The Table Mountain 6:15 pm Tuesday July 16 from downtown Cape Town
I am now in South Africa for what I fully expect to be a fruitful series of auditions. In recent years we have found some outstanding talent here, as have other prospectors for vocal gold. I already had a most encouraging evening on Tuesday at Artscape and today, Thursday, I am set for further riches in Baxter Hall at the University of Cape Town.
It is winter still here and the advantage of that is that there are few tourists. And so a visit yesterday to the Groot Constantia vineyard and winery was a peaceful pleasure, as was a magnificent lunch in the Jonkershuis Restaurant.
It was good to wind down from the long journey from London. This time I flew via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines - but I was unprepared for the nightmare of connecting at Istanbul's colossal new airport. I had a 40 minute walk from the F gates to the gate A10.........look at the photo below and imagine the walk from the top distant right to the bottom left. There were some very unhappy confused people.
I will have to pass through there on Saturday night on my way home. I have two hours to make my connection - I will need every minute!
But for now I am concentrating on my auditions today and looking forward to getting to Pretoria this evening, my first visit to South Africa's capital since 1999. It is a short 90 minute flight to Johannesburg and an easy transfer from there. And it will be nice and warm!
Amanda Majeski as Kát'a Kabanová at the Royal Opera House February 2019
Janáček's Kát'a Kabanová has been a very special piece for me over the years, with productions in Wexford in 1972, in Glyndebourne in 1988, and in Toronto in 1994. I would dearly loved to have brought it to Chicago Opera Theater while I was there since it would have been perfect in the Harris Theater. But that would always have been a difficult one with Chicago Lyric having the leasehold on Janáček! But had we done so, then it is very possible that the Royal Opera's Kat'a Amanda Majeski would have sung the title role. When she returned to Chicago in 2009 from her spell at Curtis she was our Vitellia in Tito, and then went on for a hugely successful spell in the Lyric's Ryan Center. I had heard her first as a twenty year old while she was an undergraduate at Northwestern, so for me she was a marked woman!
Well at last the dream was realised at Covent Garden on Thursday evening with Amanda remarkable in the title role, with a superb cast in a new production by Richard Jones at his finest, and superbly conducted by the unstoppable Edward Gardner. The concise concentrated score without a superfluous note has a crushing emotional impact. The last scene with Kát'a and the remarkable Boris of Pavel Černok is devastating.........and they are accompanied by a scary Kabanicha from Susan Bickley, an enchanting Varvara from Emily Edmonds, and excellent contributions from the Tichon Andrew Staples, Andrew Tortise (Kudráš) Clive Bayley (Dikoy) and a notable new voice Dominic Sedgwick making the most of his brief appearance as Kuligin.
Beg for a ticket somehow for this remarkable evening - not to be missed. The Royal Opera at its very best.
A week of Fantasio - two performances, two casts. And what a pleasure it was to be at Garsington twice this week. I had been at a piano run of Fantasio last month, then the first stage and orchestra rehearsal. And I was at the understudy show case last week. But I had not seen the complete show until Monday. And last night I returned for the wonderful OperaFirst event - a full performance with all the trimmings with the understudy cast to a house full of unbelievably attentive and enthusiastic school age children from 8 to 18. Most heart warming. Above you see the understudy cast acknowledging wild cheers!
I arrived on Monday and parked near the cricket field looking its pristine manicured best. From there it is a very short walk to pick up tickets from the Box office but before that cream tea in the dining tent beside the cricket pavilion. I have never managed to get there early enough before to enjoy this quintessentially English ritual - the scones, the clotted cream and the raspberry jam! On a warm sunny afternoon it adds to the bliss of being in this beautiful place.
Fantasio is a rarity, but a perfect choice for a country house summer festival - and utterly charming it was in Martin Duncan's light hearted production. There were four exceptional central performances from Hanna Hipp in the title role, Jennifer France and Princess Elsbeth, Huw Montague Rendall as her suitor Prince from Mantova and Timothy Robinson as his long suffering sidekick Marinoni. Impeccable each of them, and supported by the usual exceptionally strong team of Garsington singers in chorus and smaller roles. And the light touch conducting of Justin Doyle completed the picture.
The smartly suited and booted audience enjoyed it hugely - another success for Garsington 2019.
But last night was an altogether more informal occasion and all the more fun for that. There was no long interval, just a 30 minute break with whatever picnic snacks and drinks one brought along. And the performance had a freshness which thrilled the young people in the audience and their enthusiasm infected us all. And truth to say the understudy cast and conductor yielded nothing to their senior principals, delivering a hugely enjoyable show which somehow for me gave me even more pleasure than Monday evening's!
In the title role, Bianca Andrew grasped the part with all her soul and was indeed remarkable. I was so proud of our Neue Stimmen alum! Fellow Kiwi Kieran Rayner took on the not insubstantial responsibility of understudying Huw Montague Rendall and, like Bianca, delivered a totally confident singing and acting performance. That a another distinguished New Zealander was in the audience was no doubt an additional bonus!
Furthermore the Princess and Marinoni, Catriona Hewitson and David Horton far exceeded all reasonable expectations. And Harry Sever took charge in the pit with calm authority......altogether a joyful evening.
And so our London summer goes on. This evening something completely different - Noye's Fludde at the Theatre Royal, Stratford.
I had slightly shortened week as a result of a stupid minor accident that landed me in hospital for two nights! I am just fine now so do not worry. But it ,meant that I missed the opening of Garsington's Turn of the Screw on Monday evening but returned to duty on Tuesday for a most enjoyable showcase of the season's understudies at the RADA studios on Tuesday.
The Garsington Alvarez Young Artists' Programme gives many of its members the opportunity to understudy main stage roles. And inevitably each season one or more of them my have the experience of standing in at the last minute. In recent seasons the Alice Ford and Pamina have distinguished themselves by stepping in, and this year the Jenik was indisposed for two performances and his understudy scored a huge success. One opera each year is given a performance with the understudy last - this year it will be Fantasio next Wednesday.
So this is serious stuff! And it was a huge pleasure to see the emerging talent on Tuesday evening delivering twenty minute excerpts from each of the four operas in the season's repertoire. With Seán Boylan in the title role Don Giovanni got the evening off to a flying start, we then changed gear to Britten with an impressive Prologue from Robert Forrest and an imposing Governess from Nardus Williams. I will write more about Fantasio after I see the full show on Wednesday - but it looks and sounds very good indeed for this OperaFirst performance.
The evening ended with the popular hit of the Garsington season, the Bartered Bride. Those of us not having been able to see an actual performance by the Jenik Oliver Johnston has to be satisfied with what was on offer - he is a formidable talent. Another excellent tenor Alexander Aldren was a splendid dead pan Vasek. In a world so short of tenors this quartet on display on Tuesday was indeed impressive!
Sophie Bevan(Governess), Leo Jemison (Miles), Ed Lyon (Peter Quint) in Garsington's Turn of the Screw
I got to the second performance of the Turn of the Screw on Thursday - so much has been written about this extraordinary evening in the press, with all those 5 star reviews, that I am not going to go on about it! The company is hugely proud of this production so meticulously prepared in every detail. A sample review can be seen here - but they all say very much the same thing!
Danielle de Niese in the title tole of Cendrillon at Glyndebourne
It was good to get down to Sussex again last night for Cendrillon, exceptionally well conducted and played by John Wilson and the LPO. And there was a splendid trio of ladies with the always enchanting Danielle de Niese, Kate Lindsey as her Prince Charming and a remarkable Fairy Godmother from the Armenian Nina Minasyan. She sure is something and well on the way to top career. This was impeccable!
I am punishing myself this evening by watching the livestream from Villach of the finals of the Belvedere competition. They have 15 finalists so I guess it will be just one aria each..........will be a long evening nevertheless! This competition has been going for 37 years. I was on the jury back in 1983 - the second year of the competition. This year they have 15 jurors - what a handful to wrangle!!
I'll give my verdict later - but it will have no effect!!
Bryn Terfel (Boris) and Matthew Rose (Pimen) at Covent Garden
After a really enjoyable week at the Aldeburgh Festival I returned to London for more epic treats! I do not think that you can do much better these days with Bryn Terfel, John Tomlinson and Matthew Rose in Boris Godunov. The cast at Covent Garden du jour in the 1970s was Boris Christoff, Joseph Rouleau and Michael Langdon - not shabby at all! And I was fortunate enough to have seen them in full cry. But this was something very special too, and despatched for good and all the notion that "the good old days" were better - well in this case anyway! So thank you Bryn, John Tom and Matthew for a very great evening. And also the splendid supporting players not least David Butt Philip, Roger Honeywell, Harry Nicoll, Fiona Kimm and the wonderful Boris Pinkhasovich whose Shchelkalov was as good as it gets. And well done to the magical treble Fyodor, Joshua Abrams - no more mezzos needed for this!
The ROH's superb chorus completed the vocal package, and conductor Marc Albrecht propelled Richard Jones's simple effective and compact two hours or so production with unerring judgement. Thank you Covent Garden for a great evening!
And yesterday I went, somewhat on the spur of the moment, to a hugely enjoyable evening at the Barbican where Simon Rattle and the LSO produced one of the pieces which is of immense importance in the Simon Rattle story, Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen. Simon joined the music staff at Glyndebourne in 1975 t the age of 20 and one of his first assignments was working as Raymond Leppard's assistant on the new production of the first Janacek to be produced at Glyndebourne, the Vixen. He had already fallen for the piece when working on it with Steuart Bedford as a student at the Royal Academy of Music. And this sealed the deal for him!
In 1977, at the age of 22 Simon with Vixen became the youngest conductor to take charge of a Festival production at Glyndebourne. And the rest is a little history as Simon went on to conduct so much for tour and festival in ensuing years. Now as the hugely eminent and distinguished conductor of the LSO, after his years in charge of the Berlin Philharmonic, it would be nice to think that he might return home to Glyndebourne.......out of my hands now!!
Yesterday evening was also special for me with Gerald Finley, a Glyndebourne chorister in the 1980s, wonderfully warm and sympathetic as the Forester, and Sophia Burgos, one of our 16 year old kids from After School Matters in Chicago 12 years ago, as the Fox. What a great journey Sophia has made in no small part due to her participation in our education and outreach programme with COT.
And Peter Sellars, who directed this effective semi staging of the Vixen, is also a child of Glyndebourne - so what a lovely reunion! One final point - Trevor Nunn showed up - the Porgy and Bess team reunited! So all round a special evening for sentimental old people like me!!
Now for a weekend off with family - and the opening of Garsington's Turn of the Screw on Monday.
Five days in East Anglia with the Aldeburgh Festival and so many other delights is an annual pleasure these days. I had always struggled to get here during my years in Canada and the US but now there is no excuse! So I will make up for lost time. The Festival is in the immensely creative hands of Roger Wright and his exceptional team. And they can do things that only a festival can contemplate.
A perfect example of exactly that was the fascinating recreation of Schubert's legendary program of March 26 1828, the year of his death. With Mark Padmore, Roderick Williams, and a delightful mezzo soprano Fleur Barron, as well as horn player Richard Watkins, the Trio Isimsiz, the Diotima string quartet, and the Chamber Choir of London on hand doing other things in the festival, this delicious program brought a packed house to the Maltings on Monday evening.
View from the Maltings - concert interval Monday 17th June 2019
Mark Padmore is one of the artists in residence during this second week of the festival packing in Masterclasses on Britten song with the young artists as well as curating themed poetry and music events. One of these was Britten's Songs and Proverbs of William Blake sung, with his customary sensibility and insight, by Roderick Williams with pianist Andrew West - again a full house on Tuesday afternoon in the Britten studio.
On Wednesday I took a day off, away from the festival programme, to enjoy some other delights of Orford and its surroundings. The sea is always present and this week it has been in a benign mood, providing perfect relaxation after my last five weeks of over exertion around Europe!
But we were back in action again on Thursday beginning with a delightful breakfast party with dear Humphrey Burton who lives a frenetic social life up here in Aldeburgh, gathering around him so many friends and colleagues from his decades in our world of music. Then to a lunch with an old friend at the Butley Oysterage in Orford before an excellent quartet concert by the Ardeo Quartet in Orford Church. Beginning with a short piece by Toru Takemitsu we were then treated to K 464 - one of Mozart's quartets dedicated to Haydn. Thomas Larcher's mightily impressive and hugely enjoyable IXXU followed. Larcher has been a presence throughout the festival - a considerable composer in residence in the finest traditions of this wonderful festival. His new opera, The Hunting Gun, alas I missed - it was a centre piece of the opening week of the festival. But it was a pleasure to hear this fine quartet delivering such a persuasive performance of IXXU. They ended their recital with Beethoven's last quartet, Op 135. A fine afternoon of music making......
Thursday evening was a huge event - The Rakes Progress conducted by the multi skilled and uniquely gifted Barbara Hannigan. Her Equilibrium Young Artists project provided the core cast for this performance, and the inspiration provided by Barbara Hannigan during the whole process drew some remarkable performances from these young people. Monday evening's mezzo, Fleur Barron was a Baba who could hold the stage at the highest level and Elgan Llŷr Thomas and the extraordinary Aphrodite Patoulidou were fired into wholly convincing performances, and very well sung too. The passion and commitment of Hannigan is an only too rare thing it seems........these lucky young people, and lucky us to have enjoyed the fruits of some extremely hard work.
And last night more Hannigan! She conducted a passionate performance of Verklärte Nacht by the Ludwig Orchestra, then after the interval sang Gérard Grisey's Quatre chants pour franchise le seuil. I am left speechless!! And this amazing evening was bookended by performances of two of JSB's cello suites by Alisa Weilerstein. It really can not get better than this - and only at Aldeburgh.
I am back in London this afternoon, have a trip to see family in Somerset tomorrow and overnight, then back in London until I leave for Cape Town on July 15. Lots of good stuff coming up including performances at Glyndebourne, Garsington and Covent Garden......summers are really busy - no let up!
It was a particular treat to have our auditions in Munich last week in the Prinzregentheater. This was the home of the Bavarian State Opera after the war until the Nationaltheater reopened in 1963. And it was where I saw performances of Arabella, Meistersinger, and Parsifal in the Munich Festival in 1961. So to sit in that auditorium where I heard Jess Thomas for the first time, and performances conducted by Robert Heger and Joseph Keilberth - not to mention Fischer Dieskau and della Casa in Arabella - the time machine kicked in!
We had an excellent two days with richer pickings than in either Berlin or Frankfurt, the other two German cities in our itinerary. We really have a major contest building up. In 2017 it was the battle of the mezzos. This year the sopranos are on the march again! Whilst we acquired an excellent tenor in Munich it remains a fact that first class men are thin on the ground. But we are not done yet - with my colleagues likely to discover good stuff in Moscow and Vienna. I am in South Africa next month and Evamaria Wieser is off to Japan and China in September.
Back in England before my German trip I had a busy weekend. The National Opera Studio gave us their last show of the year at the RADA studios - an interesting program of excepts from largely 21st century operas including those by Adams, Benjamin, Turnage, Weir, Glass et al. There were opportunities for the dozen young artists who have spent a remarkable year at the NOS to show how much progress they have made - and they took it. It was great to remember the early showcase last September and watch them over the months at various events. I was just sad that I was not able to be at their graduation recital last Wednesday when I was in Germany.
And so on Sunday I was at the first stage and orchestra rehearsals of Garsington's Fantasio. It opened on Friday but I will not be able to get to see it until July. Meanwhile it was clear that Jenni France, Hanna Hipp, Huw Montague Rendall, and Tim Robinson are going to be star attractions - more when I see the finished article!
The last week has been one of some considerable nostalgia - first on Sunday a wonderful evening at Glyndebourne where I spent the first twenty seven years of my working life, and then three nostalgic days in Dublin where I studied law at Trinity College - not altogether successfully, but with great enjoyment of student life and the discovery of what I really wanted to do, not law but something in the musical world. I spend more time singing, playing in various orchestras, and taking part in a production of The Beggar's Opera at Dublin's famous Gate Theatre. The theatre was made available to us by the generosity of Edward, Lord Longford who presided over this theatre for thirty years until his death in 1961.
But Glyndebourne first - Berlioz is a great passion and hero for so many British music lovers and I am delighted that Glyndebourne has followed up their production of Béatrice et Bénédict with a superb version of La Damnation de Faust. This was a treat at every level - Glyndebourne's superlative chorus and the London Philharmonic in top form and elegant and beautifully sung performances from Julie Boulianne, Allan Clayton, and Christopher Purves - all seen above. And all this within the effective framework devised by that magician Richard Jones. Altogether deeply satisfying.
Of course the main purpose of my trip to Dublin was for the first ever Neue Stimmen auditions in the fair city. But I could hardly fail to revisit Trinity where I had spent two happy years, following the tradition of so many of my family members, including my father who by an extraordinary coincidence had rooms on the same staircase as me, in Number 2, forty years before. Walking through the front gate (above) was as magical as ever!
The Dublin auditions produced one of those rare Eureka moments, a remarkable young singer which made the journey all the more worthwhile. We were hosted with the usual fabled Irish Fáilte (welcome) by Mairead Hurley and the DIT Conservatory. And there was the opportunity also to spend some time with Dearbhla Collins of the Royal Irish Academy and London's National Opera Studio, my old friend from RTE Jane Carty, and the amazing Ronnie Dunne, as active a 92 year old as anyone could hope to be. Four amazing women who encapsulate everything that is magical in Irish musical life.
I have busy days ahead. This evening The National Opera Studio have a show at the RADA studios, I am at Garsington tomorrow for Fantasio rehearsals, and on Monday off to Munich for Neue Stimmen.
Jonathon McGovern a charismatic Don Giovanni at Garsington
I hugely enjoyed Don Giovanni at Garsington last night. Jonathan McGovern in the title role and David Ireland as his long suffering Leporello were a perfect match, Michael Boyd's production making perfect sense bringing clarity to their relationship. And this clarity informed Boyd's production throughout, something that is important to a theatre director which so often eludes so many of their purely operatic brethren. But while this was a great evening of theatre the musical pleasures remained dominant - Prima la musica, dopo le parole - the old argument! We had that last year with Capriccio and don't need to pursue the matter further!
The male cast was completed by the most elegant young Mozartian of the day, Trystan Llyr Griffiths, the imposing young bass Thomas Faulkner as Masetto, and the hugely experienced and imposing Paul Whelan as Commendatore. Sky Ingram was a splendidly angry Donna Elvira - most impressive, Camila Titinger a deeply traumatised Donna Anna, and Mireille Asselin a convincingly defiant Zerlina. It was a wonderfully prepared and well balanced cast delivering top notch music making under the increasingly authoritative Douglas Boyd - who is also Garsington's Artistic Director.
This was not your everyday Don Giovanni production - much much more interesting than that.
The days go zooming by and it is 5 days since I left Madrid after an afternoon of auditions which yielded one exciting qualifier for the finals plus some strong candidates for the wait list which we will be reviewing in depth after the Munich auditions which are June 11-12. Meanwhile we have Dublin next week, there has been two days of auditions in Bologna conducted by Evamaria Wieser, and Evamaria is in Riga next week where we have done very well indeed in past years. In the USA next week Alexander Neef will hear the candidates who have applied to sing in Santa Fe. Following Munich Evamaria will take in Moscow and Vienna and that will be that for Europe. South Africa comes in July and China and Japan in September......
This week we did London at the Royal Opera House - the longest list ever here so we spread it over two days. And there was some good pickings. At this stage we are still setting the bench mark quite high so as ever there were more waitlisters than qualifiers. But there four of the latter which is a very fruitful outcome indeed........
Meanwhile there was some actual opera - last Friday evening in the Teatro Real a Hauptprobe of Christof Loy's very beautiful and interesting new production of one of my top favourites Richard Strauss's Capriccio. It seems that Swedish sopranos have a particular affinity with the role of the Countess. Elisabeth Soderstrom was glorious in the role at Glyndebourne in 1963, and then again in the 1970s. Miah Persson was stunning in the part last year at Garsington - and now Madrid has the huge treat of the magical Malin Byström - just wonderful, and well worth a special trip to Madrid just for this! It is a co-production with Zurich and Gothenburg so maybe you can catch it there in due course.
And now I have an orgy of opera this week, with Garsington's 30th anniversary season opening last night with a delicious production by Paul Curran of Smetana's Bartered Bride. Tonight is the opening of Don Giovanni and on Sunday I am at Glyndebourne for Berlioz's Damnation de Faust.
There was wonderful singing from the four main Bartered Bride principals and a terrifically strong cast overall, not to mention the remarkable Garsington Chorus and the acrobats and jugglers! Natalia Romaniw and Brenden Gunnell as the young lovers were immaculate vocally, thrilling indeed. And Stewart Jackson and Joshua Bloom each gave rounded and splendidly sung comic performances as Vasek and Kecal. And there was the additional luxury of the Philharmonia Orchestra in the pit playing immaculately and idiomatically for Jac van Steen. A joyous evening indeed.
And when you go to Garsington this year do not forget to pick up the 2019 edition of the Garsington mug, designed as in most previous recent years since 2013, by my talented nephew Zeb Helm! This year's will make it six - a very nice collection to have!