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 : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

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!



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: ★ ★ ★ ★

Gandini Juggling – Smashed – Royal Opera House Linbury Studio – Review

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9 clever jugglers - no idea how many apples were used, I lost count!

9 clever jugglers – no idea how many apples were used, I lost count!

What a great start to my theatrical year, in this sublime, witty, skillful and above all fun show Smashed.

The show sees the 9 jugglers perform highly choreographed routines to various pieces of music. Some are strikingly beautiful, others emotive, and some just riotous fun.  One of the routines, saw one of the group with a rolled up newspaper hellbent on disrupting the rest of the group who were juggling 5/6 apples each. His techniques and ruses became more and more elaborate  – he succeeded in his objective to stop everyone, juggling, but I was amazed how long they kept going – not sure I could juggle three apples, let alone 5 or 6 whilst being “thwacked” over the head repeatedly!

Smashed pic2

This was part of the London International Mime Festival, and was the only show of it I could get to this year unfortunately, but I’ll be back next year, as the performers they get, always expand my theatrical experience and expectations, one word for me sums up this show – joyous.

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)

Five Fave Featres

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A few critics/bloggers have been writing about their favourite theatres and so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and list mine. I’ll limit myself to 5 though.

This is an extremely subjective list, based not just on the building but the memories of productions I’ve seen in them too.

In at number one without a shadow of a doubt is The Royal Opera House Covent Garden. My first visit there was last year. It is such a magnificent building that has all the grandeur and impressiveness you expect.

Impressive outside

Resplendent inside too

It just oozes atmosphere and spectacle. I love the way the lights are beamed out of the central rose in the ceiling which closes up when the production is not on. I’ve seen several amazing productions here, most memorable were Manon and La Traviataboth last year. The Royal Opera House Orchestra are the best in the world in my opinion and so any visit to hear them play is worth it. I recommend everyone goes the ROH at least once, it’s a whole experience. I love it.

2) The National Theatre

I know it was described as looking like a nuclear power station by Prince Charles. What goes on inside this venue though is what counts.

The beauty lies underneath

I first visited this theatre back when I was in junior school, on a school trip to see Sylvester McCoy as the title role in The Pied Piper. Since then I’ve been back many times, seeing Wind in the Willows in the 90’s, I saw Every Good Boy Deserves Favour a few years ago and that re-ignited my regular attendance there. Other recent memorable visits include, London Road  and The Cherry Orchard.

One of the best things about The National Theatre is its food and drink options, I especially love the Terrace Bar. It also houses my favourite bookshop of all time. If you have an interest in theatre make the effort to visit their bookshop, I can often be found perusing its shelves.

3) The Miller Centre Theatre – Caterham

Know this place like the back of my hand.

Again not the prettiest from the outside but inside it’s a gem of a theatre. For an amateur theatre it is kitted out better than some professional theatres. I know I’m biased as I’m part of the production committee. This theatre is special to me. I’ve learnt much by being involved in its running and was there just this morning picking up some scripts for our 2013/14 season. I’ve met some wonderful people here, many who I count as close and special friends. I’ve also witnessed some extremely funny things happen here, both onstage and backstage – but best to keep those to myself 🙂

4) Theatre Royal Bath

There are many reasons to visit Bath, but the Theatre Royal is one reason I repeatedly go back there.

This theatre and its studio theatre The Ustinov and children’s theatre The Egg I went to regularly when I lived in the area. It puts on a varied and diverse range of theatre. I owe a large amount to this theatre as I developed my passion and appreciation of theatre seeing productions here. I especially liked being able to see plays preview here before going to the West End at half the West End ticket price! Hedda Gabler was the last production I saw in the main house. I must book a trip down to Bath soon!

5) The Abbey Theatre – Dublin

I was fortunate enough to visit Dublin last year and this theatre was a highlight of my time there seeing Translations. A vibrant, modern theatre that was buzzing the night I visited. Again I look forward to when I can next see something there.

Great City, Great Theatre

So that’s my top five, plenty almost made it into it, and perhaps if I do the list in a few years time, they’ll make their way into the top five. For now though that’s it.

“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 : * * * *