Rossini, I take it all back

WARNING: If you are not an opera fan, I’m going to let rip, so jump to the pictures at the end.

See also Nina Mishkin’s post BEL CANTO AT THE MET.

On Tuesday we saw the encore of the Live from the MET performance of Rossini’s Donna del Lago in the cinema. Now Rossini in a problem for me. Fabulous music and delicious arias, but it is all about the vocal gymnastics and not the passions of the humans, except in an absurd and comic way. I tend to end Rossini performances feeling aurally battered and emotionally underfed.

The METs production of Donna del Lago has made me eat my words. It satisfies in every respect. With a faultless cast, who invest every phrase, every note, with the emotion it deserves and no (well, no intentional) comic interludes. This success is in major part due to the director, Paul Curran. He was working with peach of a cast, but he ensured that they acted out their emotions to the full and my god this makes a difference. The voices and all their fireworks serve the drama instead of the other way round. (Flores admits that the same cast did not achieve this emotional cohesion in the La Scala production – see youtube excerpts).

This was in maddening contrast to the production we saw in the cinema a week ago of the English National Opera production of La Traviata – Verdi is my favourite opera composer and Traviata nearly top of my list. I am up for experimental productions and this one, in an attempt to appeal to a new, young audience, had made deep cuts, reduced it to a two-act opera and set it in modern dress. I could live with that. The soloists had fine voices and plenty of acting ability and I will happily go and see them again. Two things irritated the hell out of me. One was the endless pinching/plagiarism of other directors ideas (or as my companions more charitably suggested paying tribute to others’ ideas). The other was the endless dramatic misses. these are the moments when the characters intend to express love, pain, hate, envy, anger TO EACH OTHER. Time after time, it is the conductor on the receiving end of these passions. This does not work for me and a decent director could surely avoid this (though again, my companions had a wonderful evening).

Back to Donna. Joyce di Donato (listen to the 1.35 min audio clip here) and Juan Diego Flores in the two major roles, are unsurpassed and unsurpassable in their field. I can listen and watch both with endless pleasure. For me the novelty was in the mezzo Daneila Barcellona playing Malcolm, the love interest. She had, in addition to a wonderful voice, a commanding presence and confidence, which is so often missing in trouser roles. The villain Rodrigo, sung by baritone/tenor John Osborn was another new voice to me, different in timbre and colour from Flores, but with fabulous high, as well as low, notes. All of this held together so flawlessly by the conducting go Michele Mariotti.

I’ll stop there. Ah… a picture or two:

IMG_0962 - Version 2DSCN7114 And what we saw of the eclipse…DSCN7125

I Due Foscari – one opera; two experiences

One of our favourite operas – the rarely-performed I Due Foscari (Verdi)* – is on at the Royal Opera House. We went to see it last Thursday and followed this up on Monday by watching the live relay performance in the cinema.

First off, the reviews weren’t great, but experience has taught us to keep an open mind, as performances often warm up. On the stage, as far as the singers were concerned, all was well. With Pappano in the pit and Placido Domingo, Francesco Meli and Maria Agresta giving us glorious music with high tragedy and great passion, we were very happy listeners.

BUT this is a maddening production. It is set in a what looks like a Venetian bomb site. Background figures move constantly, but very, very slowly and distractingly, throughout the performance, with some gruesome slow-motion torture thrown in. If you succeed in ignoring the figures, then the scenery – that is the narrow platforms for keeping your feet dry in watery Venice – also move frequently and erratically. (It brought to mind slow-motion table football). If you manage to stop worrying about whether the singers will fall off the platforms, you are dizzied by the Doge’s dining room and bedroom, which appear on a flying, sloped platform, on which the 89-year-old Doge (72-year-old Domingo) has to look stable AND sing his heart out. Then there’s the costumes; these are a sort of riff on Russian Eighteenth century costumes – with a few spare metres of brocade thrown in, the wealthy have electric colours, the poor are clad in grey, brown and dirty white. The Doge’s son, Jacopo, a prisoner, was the only soloist who didn’t have to drag a weighty costume around as he sang, so instead they hung him above the stage in a cage, or tortured him as he sang. In spite of all the drama, the pace felt slow, due, I suggest, to the staging not the conducting.

So three days later, in some curiosity, we went to the

cinema

to see the same opera. In this case cinema wins, because the cameramen/women could focus on the singers and not on the distractions on stage, they can even correct for the sloping platform (see clip). Of course the sound is not as exciting as being in the same space as the musicians, but it was pretty damn good. In addition the singers responded to the extra stimulation of being on camera, and this performance was a couple of notches above the earlier one.

We just love the music, but I fear the staging of this production is such that we are unlikely to hear it again for a good few years.

*Plot: The Doge of Venice, now 89, is being forced by The Ten (his rivals and who actually rule) to condemn his last remaining son to exile for treason and murder. His daughter-in-law fights desperately to persuade him to use his power to release his son. The Doge is torn between his role as a ruler, who must uphold justice, and as a father whose, possibly innocent, son will be exiled until death.

Little story – happy author

I started this blog, Green Writing Room, early last year. One of the first people I followed was a young music student from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Charlotte Hoather. As she started putting up clips of her singing, I could hear she had a generous voice with enormous promise. In the following eighteen months I have heard it develop in strength and clarity. Charlotte is warm, dedicated, disciplined, thoughtful, with a wonderful supportive family and she looks lovely too. She takes on every challenge that comes her way. Her blog has rocketed in popularity and I have every hope that she will one day be on the opera stages of the world. She is already giving many people pleasure in concerts and competitions around the country.

Recently she came third in the Voice of the Future category of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. For the last of her three songs she sang one of her favourites, Rusalka’s Song to the Moon (Dvorak), and I feel great delight as I hear the development of her voice in this version compared to her earlier recordings.

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Do listen to the final song on this video recording from the competition.

http://llangollen.tv/en/clip/c1-2/

Charlotte reminded me a little of the young man, Luca, that I had dreamed up for my novel Unseen Unsung. I thought her parents might enjoy reading the book. So, late last year, I made contact and sent them a copy. I did not expect Charlotte to read it, because she has a schedule that makes most of the rest of us look like sloths. However a few days ago, she wrote on my post about Unseen Unsung :

My last post didn’t come through don’t know why? Just wanted to say I love, love, loved this story, kept me guessing and intrigued all the way through. Really related to the story, loved the references to opera, good luck with the e-book promotion. Best wishes Charlotte 🙂

As Unseen Unsung had been originally been published in 2008 I was not expecting it to make waves as an eBook but this, along with other wonderful responses from you kind and generous readers out there have made this writer delirious with happiness.

Lindy Hopping and the Marx Brothers

[I may have put in too many video clips, just take a dip or two]

Important questions first. What is Lindy Hopping? It is basically Swing Dancing, it started in  America in the 1920s and gathered pace with many variations through the next twenty years. To see the genuine article watch this clip from the Marx Brothers Day at the Races. The Lindy Hopping sequence doesn’t start until about 3.25 mins in, and the Lindy Hop dancing really starts about 5 mins in, but I love the section with Harpo and Who Dat Man that precedes it.

And no, I can’t dance like that.

Here’s a modern version of it.

I can’t dance like that either – but I try (the front couple in this demo were my first teachers).

In the last twenty years there has been a massive revival of Swing Dancing, particularly Lindy Hop and some of the original dancers were still with us until very recently. Most famous and beloved was Frankie Manning (d. 2009). Here he is age 90 doing the Shim Sham (a group Lindy dance)

(and if you want to be cheered and moved watch these two clips of villagers in India doing the Shim Sham in honour of Frankie on his Birthday).

Lindy is a partnered dance for all ages and everyone dances with everyone, you are either a lead (traditionally male) or a follow (female), but both men and women try the other roles. There are clubs in most big cities across the world run by enthusiasts. It is the best and most enjoyable exercise I know and I swear it has given my knees a new lease of life.

Unseen Unsung – eBook out now

Unseen ebook coverF

Luca, a brilliant and self-absorbed young opera singer, is buried in the rubble of a collapsed building. A girl crawls through the debris to comfort him and then vanishes. perhaps she died in the ruins or maybe she just a figment of his imagination. When he discovers the strange truth, he is unwilling to accept it.

This is a story of love between two people who would never have met and never have found common ground without one of the catastrophes of modern life.

Unseen Unsung celebrates the power of music and the force of human survival in a complex world.

The concept for Unseen Unsung started life way back in 1999 when I imagined people stuck under the rubble after an earthquake in Turkey. I was enjoying myself plotting, writing and character-building when 9/11 jolted the world. I found the axis had shifted; the story felt too light in the changed world and I set the project aside for over a year.

This is a book, not about disasters, but about life and music, about ordinary people coping with what life throws at them, big and small. In it I have allowed my passion for music, in particular opera, (fairly) free rein, but, as one reviewer wrote, “please don’t think you have to be an opera lover to read this book”.

Although Unseen Unsung was published as a print version in 2008, I went to talk to a reading group last year, who had obtained second-hand copies through the Internet, so I am hoping people will still find it enjoyable. I decided to turn it into an ebook in order to learn the ropes for the publication of my new novel Border Line, which will be coming out in December.

The ebook of Unseen Unsung is available at http://www.amazon.com/Unseen-Unsung-Hilary-Custance-Green-ebook/dp/B00LSRI2PO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405942187&sr=8-1&keywords=Unseen+Unsung and https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/unseen-unsung/id899213653?ls=1&mt=11

I hope some of you will try it and enjoy it. Correction. That’s supposed to read – Please buy my book!

 

 

Musical joie de vivre in Peasmarsh and bonus

We have just had one of those rare experiences – a mini holiday that exceeds all expectations. From the moment we arrived for a two day visit to old friends (plus two days in London afterwards), life, which was OK, became sublime.

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The weather helped as we sat out long into the evening, after a great meal, just talking. The following day we relaxed yet further. I had forgotten deck chairs even existed. We were able to catch up on tasks, ask advice for vexed questions (such as book covers), and forget briefly the list of things undone that are never absent at home.  DSCN5906

Later we visited the astonishing gardens of Great Dixter. The ultimate challenge to the tidy or colour-match-obsessed gardener.

DSCN5955In the evening we arrived at the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Peasmarsh for the last concert in the Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival http://www.peasmarshfestival.co.uk. We picnicked in the churchyard on delicious foods made by our friends, then went into the church for a Brahms violin Concerto, some exquisitely played Debussy and, after an interval, a Schumann quintet.

The church is tiny, the dais for the musicians, already accommodating the Steinway Grand, is tiny and we had front row seats (click on the link above to see rolling photos of the church and dais). The cello was less than two feet in front of me. I have never, never, experienced such a powerful, energetic musical rendition. Each performer was at their peak in this final piece of their final festival concert. Their joie de vivre was quite extraordinary.

The players were international: Anthony Marwood (violin), Richard Lester (cello), Magnus Johnston (violin), Benedetto Lupo (piano), CarlaMaria Rodrigues (viola); the venue a tiny parish church in a small village in East Sussex; the effect an astonishing musical experience and a privilege.

Then back with our friends to their wonderful garden.DSCN5913 DSCN5914 DSCN5925

Familiar Faust, unknown Mozart and Rolando Villazon

Faust sells his soul to the devil in return for youth and the chance to seduce a young girl. Not a story I have ever had much time for, but Gounod’s operatic version is stashed full of wonderful tunes and the Royal Opera house performance that we heard a couple of weeks ago was full of fizz and beautifully sung with a really well-balanced cast (Joseph Calleja, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Sonya Yoncheva). Sonya was new to us and had a charm and her voice was rich and with an ease over the whole range. I could have enjoyed this opera with my eyes shut as the orchestra, under conductor Maurizio Bernini, was in terrific form.

The evening even had its comic moments. The woman behind us, a newcomer to opera, after watching the alluring male ballet dancer behaving badly with a posse of half-dressed nymphs, and then being symbolically shot, uttered a heartfelt “ni…ice”.

A couple of days ago we attend a contrasting evening in the beautiful and more intimate Cadogan Hall in London. This was a Mozart evening featuring the small Kammerorchester of Basel and Rolando Villazon. The orchestra played on early instruments with a leader but no conductor and they stood (except for cellos and a double bass) throughout the evening. Their verve, accuracy and plain enjoyment were a delight. Beyond all this Rolando sang a series of obscure Mozart concert arias giving everyone, musicians and audience, great pleasure. For a taster visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shi8n1GFj9E . His voice has deepened and darkened over the years. It remains very warm with plenty of ping in the high notes and conveys tenderness, fury and comic bafflement equally well. Above all his total physical and mental engagement with the music and the audience are, as always, utterly engaging.

No photos? A maple in fresh spring growth.

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