I rely upon the kindness of great performers for adrenalin highs in my Zoom classes, and a recent run has, though I say it myself, been spectacular on both the Opera in Depth and Mahler 1 courses - I might as well drop the names right now: Anna Larsson, Golda Schultz, Robin Ticciati and Mark Wigglesworth. You may need to click to enlarge a lot of these screenshots, and I've tried to reduce them to a cross-section rather than the full crowd, but above, bottom right, is glorious Golda, part of a very special duo of visits.
Robin Ticciati decided he'd like to see us between final rehearsal and first night of the sensational (opera production of the year?) Dialogues des Carmélites at Glyndebourne, and for it was better since I wouldn't be prone to gushing about the first night, so overwhelming that I took the liberty of snapping a full company bow, Ticciati and director Barrie Kosky included.
I reviewed that here on theartsdesk; you might conversely say I'd drunk the Ticciati kool-aid, but what I think of as the professional relationships I have with the great and good are based on total respect in the first place. Of course I'm at liberty to say if there was a style mismatch, or I didn't think the work was quite as great as the performer did - The Wreckers, prepared at the very highest level, was a case in point. But we know how Poulenc's masterpiece - one of the greatest in all opera - never fails, even if I wasn't prepared for the cruelty and devastation of Kosky's vision.
After a very excited RT phoning on Thursday to say he was ready to talk, Friday's visitor was very reflective - clearly tired, but so friendly with everyone, and so eloquent as ever. He talked, among other things, of the joy and necessity of being there at the start of rehearsals, how inspiring Kosky was in his first speech to the company, the special nature of silences (something that had struck me when I first met him, sharing a panel at the end of a study day on Jenůfa, which he conducted on the Glyndebourne tour) and finally - very movingly - the nature of home. Which is now, for him and his wife, very much Sussex. Over six years in Berlin, he loved the experience of living in the city but never felt entirely at ease with the level on which he could converse in German. And the Glyndebourne experience is, at its best, the most enriching you can have in the operatic world.
Golda, whose presence was due to another positive spirit who's just joined my course, Julia Noakes, was bright and bouncy on the Monday afternoon. She'd had the day after the first night to come to herself, and the parallels with the down-to-earth, forthright, empathetic and incorruptible Madame Lidoine, the second Prioress, whose arrival brings a breath of air in to the claustrophobic world so emphasised in Kosky's production, are striking. Golda thought of becoming a nun at 17, but her priest-advisor suggested her gifts might be used on other ways. And so they are. A marvellous human being in every way. I'm going to segue to my next guest via two production shots, cropping to emphasise the connections (credits: Glyndebourne image, Richard Hubert Smithl Garsington image, Julien Guidera, I think - I got sent three different sets of photos). It's amazing how strong an image is a reassuring hand laid on another, and Schultz's Lidoine does that in Kosky's production, more than once.
It's also a very moving moment in Bruno Ravella's Garsington production of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos when Young Woo Kim's Bacchus places his right hand on top of the left hand of Natalya Romaniw's Ariadne.
I'd never been more moved by this scene. and never heard a Bacchus as good live. The South Korean tenor is adored by his colleagues, another blithe spirit, as I think one can tell from his performance on stage. In my review for theartsdesk, I suggested that though Carmelites and Ariadne are very different operas, the respective Glyndebourne and Garsington achievements are on the same extraordinary level - thoughtful production, perfect cast, and radical but perfect conducting: in this case from my long-term generous visitor to the classes Mark Wigglesworth.
I enlisted MW's help in my Mahler 1 course, covering Symphonies 1-5, Das klagende Lied and the earlier songs (the second term, starting in late September, will deal with 6-9, Kindertotenlieder and Das Lied von der Erde). He's conducting the BBC Philharmonic in the First Symphony at the Proms on 18 July, but was heavily involved in Ariadne rehearsals when we covered that. So just before the last of the 10 classes, on movements 3-5 of the Fifth, he visited for a more general discussion, but again with fascinating chapter and verse (I must summarise at some point, but need to watch again).
First of the visitors, and absolutely not least, was the great Anna Larsson. I used a mixture of DVDs for complete movements, and when it came to the Second and Third Symphonies, it had to be Abbado in Lucerne; AL is his mezzo/contralto soloist in both, on stage from the beginning and engaging directly with the audience sans score. and she confirmed that these performances were beyond any others.
I'm glad my New York student Alan compared her with Christa Ludwig and asked if they'd met, because we had a fascinating chronicle of how Abbado, having first heard Larsson in audition, told Ludwig she must hear her. Intense sessions followed. Here's another performer with feet firmly on the ground, colleagial and warm (we'd become friendly when I visited the musically excellent Rheingold she facilitated in the barn of the family farm in Dalarna, in which she sang both Fricka and Erda). But then I think it's true of (nearly) all artists who are truly at the top of their profession: they are secure in what they do, and generosity flows from that.
Finally, a sadness. Sondra Arning's son gave his mother the present of joining these classes. She has been a vibrant contributor, with so much to say about all the music she experienced and - as a singer - participated in while living in New York. Soon her husband Patrick also joined up; they both attended both courses this term, sometimes on separate screens, sometimes together (as pictured above). Having made some pithy observations as usual, Patrick had to leave the last Mahler class early to go to see his doctor. On the Friday he felt il in an interval at the Wigmore Hall, where they were regular visitors. He died of a massive heart attack on the Saturday. A huge shock to everyone, above all to Sondra - they had been married for 51 years - but in one way, since he'd reached a great age, a blessing, as there was a lot wrong with him and cancer had just been detected.
Patrick will be with us in spirit when we embark on the summer course, Wagner's Parsifal, in association with the Wagner Society of Scotland (it's a while back that I began an adventure which began with the first two Ring operas up in the Trossachs, the last two online, followed by Tristan and Meistersinger). More on that, and the season proper, anon.