Thursday, February 23, 2017
The Empire Theatre in Hong Kong, where Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears did a gig on 3rd February 1956. The programme included songs by Dowland, Purcell, Schubert, and Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, plus Britten's folk song arrangements. On the 6th, the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Alexander Grantham, invited Britten and his party to,lunch at Government House. In the afternoon, Britten and Pears visited the studios of Radio Hong Kong, where they were inteviewed and gave a short recital,which was recorded, and is available below. On the 7th February, they gave another recital featuring Schumann Dichterliebe "in the private house of a curious man" as Britten wrote the following day to a friend. Britten's friend and travel companion, Prince Ludwig of Hesse, wrote about the concert "at the unpleasant finance manager's home. The clever and really very nice governor and his petite wife were also there. One cannot get rid of the feeling that the sinister nabob had harnessed famous English artists and foreign royalty in order to lure the important governor into his den" Somewhat bitchy, perhaps ? Grantham was not a particularly pleasant man, but the visitors weren't in a position to judge the local situation. There's no indication who the"finance manager" was, whether he was a government official, a businessman ir even British. That might be relevant. Since Britten and his party spent much of their time in Hong Kong in the company of the governor, it's possible that they would have been influenced by his views. Colonial society was a cliquey place. The Empire Theatre, built in 1952, was built to state of the art standards, with huge steel buttresses, (see pic above) and decorated in Shanghai art deco style. The owner was Harry OIdell, the local impressario, who had himself come from Shanghai. In 1957, the Empire was closed and re-opened as the State Theatre which became a Hong Kong landmark. Recently, it was shortlisted fo a heritage site for preservation.
Duncan McTier, 62, pleaded guilty in 2014 to indecent assault on young women from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and Purcell school in Hertfordshire. He was given a three-month suspended sentence and 240 hours of community work. Now the high court in London has ordered the education secretary to review a ‘draconian ‘ ban on McTier resuming his teaching career.
Deshayes/Academia Montis Regalis/De Marchi (Sony)Sonya Yoncheva’s increasingly starry trajectory has her heading towards more fulsome-voiced heroines but Handel is not unknown territory for the Bulgarian soprano, who started off in the baroque hothouse Les Arts Florissants. Her expansive, red-blooded approach to these arias and duets – 10 by Handel, one by Purcell – won’t suit all tastes, but her singing is genuinely distinctive, thoughtful and never less than convincing. The selection leans towards weighty laments – Agrippina’s Pensieri is a highlight – but in lighter numbers, including Alcina’s Tornami a vagheggiar, she sounds as fresh and agile as one could want. The Academia Montis Regalis offer vigour if not always the last word in poise or refinement; Lascia ch’io pianga could be the soundtrack to a state procession. Karine Deshayes’s fruity mezzo-soprano is well matched with Yoncheva in duets from Rodelinda and Theodora. The latter, like Dido’s Lament, is in English – but best to listen without thinking too hard about that. Continue reading...
In the midst of Deutsche Opera rehearsals of his opera DIDO, a companion piece to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, the composer Michael Hirsch died suddenly on Monday night. He was 58. Born in Munich, Hirsch moved to Berlin in 1981, writing several operas for the German circuit. He was also a stage performer, a member of the Freyer-Ensemble. DIDO is still scheduled to open tomorrow.
The roof at the Britten Studio, Snape The 2017 Aldeburgh Music Festival marks seventy years of the festival, and 50 years at the Maltings. How time flies. Roger Wright has been Executive Director since September 2015, and management has gone from strength to strength This year, there's no Artistic Director as such, though there's a team for Artistic Planning. Snape is now a thriving centre with grand plans. This year's keynote opera is Britten's A Midsummers Night's Dream, keynote of the first season at Snape, which premiered at Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall in 1960. The staging will be directed and designed by Netia Jones, so look forward to an imaginative presentation. Her staging of Oliver Knussen's Sendak operas, Where the Wild Things Are and Higgelty Piggelty Pop! were brilliant - read more about them HERE. A Midsummer Night's Dream is magical, ideally suited to transformation by lighting effects and video illusion. This could well be the best Aldeburgh opera staging in years. Soloists include Iestyn Davies, Sophie Bevan, and Matthew Rose. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts. Tickets will disappear fast - Friends booking starts today, public booking 7th February. Don't wait. On 22 June, there's a screening of the Hollywood film version with music by Erich Korngold, of which please read more HERE. La Voix Humaine (15th to 17th June), Poulenc's setting of Cocteau's monodrama, a tour de force for solo soprano, here performed by Claire Booth. Intriguingly, this will take place "in a private house near Snape", a suitably atmospheric setting, in a semi staging by David Pountney. Another must ! Again, please read more HERE. Britten's "Vaudeville" The Golden Vanity, a morality tale about an outsider at sea gets a rare outing on 17/6, heard with Britten's The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard and other new shorts, performed by Camblata, young adult male voices of the National Youth Choir. Countertenors and Benjamin Britten, who brought the voice type back into prominence. Andrew Watts features at this year's Festival, with Olga Neuwirth's Maudite soit la guerre, A Film Music War Requiem, (UK premiere) with other Neuwirth pieces with the London Sinfonietta on 10/6 followed by Hommage à Klaus Nommi, a "song cycle like no other – an anarchic, neon-lit encounter between Purcell, Weimar cabaret, bubblegum pop and The Wizard of Oz" and "A Countertenor Song Book" on 12/6 featuring works by Bach, Handel, Olga Neuwirth, Colin Matthews, Tippett, Torsten Rauch and Raymond Yiu. More Neuwirth throughout this years Festival, enjoy. . The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra visits Aldeburgh again, this time with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in two conerts on 17th and 18th June - Beethoven 3, Stravinsky Petroushka, Tchaikovsky, Britten and Jorg Widmann. The man himself is playing clarinet (Mozart) with the Belcea Quartet on 10/6. Oliver Knussen's O Hotortogisu receives its world premiere on 29/c with nthe Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, hopefully with Knussen himself at the baton, together with another new work by Harrison Birtwistle, Chorales from a Toy Shop, and pieces by Stravinsky and Jo Kondo. Plenty of choral music this year, with Vox Luminis, EXAUDI and others, including a programme with music by Nishrat Khan. The highlight could well be Vox Luminis Purcell King Arthur on 22/6. As always, lots of baroque and early music, Lieder and piano music - Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Piotr Andrewski, Huw Watkins and others. The closing concert will be Britten Billy Bidd, from Opera North, with Roderick Williams, Alan Oke and Brindley Sherratt. Quicklink to the programme booklet HERE.
Iestyn Davies as the Boy and Barbara Hannigan as Agnès in Written on Skin, The Royal Opera © 2017 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey From Baroque opera to contemporary works, countertenors are familiar figures on today’s opera stages. But in fact they’re relatively recent arrivals, who have been treading the operatic boards for under a century. How did they ascend to stardom so quickly? Let’s go back to the beginning. Countertenors did figure in the occasional 17th-century stage work, including Henry Purcell ’s masque The Fairy-Queen – and in fact Purcell himself was a countertenor. The 18th-century craze for castratos largely kept countertenors away from opera, though they were occasionally used as castrato substitutes, and George Frideric Handel wrote several key oratorio roles for countertenor, most famously David in Saul . But by the 1800s countertenors were limited to singing alto in cathedral choirs, with no solo prospects. So things remained until the 1940s, when Michael Tippett encouraged the talented countertenor Alfred Deller to develop a solo career. Deller’s voice so impressed Benjamin Britten that in 1960 they made history with Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream , the first operatic countertenor role. During the early music revival of the 1970s countertenors attracted further attention as they began to take on Handel opera roles originally written for alto castrato, such as Giulio Cesare . And it wasn’t long before other composers followed Britten’s lead, keen to explore this new voice type’s dramatic potential. Britten realized that the countertenor’s luminous sound was ideal for portraying magical characters and gods: first Oberon and later the Voice of Apollo in Death in Venice . Harrison Birtwistle followed suit two decades on with Orpheus in The Second Mrs Kong , whose head continues to sing hauntingly after his murder. In Tobias and the Angel Jonathan Dove used the ethereal sound of the countertenor to convey the Angel’s divinity, while Philip Glass chose the countertenor to embody the semi-divine Egyptian Pharoah Akhnaten . But not all supernatural roles for this voice type are angelic: amoral Fate in Judith Weir ’s Miss Fortune is made all the more sinister through his high, near-disembodied sounds. On an earthier note, composers have used the countertenor’s otherworldly vocal quality to portray a variety of animals. For Julian Philips and Will Todd , who composed the countertenor roles of Jalal the Paw (Varjak Paw ) and the sardonic Cheshire Cat (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ) respectively, this vocal type has feline qualities. Dove takes a vulpine perspective with the suavely villainous Fox in The Adventures of Pinocchio . Unsuk Chin clearly associates the high male voice with leporids, writing both the White Rabbit and the March Hare (Alice in Wonderland ) for countertenor. And David Bruce gave the countertenor a regal grandeur with Hamlet the Elephant (The Firework-Maker’s Daughter ) with his flamboyant trumpeting and romantic vocalises. From Deller onwards, countertenors have been unfairly mocked for sounding ‘unmanly’, and composers have on occasion exploited this to hilarious effect. Prince Go-Go’s spoilt tantrums in György Ligeti ’s Le Grand Macabre are all the more amusing for their high pitch, as is Trinculo’s drunken carousing in Thomas Adès ’s The Tempest , and Francisco’s ode to coffee spoons in Adès’s The Exterminating Angel (though these last two characters can be as disturbing as they are comic). Composers have also strikingly exploited the sexual ‘ambiguity’ of the countertenor voice. Peter Eötvös ’s Chekhovian Three Sisters , inspired by all-male Japanese theatre, has three countertenors in the title roles, while Birtwistle illustrates the strangeness of his Snake Priestess (The Minotaur ) through her high but clearly male voice. Among these angels, devils, fools and women, countertenors occasionally also get to play heroes, such as the sympathetic Edgar in Aribert Reimann ’s Lear , or Dove’s Christ-like Refugee in Flight . George Benjamin ’s Boy in Written on Skin is one of the most attractive of these. His pure, high voice presents him as an innocent – in stark contrast to the Protector’s angst-ridden baritone. But he is also wise and gifted beyond his years – and sensual, his voice entwining beautifully with Agnès’s. Benjamin too gives this character a touch of the otherworldly, using the countertenor’s ethereal tones to highlight the Boy’s transformation into the Angel whose words end the opera. It’s a wonderful role, and a fitting tribute to one of contemporary opera’s essential vocal ingredients. Written on Skin runs 13–30 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-commission and co-production with Festival d'Aix-en-Provence , Dutch National Opera and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse and is given with generous philanthropic support from Stefan Sten Olsson and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund . The Exterminating Angel runs 24 April–8 May 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-commission and co-production with Salzburg Festival , the Metropolitan Opera, New York , and the Royal Danish Opera and is given with generous philanthropic support from Stefan Sten Olsson, The John S Cohen Foundation and The Boltini Trust.
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