Saturday, 17 May 2014

Straussian high days and holy days

Tussock time, as in leaping from one pleasure to another, truly began the Friday before last with the annual Europe Day Concert in St John's Smith Square and continued on Sunday and Monday at Glyndebourne. 150th birthday boy Richard Strauss was central to both: for the Rosenkavalier Study Day, obviously, in anticipation of Richard Jones's production opening this afternoon - can't wait - and in the truly surprising component of the European Union Youth Orchestra's yearly marriage with singers from the European Opera Centre (official credit to the European Commission for the concert photos).

I can claim some credit for that, since I advised on the programme, marking the Greek Presidency of the European Union, and most of my Hellenic-themed suggestions were adopted. For practical reasons of orchestral size and the lack of a soprano to fit the Straussian bill, the closing scene from Daphne wasn't possible - I'm still having the Haitink/Popp recording played at my funeral - but EUYO supremo Marshall Marcus did adopt the idea of the extraordinary interlude Strauss composed for his performing edition of Mozart's Idomeneo. With only a fragment of Mozart, 'Torna la pace', at its heart, it's seismic and disturbing; my worries about where it might fit in a programme of plums were dispelled at the two-thirds mark, when gravity was required - how could one not think of Strauss looking back at the First World War, and of Ukraine today? - and the segue into Mozart's sublime Quartet, as good an ensemble as he ever wrote and the first great one in his oeuvre.

Vindicated, too, by my suggestion of conductor, the versatile Dominic Wheeler, who was as refined directing Monteverdi, Handel, Gluck, Purcell and Rameau from the harpsichord as he was spirited, yet still precise, in two fabulous Skalkottas dances and Vaughan Williams's Overture to The Wasps (why some punters had a problem with its Englishness I don't understand. Relax, enjoy the generous melodies). Marshall took responsibility for the engaging spatial effects - Monteverdi brass from the gallery, La Musica advancing to the stage from the centre of the hall,  the three orchestras of Rameau's Dardanus Tambourins making for dazzling music theatre. It was his idea to end with the finale of Offenbach's La belle Hélène, and the singers were so relaxed in conveying its comedy. After which we were happy and proud - at least I speak for myself - to stand for the European anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Every year there's a revelation among the singers. Tara Erraught, Glyndebourne's Octavian, stood out in 2009*; last year it was young Viennese tenor Martin Piskorski. Here there were two stars in the making. Another Austrian, mezzo Sophie Rennert, is already the finished article, flawless and very moving in Dido's Lament - so she and Piskorski give Conchita Wurst a run for his/her money; Romanian soprano Monica Bancoș is a baby dramatic soprano, giving old-fashioned divadom to 'Divinités du Styx'. Milanese Elsa Galasio engaged as La Musica, while tenor Camille Tresmontant came into his own as Offenbach's Paris in shades. Wonderful at the end to see the young players embracing and kissing, just like they do in Lucerne.

A few shots from the aftershow drinks in the Footstall. Monica with my old friend, singer and pianist Tom Pope, and musical man about town Yehuda Shapiro (from now on the pics, except the one of Peter and Edward, are mine).

Monica and Elsa flanking Dominic Wheeler,

and Elsa and Sophie (a dead ringer for Martine McCutcheon, and a rather better singer).

Can't resist this official shot of the world's leading Ochs, our dear Peter Rose, talking to our equally dear Edward Mendelsohn.

And so from one group of promising young artists to another. I was quite excited to learn that soprano, comedienne and presenter Miranda Keys, whom I met when she was covering Jenufa and appeared at that Study Day, was not only singing Marianne the Duenna in Rosenkavalier but also covering the Marschallin. On Sunday, in a day down in Sussex which started grey but turned out beautiful, she sang the Monologue and launched the trio, while two other covers sang Sophie - Louise Alder, stupendous, could go on now - and Octavian - Rihab Chaieb, lovely presence. Their pianist, Matt Fletcher, has just won the Kathleen Ferrier Accompanist's Prize, and brought down the trio from its climax with terrific artistry. Here he is with Miranda on the left and Rihab right (Louise had left by then to move house).

The magic of Glyndebourne never fails, and I was in seventh heaven entertaining, or so it seemed, a very responsive audience with different voice types in the main roles, from the Marschallin's creator Margarethe Siems up to Kiri, Frederica and Lucia (as good a Marschallin as a Sophie, possibly my favourite on disc in both roles). In the morning Raymond Holden set the scene and Mark Everist shed further fascinating light on the French operetta on which it turns out, courtesy of Count Harry Kessler's diaries, Hofmannsthal and Kessler had based the entire scenario.

A superb lunch in Nether Wallop - spicy meatballs, excellent - and chats with Cory Ellison, James Hancox, Lucy Lowe and above all the ever-supportive Christopher Cook, a consummate moderator, all added to the pleasure. Here's CC chatting to singers and accompanist in the Ebert Room.

There was time to spray the singers with my Jo Malone Red Roses cologne, and to dab them with the remains of my rose attar from Kashan. Then at the end the crowds suddenly vanished and, having given my bags to delightful BBC researcher Sinéad O'Neill and her Strauss-knowledgeable partner Nicky to drop off at Pelham House Hotel in Lewes, I wandered the grounds before setting off over the hill to Lewes.

The lakeside, deserted until a couple with dogs appeared in the distance (Gus and Danielle?), had its special magic in mid-May.

The last of the tulips gave a splash of colour in the meadows above

and a lone peony flourished on the other side.

I had to pay homage to the bust of Sir George, who sadly died before the season's start; Gus wrote that he had been listening to Act 1 of Rosenkavalier in the 1965 Glyndebourne recording the night before his death.  Brian Dickie has paid eloquent tribute on The Arts Desk.

Then I inspected the flower beds in the formal garden - iris blooming

and incipient,

a fabulous flock of tulips

and others at the end of the long walk -

before I struck off up the field opposite to inquisitive stares from sheep and lambs.

I've always taken a higher route from the Lewes direction so never realised quite how beautiful this perspective on Glyndebourne and the Downs can be.

A gate at the end leads to the bare and glorious heights

from where, in a blasting wind, trees with raked shadows added features to the bare hills on the other side.

I confess I took a route the wrong side of the golf course and had some retracing of a valley to do

but it was worth it for the moon visible above the trees.

And then a quiet supper and sleep in wonderful Pelham House Hotel, to be greeted the next morning by more clarity from the bedroom window

and off on the 9.15 company bus to film back at the house. Frustrated that the bus filled up before Helene Schneiderman, the Annina who was such vivacious company in Dresden, and the Ochs, Lars Woldt, could get on. There was certainly a buzz outside the theatre before the pre-dress rehearsal, which had been opened to desperate friends and relations who hadn't got tickets. Sitting on a bench before the cameras in the formal garden dominated by the Henry Moore sculpture, I had a luxurious hour to chunter on to Sinéad for a luxurious 90 minute documentary, to be broadcast on BBC Four when it screens the opera on 24 June.

We'll see what they use, but I'm just so glad that with Tony Hall at the helm of the Beeb, the tide may have turned for decent coverage of the arts, and this doc is a real flagship example of good intentions. Coffee with the crew, another bus back to Lewes and back home to prepare the latest Poulenc Carmelites class before pedalling to the City Lit for 4pm. And now a glorious weekend ahead at Glyndebourne: lucky, lucky.

*22/5 Only just found the right year, and this is what I wrote about her: 'Did you know his [Balfe's] Falstaff? I certainly didn’t. (N)Annetta’s cavatina is as good as your average Donizetti number; the Irish mezzo despatched it with sparkling engagement of the audience and a musicality to match Talbot’s'. She looks lovely both in the pictures of that occasion, when she was only 22 - I've closed in on the one of her animation in the Carmen Quintet -

and, indeed, in a fashionplate photo that contradicts a certain journoass's latest piece of rubbish. I wouldn't link to it because I don't want anyone to read the rag in question. I can't stop my mother, but I can try not to feed an all-too visible troll and his paper.

As I've remarked in the comments below, few folk are coming out of Taragate, Dumpygate, call it what you will, with any credit. One treasurable phrase has emerged, applied by La Cieca of Parterre to a certain storm-stirrer: 'hit-whoring windbag'. 'Hit-whoring' will definitely enter my terminology.

Anyway, I've had enough now, just missed a radio summons which I would have resisted anyway, and only want to hear from those who've actually seen the Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier. Which is marvellous: read my more or less uncontroversial, Jones-lovin' Arts Desk review.


David Damant said...

David - I do not know ( as you know I do not know) whether the operas of Wagner are a gesamtkunstwerk, but your mind certainly is

David said...

How kind, Sir David. Ich bin euer Liebden in aller Ewigkeit verbunden. I have been called four of those letters, but for my mind to be labelled a Gesamtkunstwerk means more than a knighthood.

Susan Scheid said...

David D's comment cannot be bettered in praise of this post (and your reply did have me laughing out loud--the part in English, I don't have enough German to understand what you've written there. How fulfilling and exciting it must be see and hear many of your recommendations realized in the concert, and by performers who are so fully engaged. This to me, is a strong mark of a wonderful concert: "Wonderful at the end to see the young players embracing and kissing, just like they do in Lucerne." Last not least, your photographs of your walk in the environs are so tantalizing--perhaps particularly those "bare and glorious heights." I know it's quite different, but you remind me here of my response to the Dales. I felt there, as I think you must have felt here, that I was walking on air.

David said...

Sue - I'm artily quoting Sophie to Octavian: 'I am indebted to your grace [bit of licence there] for all eternity'.

You of all people know the wonder of the young engaged in top work from your Contemporaneous concerts and their many offshoots.

And yes, roof of the world - Yorkshire I need to get to know better. But we did another walk with our Lewes friend and host this weekend Charles Kerry, chorus man at Glyndebourne for decades and collector of food for free a la Richard Mabey. So his table is full of interest and his walks likewise. The hawthorn was going crazy, everything so lush on the hottest day of the year so far after the rains. As for the Gbn experience, Saturday was just extraordinary (the Jones Rosenkavalier, see TAD) and tonight had its moments, but the afternoon was beyond beautiful. As I've written above, lucky, lucky.

Susan Scheid said...

Oh, lucky, lucky, indeed. The walk sounds wonderful. I very much enjoyed your review of Der Rosenkav. Would love to hear Terrault and the other young singers you have praised someday. You are right that the spirit you recounted is much like that I feel with the Contemporaneous folk. I've met so many wonderful, talented young people that way, including at a recital last night. Now, they're all graduating (Dylan included, this week), and I feel like an empty nester might! Still, I can follow their "next acts," and that will be nice.

Re your reviews, I have my June BBC Mag in hand and saw your review of the Met's Parsifal. I remembered our exchange about this after I saw the production live, and am pleased to see it met your approval, too. Funnily, for me, Kaufman at the time didn't make the impact he probably should have. (The two who did were Mattei and Pape.)

Last, about something over my way, but so as not to get you entangled in the comments box again, I hope you won't mind if I ask here: When I listened to Berlioz's Villanelle, its opening reminded me so much of Britten's Villes. I do see that Berlioz inspired an earlier piece of Britten's, but not this one. The Edu-Mate and I both heard a similarity in the openings. Are we imagining things?

David said...

I wonder, Sue, if that's the lovely Ms Erraught you've portmanteaued there, and if so, whether you can have missed the hail of half-bent arrows flying from both sides over certain ways of describing her appearance in the press. I narrowly escaped the whip because I liked the cherub look - well, at least where it involved Octavian's budding love for Sophie - and the most vocal of TE's defenders gave me a rather patronising nod of approval.

But I've kept out of the argument that's erupted since Monday (my review went up on Sunday morning) because you can't win whatever you say. All I've done is to reproduce in a TAD comment the strongest remarks of a wonderful singer with whom I've had an e-mail correspondence this morning. I add them here too:

'Can she sing Octavian? By heavens - YES.

'Can she act Octavian in the realms and strictness of this production? By heavens YES.

'Is she phenomenal for a 27 year old singer of any voice type? By heavens YES.'

So on with the show.

As for your linking Berlioz's Villanelle and Britten's Villes, I can see what you mean - both start with chugging chords, though Britten's jab and veer off course more quickly. Possibly coincidence - could find no ref to Les nuits d'ete in BB's diaries - though I like the play on words and the contrast between rustic and urban pleasures characterised so pithily.

Susan Scheid said...

Yes, Erraught is what I'd meant to write. I am aware of the fracas--but, as I've just now written at TAD, it is YOUR blogpost and YOUR TAD review that brought Erraught to my attention, and I hope I'll have a chance to see and hear her sing Octavian someday before too long. (Love your observation, on Britten/Berlioz, about rustic and urban pleasures, too.)

PS: Borgen, Series 1, has finally arrived from our library, and we are enjoying it a lot, even if it did lead the Edu-Mate to try and imitate a Danish accent rather excessively . . .

David Damant said...

On the BBC Today programme today (22nd) Kiri te Kanawa was very clear that it was the costume that was the really wrong thing - she would have thrown the wig on the floor and refused to go on until the costume was redesigned.

David said...

Yes, Sue, there was a fair amount of imitation here of a certain Danish vowel sound, most extraordinary. But don't you just ADORE Birgitte?

Much discussion about the wig, which I fear may revolve the endless saga around to the production. Erraught could of course just appeared with short hair, looking lovely as she does in publicity photos. But I guess RJ wanted the Cherubino look.

Still it rumbles on. A certain soprano on the World Service did NOT impress me with her pieties and her 'it's all about the voice'. It's not ALL about the voice in music-theatre.

David Damant said...

But her explicit comment on the costume taken by itself is a valid criticism of the musical theatre aspect.

David said...

If she'd been to see it, yes (I assume you're referring to Kiri rather than Pat Rozario, whom I did briefly hear - she got hardly any time and didn't come off well). But had she? I didn't listen and I'm sick of the whole business - they have a show to run, let them get on with it. Way too many people are sounding off without having seen Jones's production, in which everything has a purpose.

Some of the remarks were personally insulting - Rupert's actually much less so than others - but no-one has come out of this with much credit. Jessica Duchen was more nuanced than most, if she had to write about it, in the Indy yesterday. Mark Valencia in Whatsonstage too. Both had been to see it, because I talked to them at Glyndebourne. The rest should be very careful of judging from photos

Susan Scheid said...

On the general subject of opera, I thought of you, David, or more particularly the student's drawing of you with your hair standing on end, vis-a-vis Glass, when I saw this. Unless my eyes deceive me, it's put out by the Met musicians. Absolutely idiotic, in my opinion, anyway.

David Damant said...

I fear that the media and many others are excited - and more - by controversy as controversy, especially if there is sex involved, or a horse, or anything easily grasped.. They don't care at all for truth, only for the excitement, and bringing in as many opposing views as possible. And this will get worse from now on as the social media bring in more and more comments from those with no knowledge or understanding of whatever the topic is.

David said...

Sue - I started the quiz, just to see what they'd offer me, but hurrumphed off at question 2, where my ideal production, even in its most simplified form, didn't even begin to fit any of the options given.

David - sex or a horse or sex and a horse? Don't go there. I fear you're right. Some singers have been as silly as some of the journalists. But social media does have its uses, as J vouchsafed me a few very funny swipes at Ukip on this vital day, including a list of imaginary tweets and an extraordinary comedian whose name I must memorise and who uses 'they come over here' to give an outline of newcomers going back past the Huguenots to the first forms of life...

Anonymous said...

Just let Tara sing!

Yvonne Canavan said...

May I use your very good photo of St Bartholomew's Church, Wigginton on the cover of the Order of Service for my daughter's wedding which is to take place there on 19th July 2014? ... may I convert it to a black and white image ?

David said...

Yes, of course, Yvonne, I'd be honoured. I wish your daughter and her husband-to-be a happy wedding in weather as beautiful as today's.

David said...

Anon's comment was hiding on a page and didn't reach my inbox. My sentiment exactly, so I hope you weren't getting at me.