Il Barbiere Di Siviglia – Royal Opera House – Review

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barber cast

It felt strange this week to be at the Opera House and laughing heartily, I’m so used to seeing tragedies and weepies there that is was a new experience to see a comedic opera finally.

The Barber of Seville is Rossini’s most well-known opera and I was pleased Director of Opera, Kasper Holten mentioned it was to be part of this season at the ROH preview earlier this year.

The packed house was warmed up by the masterful Mark Elder wielding his baton, conducting the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they’re the greatest orchestra in the world in my opinion. I loved the fact that Mark Elder gave the opening overture a subtle and understated treatment, it teased and tantalised us rather than hitting us a with a wham.

As the curtains swung up we were greeted to a stylish set designed by Christian Fenouillat that was used to full effect throughout. Including a scene where its hydraulics moved it to dizzying effect. It was aided by Christophe Forey’s clever lighting design that took us through the different times artfully throughout the opera.

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva – ROH photo by Tristram Kenton.

Michele Angelini makes his ROH debut as the love struck Count Almaviva, his gorgeous voice and lyricism filling the Opera House. Lucas Meachem is the eponymous Barber and relishes his entrance aria of ” Largo Al Factotum”, he made his entrance via the audience in the stalls, which was great fun and added to the comedy of this aria.

"FIGARO!"  Lucas Meachem as the excellent Barber of Seville - ROH Photo by Tristram Kenton

“FIGARO!” Lucas Meachem as the excellent Barber of Seville – ROH Photo by Tristram Kenton

Making her ROH debut as well was Serena Malfi as Rosina. She likewise brought stunning vocals that swelled and filled the ROH. She had a feistyness to her Rosina that was pleasing to see, her scene of throwing darts into the set during her aria in Act 1 was particularly comical.

Serena Malfi - an outstanding ROH debut as Rosina. ROH photo by Tristram Kenton

Serena Malfi – an outstanding ROH debut as Rosina. ROH photo by Tristram Kenton

I went to this opera expecting a fun night out and it certainly was;  a famous score, treated impressively by a great cast made for a laugh out loud night at the opera.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Porgy and Bess – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Review

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I used to live near Regent’s Park but until last week had never made the trip to see a production at the Open Air Theatre. Shame on me!

Thankfully the weather in the UK is gorgeous at the moment and so my wife and I spent a pleasant evening enjoying it at the Open Air Theatre. The hot and sticky weather added an extra realism to the setting of the play in South Carolina.

Seeing songs that are now famous such as Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So in their original and rightful context was enlightening to see. The programme notes that this is the largest orchestra and company they’ve ever had at the Regent’s Park Theatre. Unfortunately having the orchestra behind the set, means the stage is pretty small.

The production is cleverly choreographed to use the space available. I was struck by how tragic and sad a story this is. No happy and jolly story is this. The sadness, despair and abject poverty of the characters touched me.

I really felt for Bess – a woman trapped and manipulated by the men around her. Until she meets Porgy, his genuine love breaks through to her, but in the end she breaks him. Undeterred he heroically seeks after her.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess was perfectly paired with Rufus Bond Jr as Porgy. Their performances were emotive and caused a lump to appear in my throat a few times.

The story is wider than just Porgy and Bess though and the other characters are woven into their lives. It’s a raw piece of theatre. The soaring melodies of Gershwin communicate the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters without any veneer.

It’s a great way to spend a summer’s evening.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

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!



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!

La Rondine – Royal Opera House

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All this requires is a one word review ; Glorious.

A fabulous evening started with dinner at the Royal Opera House’s Paul Hamlyn Balconies Restaurant. Superb service and delicious food.



Then into the spectacular theatre that is the Royal Opera House, for this charming and beautiful opera. Set in the 1920’s, there is something so stylish and glamorous about that period. I genuinely think I was born in the wrong era sometimes. As the curtains parted for Act 3, the audience literally gasped at the stunning set.


Puccini’s score is a delight and Ermonela Jaho as Magda was a performance I was so glad to have witnessed. The hairs on the back of my neck literally stood up when she sang on occasions. A breathtaking performance.

The closing moments were so moving as the etheral Magda left Ruggero. It’s an understated opera with an undercurrent of powerful romance and that makes it all the more special.

As I said at the beginning, one word describes this night at the theatre for me; Glorious. 

STARS: ★ ★ ★ ★

Pirates of Penzance – Scottish Opera and D’Oyly Carte Company – Bristol Hippodrome – Review

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Pirates of Penzance

Saturday afternoon at the Bristol Hippodrome was a gleeful affair. The multi age audience (complete with several youngsters dressed as pirates) was ready to enter the absurd world that is a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. The Bristol Hippodrome is a wonderful theatre, a perfect setting for this show.


The D’Oyly Carte company has had a turbulent time these past few years but thanks to a canny ex KPMG partner noticing they paid too much VAT (into the 6 figures too!!) they’re back.

This was a stylish production that had me beaming like a Cheshire cat throughout and laughing heartily too. The opening of Act 2, Police Sergeant and infamous “Modern Major General” song were great.

What is often overlooked due to the humour is the beautiful score in this opera. The wonderful Scottish Opera Orchestra and cast gave outstanding performances.

Rebecca Bottone as Mabel, must get special mention. What a staggering performance, a beautiful voice and wonderful characterisation. The perfect partner for Sam Furness’s Frederic, who likewise gave a dazzling performance.

A great set and costumes gave the production a natural cohesiveness. And the designer Jamie Vartan clearly understood the humour as the set (yes, the set!) got some of biggest laughs. The opening of the show during the overture was genius.

Pirates the ladies

It was an absolute treat. I’m glad to see this partnership between D’Oyly Carte and Scottish Opera has gotten off to a swashbuckling start.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

La Boheme – Royal Opera House – Review

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ROH La Boheme

I’ve had tickets booked for this since July. I’d chosen this wintry opera as my festive theatrical viewing this year.  It’s a score that I’m familiar with in parts but I’ve never seen it all the way through.

Opera is often a spectacular form of theatre, lavish sets, huge casts makes for a larger than life experience, however La Boheme is a much more intimate opera, and for me that was its real strength, it draws you into the lives of its protagonists Rodolfo and Mimi without any superfluous scenes or characters. This is why I think it is so effective emotionally as a piece too. There was not a dry eye in the house at the end, one person near us was actually sobbing at the end they were so moved.

Puccini’s score melodiously moves us along, and feels very much a complete score, some opera’s can feel quite disjointed musically, La Boheme, just flows through the entire length of the opera.

I was genuinely excited to see Mark Elder conducting the Royal Opera House Orchestra, as I ‘ve said before they are my favourite orchestra. Mark Elder in the recent  TV show Maestro used the Act II scene from La Boheme as one of the challenges for the celebrity conductors. It really is an amazing piece of opera with a huge amount of action happening on stage, Mark Elder at the baton, kept what could become a chaotic scene in harmonious order.

The multitasking Act II

The multitasking Act II

Rolando Villazon as Rodolfo was the highlight for me, I’m getting to the position now where I’ve seen enough opera to be able to compare and contrast productions and performers. Rolando Villazon’s performance is one of the best I’ve seen, what a voice. Puccini’s score gives him a chance to really show us the depth of feeling and power his voice has, an amazing performance, I’ll definitely make sure I see him in a future production at the Royal Opera House.

Rolando Villazon and Maija Kovalevska as Rodolfo and Mimi.

Rolando Villazon and Maija Kovalevska as Rodolfo and Mimi.

Maija Kovalevska as Mimi, moved us, her beautiful voice touched us all. As I said, people were in tears at the end and that is due to the fact she connected with us all. The chemistry between her and Rodolfo was just right.

Audun Iversen and Stefania Dovhan as tempestuous couple Marcello and Musetta, gave a great foil to Mimi and Rodolfo, comedic when needed and fiery, flirtatious lovers the rest of the time. Musetta’s seduction scene in Act II was great fun.

Stefania Dovhan as Musetta and Audun Iversen as Marcello

Stefania Dovhan as Musetta and Audun Iversen as Marcello

Act III’s wintry snow scene was a special moment for me,  but the final Act as I said moved me in a way few pieces of theatre have.

This has been one of the theatrical highs for 2012 for me, Puccini’s score is stunning, but I found it refreshing to be at an opera which spoke to the heart, engaged with our emotions and was about the characters on stage. Director John Copley is to be congratulated for chosing to focus on the heart of the piece and allowing us to be drawn into this tragically moving piece of theatre.

STARS : * * * * (and a half)

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 : * * * *

Backstage at the Barbican

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The Barbican, in The City of London, serves as a reminder of how it wasn’t just the Soviets that built concrete monstrosities during the Cold War. Each time I revisit it though I grow a bit fonder of it. However what happens inside is more important and it is a major location artistically in the Capital.

An added bonus is all the Jame Bond memorabilia that is inside at the moment, due to the Designing 007, Fifty Years of Bond Style exhibition that is taking place there at the moment. I’ll certainly try to head back to catch that (it’s on until 5th Sept) and partake of a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred in the Martini Bar there too.

Knew I’d left my car somewhere, glad Mi6 have their top man looking after it for me.

Last night however I got to go behind the scenes of the Barbican theatre, seeing the props and set and then I sat back and saw the cast rehearse Opera North’s production of Carousel ahead of it opening next week on the 15th August. The cast involves children and so this adds the complication of having two sets of children (as there are limits as to how long children can work), so everything has to be rehearsed at least twice with each set of the children. I love seeing all the elements and people who make a show come together, so it was terrific to see the vast number involved in this piece beavering away.

Opera North’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel
Gillene Herbert as Julie Jordan (right)
Conductor James Holmes, Director Jo Davies, Set and Costume Designer Anthony Ward, Lighting Designer Bruno Poet, Choreographer Kay Shepherd, Choreographer (ballet) Kim Brandstrup, Video Designer Andrzej Goulding.
Photo credit: Alastair Muir

This production of Carousel has received rave reviews and I was given a great taste of the opening of Act 2 last night. I know a few of the songs of Carousel but I’ve never actually seen it either at the theatre or its film incarnation. So I’m genuinely excited about finally getting to see this classic and on deciding whether I feel it deserves that moniker.

I also got to meet Joe Shovelton who plays Enoch and Tim Burke who is the chorus master. They clearly have a passion for this production and were pleased to be brining it to the capital. It will be interesting to see how it is received by the Barbican audiences.

My review will be published after seeing the full show next week.

“Wine and Women are the Glory of the World” – Don Giovanni – Royal Opera House – Review

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My opera education continued this weekend with a visit to see Don Giovanni. The tickets were bought as a present for my wife at xmas, she asked if I knew what Don Giovanni was about, “no” I sheepishly replied. A wry smile appeared on her lips and she explained. I’m glad I’d not got them as a Valentines present!

We follow Don Giovanni during a 24 hour period as he seduces his way through several women (adding to his considerable lists which he keeps in numerous notebooks, over 1000 sexual conquests in Spain alone!). One of the women happens to be a bride on her wedding day, the bridegroom is not too happy about this as you can imagine. As he wriggles his way out of the mess he’s got himself in he get his just deserts and is taken down into hades.

The score contains many beautiful moments, especially the arias that Donna Anna, Don Ottavio and Donna Elvira sing. These were played by Carmela Remigo, Pavol Breslik and Ruxandra Donose. Their voices were amazing and their characterisation very strong as they sought out the cad of Don Giovanni. The set for this production was sparse (perhaps a little too sparse for the cavernous ROH stage), which heightened our focus on to the characters and their acting and singing. They were brilliant and we were drawn in to their struggles and passions which is no mean feat in the vast Royal Opera House. Their gorgeous velvet costumes in black, blue and purple I especially liked as it accentuated these characters.

Erwin Schrott was a ravishing, rampant and powerful Don Giovanni, even trying to chat up an audience member at one point of the opera, which was a nice touch. Somehow Erwin Schrott manages to make us like Don Giovanni, he is a total anti-hero, but you can’t help but like him.

This show however is one of those where the comic role can actually “steal the show”, and Alex Esposito as the witty sidekick Leporello, did just that. his comic timing was impeccable, his physical humour perfect and what an lovely voice too.

The star of the show for me - Leporello

The finale of Don Giovanni being taken to the furnaces of Hades was a dramatic ending, we could feel the heat of the flames up in the amphitheatre, they must have roasted on stage.

The fine Royal Opera House Orchestra conducted by Constantionos Carydis carried us along this journey with their perfect playing, they are fast becoming my favourite orchestra.

So another great trip to the Royal Opera House, my knowledge is expanding and I can’t wait for my next visit.

STARS : * * * *