. I think it really worked. Also, as it went along, the facade began to crumble, and she began to show little bits of real emotion, so that by the end she was actually a fairly sympathetic character.

As for the voice, I can’t say that Gheorgiu’s voice has ever really moved me (but to be fair, that’s the case for most sopranos) but I did enjoy this. I was really quite unconvinced in Act 1, but in 2 and 3 she really grew on me. Not being a linguist, I’m not fussed about things like pronunciation (although I’m fairly sure that Vissi d’Arte doesn’t end with the word ‘co-zoo’), and she really made a lovely sound on the high pianissimo bits.

But why is this opera called ‘Tosca’ anyway, when it was so clearly Scarpia’s show? Those who have read my reviews before may have noticed that I quite like Bryn Terfel, and also particularly like my bass-baritones in evil mode. Hence, I was looking forward to this one, and he did not disappoint. In fact, totally dominated the stage whenever he set foot on it, and sounded great. Fantastic stuff, even if, what with his white flouncy shirt and the candle-lit set, he did look a bit too reminiscent of Meatloaf in ‘I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)’. Bizarrely, La Gheorgiou didn’t seem to appreciate Mr Terfel’s charms, and objected to him leaping on her on the dinner table, but maybe she was just worried about getting pie on her head.

I’d been looking forward to hearing Marcelo Alvarez live, so was disappointed that he was sick. Nicola Rossi Giordano from the second cast stood in at short notice, and (I’ll stick my neck out here) seemed rather nervous to be out there a week earlier than expected. At times he sounded great, but then at other times sounded rather strained, as if he had his shoulders up somewhere by his ears. Well acted, though, if that doesn’t sound like damning with faint praise (which it’s not supposed to be).

I also need to mention the orchestra. Although, unusually, there were a few moments in the middle where I didn’t think the tuning was quite spot on, there were also times when they sounded so good it gave me the shivers. The brass in particular caught my ear this time. Also, some lovely woodwind-y bits stood out, like the contra-bassoon, and the piccolo (a Mr Philip Rowson, who I really think I ought to send a fan letter to, I like his playing so much).

There was one other voice (apart from Terfel’s) that really stood out to my ears: Carlo Cigni as Angelotti. I’ve never heard of him before (yeah, I know, opera n00b I am) but what a lovely sound, in – sadly – such a little role! Will definitely be looking out for him in the future.