Monday, 1 February 2010

Three juicy oranges

All Prokofiev's, of course, and it's been a real pleasure to concentrate on the main man again. Now that War and Peace and all the background work on The Gambler are done and dusted for the time being, I can settle back into my eight or so complete Romeo and Juliets for Radio 3's Building a Library (the programme is scheduled for 13 February).

As I think I mentioned earlier, we're having more of a non-stop Prokofiev feast in the first few months of the year than ever happened for the 50th anniversary. First came The Snow Queen, that oddly conventional and unvaried Corder take on chunks of The Stone Flower mixed in - rather well - with bits of War and Peace, Betrothal in a Monastery and the Fifth Symphony. I rather anticipated that Kenneth MacMillan's unsinkable Royal Ballet Romeo and Juliet would yet again knock it into a cocked hat, and it did, by virtue of the careful attention to detail and the adventurous casting that continue to inform the revivals. Nothing, it seemed, was going to cap the DVD with Acosta - out of action currently, alas - and Tamara Rojo

where the fight scene with Thiago Soares's hunky Tybalt is so dangerous you fear they'll fall off the stage. Indeed, the Romeo I saw this time round, Edward Watson, was poetic and dreamy, as photographed below by Dee Conway, but not quite on the edge enough.

Much as I've loved Leanne Benjamin's Cinderella and other roles, she couldn't quite match Rojo, Ferri and Fonteyn for sheer charisma. It's still striking, though, how bold MacMillan is with the flinging around of bodies in the final scene. This hits home painfully if you watch the boyish-desperate Angel Corella with the still-youthful Ferri in the Scala DVD. Compared to that, the stateliness of Lavrovsky's choreography in a terrible Soviet film only worth watching for Ulanova seems tame indeed.

Anyway, the Royal Ballet is still at the top of its game. I was delighted to see its inspiring director, Dame Monica Mason - who's always there before every performance and, I'm told, at rehearsals too - sitting in the audience when I gave my Gambler talk at the Insight Evening last Thursday. So, too, were Elaine Padmore, Tony Hall and many other big cheeses in the Royal Opera admin. The very friendly Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts was there, too, ready to sing excerpts later with Elisabeth Meister and superb piano accompaniment from assistant conductor Christopher Willis. Jeffrey was an outstanding Alexey in the top-notch Grange Park production of The Gambler. Here he is in two photos by Alastair Muir of that production so brilliantly designed and directed by David Fielding. In the first pic he's desperate to please Katherine Rohrer's capricious Polina.

Next he's seen breaking the bank at the Roulettenburg casino, a scene which can't fail to thrill if it's done with all the wacky detail Prokofiev wants:

Jeffrey is to play the hypochondriacal prince in The Love for Three Oranges at Grange Park this summer. At Covent Garden, he's merely covering the role of Alexey, and Roberto Sacca is going to have to be exceptional to match him - especially as the decision's been taken to perform the opera in English.

That I can understand, even if I'm selfishly a bit disappointed. Prokofiev's dramaturgy moves at such a lick that if the audience has its eyes glued to the supertitles, it's going to miss a lot of the stage action - and given that Richard Jones, the ideal man for the job, is directing, there's bound to be plenty of that. Tony Pappano, on the panel chaired by Kevin Rainey following my talk, said that he wasn't too concerned about losing the Russian. The language, he said, is horizontal - demonstrating with Lensky's 'kuda, kuda vi udalilis' from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin - while so much of Prokofiev's motoric score is vertical, and the two don't always match. Jones, to whom I'm indebted for asking that I took part, voiced his worries about setting it all up in the tricky, talky first two acts; but we agree with Prokofiev that it all goes in a line towards the thrilling roulette scene, one of his greatest, and the thorny denouement. He ended simply by saying that 'The Gambler has a very original soul and it wants to be put into the world'. I know what he means. Book now before all the top £50 seats go.

Pappano is, of course, a fascinating speaker, passionately engaged and clear even when trying to explain difficult things to an audience. That's why I breathe a sigh of relief that the BBC have signed him up to present three programmes on Italian opera in a large-scale counterblast to the car-crash telly of ITV's Popstar to Operastar.

Well, I wanted to end with a linking photo, of two fruits - Jones and myself - alongside the steaky Pappano, but alas the results have not been passed for publication. So another Zelig moment will have to remain in the private archive.


JVaughan said...


This is off topic to be sure, and has somewhat to do with that other famous Russian you have been discussing in recent times, Rachmaninov. I received word yesterday that a virtuoso American pianist, Mr. Earl Wild, has died. I have known his name for a long time, but have probably only heard bits and pieces of his artistry. A contributor to a primarily-"pop" music site wrote, both to his readers at large and later to me, that he was quite a virtuoso, and quoted someone to the effect that he was Mr. Horowitz's favourite. This writer likes Mr. Wild's first? set of the Rachmaninov Concerti, and also his rather-famous Gershwin with Maestro Fiedler. Do you know and like any of his work?

I look forward to your 13-February feature on _Romeo_ _And_ _Juliet_, the day after my round residency anniversary. Since I like what I have heard of it thus far, it probably should eventually enter my collection, and again will be interested if your previous recommendation to me holds up. Interest in _The_ _Gambler_ seems to have grown in fairly-recent times.

J. V.

David said...

Earl Wild never impacted hugely on me. I have one CD of virtuoso showpieces but I think I cleared out his Rachmaninov some years ago - rightly or wrongly I can't now say. I'm inclined to try out his Gershwin with Fiedler, though (what? Rhapsody in Blue? The gloriously melodic Piano Concerto, which I once dreamt right through? Maybe both?).

I think there'll be one or two surprises re the R&J. It's ten years since I last did it for BaL and the front runner then, Ozawa, isn't now available. Quite a few others, though, have popped up since.

JVaughan said...

I understand the _Rhapsody_ and _Concerto_ to be on separate recordings, though seemingly both still available. Yet who knows, in these days of CD compilations, if both might now be together on one disc.

As you may recall, you suggested Ermler for _R&J_ to me last year. If still available, it will be interesting to hear how that fares in the upcoming survey.

After Bach's famous _Cantata_ _82_, written for this day, I hope to be later off to Mendelssohn, leading to and through his birthday tomorrow, followed by the beginning of my nearly-month-long Handel cycle on Thursday after Mendelssohn's _Athalie_ music, performed in the original French.

J. V.

David said...

Ermler, I can tell you now, isn't available, though it's due to be reissued later this year, too late for consideration. All the same, I'll be listening to him again just to make sure he isn't the very best. Competition is strong...

JVaughan said...

May _THE_ best-overall recording both win and be available!

J. V.

David said...

We're not allowed to talk about 'winning'...and it looks as if there'll be several options (not to mention a DVD).

The real point of the programme, I guess, is to take the listener through the work as much as to choose the 'best' of all the illustrated recordings. A fairly unassailable format, I'd have thought - though there are those (including the editor of BBC Music Magazine) who think it ought to be opened up to panel discussion.

JVaughan said...

Well-said, and I stand corrected!

If you do not already know, there used to be a pannel-formatted syndicated programme in this country called _Music_ _At_ _First_ _Hearing_, though, like _CD_ _Review_ overall, it focused on new releases, but, unlike it, did not have a concentrated segment devoted to a single work and all of its available recordings. Since it was a one-hour programme, only a movement or excerpt would be played from each recording. Two regular pannelists were Mr. Martin Bookspan and the long-time host of the Met Opera Quiz, Mr. Edward Downes (obviously not the conductor we previously discussed). And, of course, there is a pannel on _CD_ _Review_ at least once a year.

It is good that a DVD is being admitted to your upcoming survey since, after all, this is a ballet.

J. V.

David said...

No correction intended, just telling you what the wisdom was from on high at the Beeb (ie 'don't say "winner" ').

Howard Lane said...

The latest Private Eye asks whether any "Russian opera loving readers" have noticed the remarkable similarity between the big tune that recurs throughout the film Avatar and the big tune from Prokofiev's War and Peace.

Only if they have seen or heard it, is the answer I suppose. Composer James Horner, they continue, if challenged, would no doubt point out the tune's resemblance to an old Russian folk song.

I was also shocked that the 80s hit "Land Down Under" was found to have plagiarised the old Aussie Kookaburra song, for a flute part that was not only added later, but hardly resembles it at all unless my memory fails me. If they had copied Prokofiev they might have got away with it.

Sorry to miss you at the birthday party. We heard a great Schubert recital which will be broadcast on R3 but they didn't say when.

David said...

As Avatar doesn't sound like my kind of film, I won't be going to see it to find out. But you're right, 'the big tune from War and Peace' is hardly known to all, and I wonder if he means Kutuzov's aria, which would hardly stem from folk music; it's more like a hymn.

Anyway, these 'pinches' are common business in the film industry; you used to be able to tweak a note or two, and the tune was yours - maybe that still pertains. I'm told Gladiator - which I would sit through far more happily - uses Siegfried's Funeral March, but that's already better known.

Oh dear, I always seem to miss those birthdays. Next time, I hope. That's a fine restaurant, though.

Dr. Werner Linden said...

Hello Mr. David Nice, please let me invite you to join us in the discussion you can read at
First, we are trying to make out when Prokofiev wrote his "Five popular Songs from Kazakhstan", op.43A, for Voice and piano (after the notations of Zataevich), further, we are trying to find out where the manuscript of this composition is, and, if a relation can be established between that composition and his sketches for an opera "Khan Buzai" on Kazakh motives.
Please do us the honour, you will see the topic is developing dynamically right now.
Best regards
Dr. Werner Linden, musicologist & composer

David said...

Dear Dr. Linden, I already have: I'm DavidN and I recommended you contact Fiona McKnight at the Prokofiev Archive. I also proposed that you write something on the subject for Three Oranges: what do you think?

Best wishes,