Preview of Royal Opera House 2014/15 Season

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There was an air of expectancy as the Patrons and Friends of Covent Garden packed out the Paul Hamlyn Hall at the Royal Opera House on Thursday night to get an overview of the 2014/15 season.

Alex Beard Chief Executive of the ROH welcomed us all, and shared with us how the average attendance of the ROH is 96%, a staggering figure and proof that opera is popular and thriving. He pointed out that those that say “I don’t like opera” 9 times out of 10 have never been to one. This was certainly true for me, and I owe that first ROH production of La Traviata I saw for changing my mind and opening up this theatrical form to me. Since that time I’ve seen many operas and think it is a very special form of theatre.

Kasper Holten the Director of Opera then expounded on the opera season ahead. Let me say now, I was blown away by his passion, knowledge and desire to promote opera. I see a lot of presentations and speakers, and he’s from that special group that you feel inspired after listening to him.

Kasper Holten : Passionate, inspirational and knows his opera!

Kasper Holten : Passionate and inspirational

The coming season is a real mix, the classics are there, some new works and some interesting collaborations/innovations:

  • A production of Orfeo at the Roundhouse in Camden. I love the Roundhouse venue and know this will be a brilliant setting for this piece. Shock horror they’re going to sing it in English! It’s all part of engaging with the Roundhouse community and I think this will be a special collaboration opening up opera to a new audience and showing more established lovers of the form something new with this opera. This is regarded as the first opera written and Michael Boyd will be directing.
  • Anna Nicole will kick off the season. Interesting they’re reviving this piece. Another great innovation with this is that the first night will be for young people and students only. To encourage this demographic, the top price ticket will be the grand total of….£25!!!! What a bargain.
  • The piece I’m most excited about is an opera of Kafka’s The Trial by Philip Glass. On in the Linbury Studio this October. I love the book and I admire Philip Glass’s musicality so I’m hoping this will live up to the expectations I have.
  • The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill. Another I’m really excited to see. Kasper spoke about his desire to see opera’s from the 1918-30’s on the main stage. As he believed that period after WW1 has much that resonates with us today. I spoken often about how Brecht shaped my theatrical view. Getting to see his libretto and see an opera he helped to create will be something significant. Another break with tradition is this will also be an English translation of Brecht’s German libretto.

Perhaps the biggest announcement was that this season will be the last time John Copley’s 1974 version of La Boheme will be staged. I may need to make the effort to see this one last time as it’s such an iconic treatment of this fabulous opera.

We then heard from the equally enthusiastic Kevin O’Hare, outlining for us the Royal Ballet’s season.

Kevin O'Hare - The Royal Ballet's Director.

Kevin O’Hare – The Royal Ballet’s enthusiastic Director

Kevin’s care for his dancers came to the fore, the Royal Ballet have suffered from a series of injuries recently, all just down to bad luck. I was impressed that his first concern was to them, and then to the season. What a season too:

  • Kenneth Macmillan’s treatment of Manon returns this September to November. (I saw it in 2011 and regarded as the best thing I saw that year) If you’ve not seen it, make every effort to go! It’s celebrating 40 years since it first came to the ROH.
  • Another shock announcement  – there will be no Nutcracker this year. Hooray I say, you can have too much of a good thing. it’ll be back in future seasons though (another hooray).  This year over the xmas period will be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on the main stage and a new collaboration with Zoonation in the Linbury Studio of The Mad Hatter’s T Party. I’m sure the ROH will be buzzing with families and inspire a new generation of dancers with these works.
  • May 2015 sees for me one of the most exciting new pieces for the Royal Ballet in this season; Woolf Works a look at the works and life of Virginia Woolf. Wayne McGregor will choreograph and music will be by Max Richter.

The above are just my highlights. The whole season for both Opera and Ballet is outstanding. Have a look at their website for more info and of course check back here for my reviews on the above mentioned pieces.

Bravo to the whole team at ROH for giving us a marvelous season to look forward to!

 

 

Kungliga Operan – Stockholm / Swan Lake – Review

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Following on from my previous post about the Theatrical Sites in StockholmI’ve saved my highlight for its own post. It’s also a double whammy of a review too – both the Opera House and the Ballet we saw there.

So first of all the Kungliga Operan, in one word, WOW. What a stunning opera house. Lavish, luxuriant and stylish with friendly staff made for it being a perfect night out.

The Outside of the Kungliga Operan

The outside of the Kungliga Operan

We were fortunate to sit in the area which is actually reserved for the King’s household (unbeknownst to me when I purchased the tickets) and tickets for this are released only the last few days prior to the show if not needed. I could get used to theatre seats that are like armchairs, and a great view! Thanks to a very friendly local couple we sat next to, they gave us a peek of the Kings Gallery and private staircase which are located nearby during the interval.

Inside it is rather spectacular too - The King's Gallery,  © Alexander Kenney / Operan Kungliga

Inside it is rather spectacular too – The King’s Gallery, © Alexander Kenney / Operan Kungliga

Most comfortable theatre seat award goes to Kungliga Operan!

Most comfortable theatre seat award goes to Kungliga Operan!

Main staircase of the Opera House

Main staircase of the Opera House

The ceiling above the main stairs

The ceiling above the main stairs

During the second interval our kind locals sitting next to us asked if we’d been to the Golden Hall? We advised we hadn’t, “oh you MUST come and see it!” so off we went. Alas as I’d not expected to need to take photos I didn’t have my camera on me and I can’t find any pics online. Suffice to say it is a hall that is lit by magnificent chandeliers and the entire room is covered in gold. Rumour has it the room is entirely gold leaf, whether it is or not, I so glad they made sure we saw it.

I was also pleasantly surprised at the reasonable cost of attending the Kungliga Operan, comparative seating in the Covent Garden Royal Opera House, would easily have cost four times as much and people told me Stockholm was an expensive city! Certainly not for ballet or opera. I may start getting a cheap flight and seeing more there, as that’ll still be cheaper the way West End is going.

So to the ballet:

I’ve seen Swan Lake a few times but not recently. Previous occasions have all been Russian companies and so it was gripping to see how another school of ballet would deal with this iconic piece. I have to say I liked the understated subtlety and focus on the story telling they gave it. The dancers had their chance to wow us and show us what they could do, but the narrative of the piece was the centre point. So much so, that a full act I don’t ever recall seeing in my previous versions! I’m sure it must have been in them as I remember the score from them, but clearly they failed to connect the story to me. Whereas this time each act developed the story and built on the last act. I especially liked the quick change of Odette from Princess to swan, it was so magical.

Obviously pride in ones own Royal Ballet prevents me from saying the  Swedish Royal Ballet were better. However they were not quite as slick as ours and this could have been due to one of the dancers injuring themselves and having to bow out of the final act. In no way though is this a slight on the company. They gave charming performances and we had a wonderful time viewing their Swan Lake.

This was seen on my last night in Stockholm, a fine ending to a fantastic week there. I wish we’d had time for an official tour of the Kungliga Operan and should we return, we’ll make a point of doing that. If you are in Stockholm make sure you visit the Kungliga Operan!

Theatrical Sites of Stockholm

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I’ve just returned from a lovely holiday in Stockholm. Whilst there I took in a few of the theatrical sites, I saw Swan Lake at the Kungliga Operan a full review of that stunning Opera House and ballet will follow in a day or so.

After we’d decided to head off to Stockholm I consulted my trusty DK Eyewitness Guide and noticed that there was an August Strindberg Museum actually based in his finally residence, that went on my list of must sees, and in fact we visited it on our first day there.

Strindberg's Desk

Strindberg’s Desk

Following a trip up three floors in a “Thoroughly Modern Millie” lift as my wife called it, we arrived at the museum. Half of it is his apartment as it was when he lived there. It’s quite spooky to wander around his apartment and see his personal artefacts.

I studied Strindberg at college and found him an interesting if somewhat confusing writer. This museum opened up his life and world to me. It was set out in themed exhibits looking at various aspects of his life, such as his religious views and how they developed, his portrayal and views on women, his pacifism etc. This was a really good way of getting to grips with this multifaceted man.

He’s held in very high esteem in his native Sweden and this museum enabled me to see why.

Me with Strindberg statue outside the Swedish National Theatre

Me with Strindberg statue outside the Swedish National Theatre

The other “theatrical” museum I had to visit was Abba The Museum. It was a great chance to see their memorabilia and find out a bit more about the group via the guided tour you listen to recorded by Abba themselves. I was slightly surprised that there is only a passing mention to their musical, Mama Mia! A tiny display of the wedding dress from the show and as you leave the museum you leave via the bridge akin to the end of the musical. For a musical that has been so successful I was surprised they gave it so little promotion here.

Alas they wouldn't let me try these on.

Alas they wouldn’t let me try these on.

That's ALOT of records!!

That’s ALOT of records!!

It’s a wonderful city but theatrically the highlight for me was the Kungliga Operan – but I’ll save that for a future post!

Carousel – Opera North at the London Barbican Theatre

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After my taster last week, I got to see the full production of Opera North’s version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. As I mentioned in that post, I knew several of the tunes but had never seen the show or the film version. Was it to be a musical that should be consigned as a period piece or would it still be relevant to the 21st Century?

Having done some research prior to seeing the show, my interest was piqued by other critics and writers saying how they felt this was an opera rather than a musical. I was also intrigued as several friends had rather disparaging remarks to make about the show in the versions they’ve seen over the years. Would I be enamoured, pleased to have seen it but not crazy about it, or regretting I’d made the journey to the Barbican?

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia were in the orchestra pit accompanying and their exquisite playing set the scene as it starts with a wonderful balletic opening where we are introduced to the world of Carousel and its protagonist Billy Bigelow. The eponymous carousel is cleverly created before us and this spectacular opening captivated me into this world.

The Cleverly Created Carousel

This show also has another “wow factor” and that’s the size of the cast, it is huge! I really felt Opera North were pulling out all the stops to make this production feel definitive. It certainly helps to create the operatic feel to the piece.

Michael Todd Simpson was Billy Bigelow and he really gave this character light and darkness. I’m still not sure what to make of this character, is he just a thug, or is he a product of his circumstances? His journey to redemption is certainly bumpy and laden with pitfalls. Is the physical violence he issues an allegory for the way we often inflict hurt on those we love the most? I felt he was portrayed as a broken man and felt sympathy for him, despite his foolish actions. Rarely does a musical or opera get me pondering and thinking about it as much as this has. The domestic violence is not a comfortable issue to be confronted with.

Katherine Manley as his long-suffering wife Julie gave her character an inner resolve and strength which I think complemented Billy’s aggression. Hers is a tragic character but I never sensed hopelessness in her.

Sarah Tynan gave an uplifting performance as Carrie Pipperidge the friend and confidant of Julie and even though their lives go on different trajectories their friendship continues.

Joseph Shovelton was the comic relief in Enoch Snow, but again this character has hidden depths and is a necessary contrast to Billy.

Their voices were superb and it was lovely to hear a cast fill the theatre with no need for amplification.

Act 2 contains a beautiful ballet piece stunningly performed by Beverly Grant and Simon Jaymes.

So as you may well ascertain, I loved it. I really think it does deserve the title of “classic”, I found the story dramatically engaging, the score is beautiful and the way it combines, opera, ballet and musical theatre really makes it a special production.

It’s best known for the anthemic song You’ll Never Walk Alone, and obviously that song has much emotional baggage for many, but as the cast sing it at the end, I couldn’t help but get an emotional tingle down my spine as it brings this story to its conclusion. It was one of those moments in theatre that I know I’ll remember for a long time.

It’s only on for a short run in London, again we’re being shown that London is not the only place where theatre is creatively being made in the UK. If you’ve never seen Carousel, go and catch this production, the director Jo Davies is to be congratulated as I can’t imagine it being done any better.

STARS : * * * *

The English National Ballet – The Nutcracker – London Coliseum – Review

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It’s a quintessential part of the Christmas period theatrical fayre. The music is well-known by everyone, but I’d actually not ever seen a production of The Nutcracker live until last night. Would I find it all a bit too twee or a bit too childish? Or would it tick all my nostalgia and ballet boxes?

Wayne Eagling and Peter Farmer have created a rather enchanting piece of ballet here. There are hundreds of variations and ways of doing The Nutcracker, but placing it in its original period and drawing on the classic Edwardian Christmas nostalgia, gives it a real resonance and charm.

The story itself is standard fairy story silliness, but it is Christmas and sometimes its nice to just sit back and be swept away and not have to think or analyse too hard. My main criticism of the actual score/story, is it can on occasions feel a bit disjointed. However as it’s the holiday season I won’t be too curmudgeonly.

As is to be expected the dancing was up to the English National Ballets usual high standards. Eagling’s choreography certainly pushes them. Act 1 had some lovely pieces, the party scene was fun, I was impressed by the child dancers, and that was a clever piece of casting. As the audience had a large number of children present. I imagine a great many are probably dancers too, it certainly gave all the young aspiring dancers a chance to see their contemporaries, and hopefully acted as an inspiration to some watching.

The jewel in the crown of Act 1 was the snowflake scene, which was enchanting.

Act 2 is really where the ballet starts to shine though and here Eagling starts to pull all the clever choreography out of his proverbial conjurors sleeve. Anais Chalendard as Clara was a wonder to behold, such poise, grace and beauty. Partnered against the powerful Vadim Muntagirov as the Nutcracker and Junor Souza as The Prince whose leaps were something to behold.

The Waltz of the Flowers was one of my favourite parts of this act, but the best part of the entire show was the final Pas de Deux, which was majestic.

The enthusiastic applause at the end showed that we’d all had a good time and enjoyed this seasonal nostalgic trip. The Nutcracker is a true Christmas classic, and Eagling’s telling of this tale makes for a masterly version.

STARS : * * * *

Looking back at 2011

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For me 2011, has certainly been my busiest year theatrically. As I sit here with my Xmas Turkish Delight and box of choccy’s, what were my highlights?

  • Finally getting to see Robert Lepage was certainly a memorable occasion. His play The Blue Dragon I referred to as “Theatrical perfection”.

    Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

  • I saw my first Burlesque  show, which was certainly an eye opener!

    Mistress of Ceremonies

  • London Road at the National Theatre is certainly one of the highlights for me. An amazing piece of theatre.
  • The best new play of this year I think was The Acid Test by Anya Reiss.

Best new play of 2011

  • The best acting I saw this year was in The Seagull at the Arcola, especially Yolanda Kettle as Nina, who gets my “Best Actress Award”. Best Actor goes to Joseph Milson as Ben Stark in Rocket to the Moon at the National.

    Yolanda Kettle, best actress I saw in 2011, in The Seagull at the Arcola.

Joseph Milson, best actor I saw in 2011, in Rocket to the Moon

  • Crazy for You, was definitely the best musical I saw this year.

    The best legs in London!

  • Manon at the Royal Opera House, wins “best ballet” award.

    Manon left me speechless.

  • Best entertainment award would go to Strictly Gershwin. (so good I saw it twice and my wife saw it three times!)

    Dancing from the beautiful Rhapsody in Blue

  • Best theatre book of the year, without a doubt the publication of Volume 2 Samuel Beckett’s letters from 1941 – 1956, I’m still ploughing my way through them, but they’re one of the most rewarding things I’ve read in a long time.

So all in all a very good year theatrically for me.  Thanks to all my readers and I wish you all a very prosperous 2012.

Mad about Manon – Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – Review

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The Royal Opera House - Stunning Inside and Out

Last night I had a theatrical experience that could almost be described as transcendental. The Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House Orchestra whisked me away into two hours of bliss with their production of Manon. I had never heard or seen this ballet before. Massenet’s score is moving, melodic and exquisite. I bought a copy immediately after the production and have had it on my ipod constantly these last 24 hrs.

As the score and dancers soar you are taken on this tragic journey or life, death, love and lust. I was literally speechless at the end and had to wipe away the tears from my eyes, it was just beautiful. I can’t really describe why it affected me so profoundly, but it did.

Lauren Cuthbertson was Manon and amazed me with her dancing. This ballet requires her to make her body do things that just look impossible. She was elegant, saucy, troubled and majestic. Bravo! Sergie Polunin as her lover Des Grieux was a perfect partner to Manon, he danced with vigor, poise and power. His final dance with Manon was so touching.

Martin Yates conducted the orchestra and as I said this is a beautiful score, from its opening tender bars to the fun and frolics of Act 2 to the tragedy of Act 3, the sumptuous sounds filled the Royal Opera House. you just can’t beat hearing a live orchestra.

I’ve had a great year theatrically, but I think when I look back at 2011, in the near and distant future, this will be one of my most precious theatrical memories. As and when it’s back on at the ROH, I shall make it top of my list to see, hear and delight in once more. For now the music and memories will take me to that magical place I was at last night.

 

STARS : * * * * *