Last Night of the Proms 2017 – Stylish and Great!

I was lucky enough to be asked to review The Last Night of the Proms last Saturday 09 September 2017, as a colleague was unable to make it. It was a wonderful concert for all the usual celebrations but also for a peerless Nina Stemme in a varied repertoire plus an entertaining Sakari Oramo conducting the fabulous BBC Singers, BBC Symphomy Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra. My review is here if anyone would like to read all about it.

The photo of the Royal Albert Hall on the Last Night is my own and taken shortly before the performance started.

Stars of the Future

Portuguese tenor Luis Gomes and Brazilian baritone Michel de Souza are part of one of the most prestigious young artists’ programmes in the world. I am talking about the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme.

I went to meet Luis and Michel on Friday, July 11. I was curious to discover how they came to opera, as neither Portugal nor Brazil are countries with a great operatic tradition, and what it means for them to be a part of the Jette Parker programme.

It was a delightful experience, as they are both very pleasant and dedicated to their art. I think they are real stars of the future and it was a great pleasure to talk to them. Enjoy reading the interviews by clicking on the photos.

 

Luis Gomes
Luis Gomes
Michel de Souza
Michel de Souza

Photos of Luis Gomes and Michel de Souza courtesy of the Royal Opera House

 

 

Taste the opera!

Glorious Glyndebourne is the title of the blu-ray that Glyndebourne Opera House has launched to celebrate their 80th anniversary.

So, Happy Birthday Glyndebourne for 80 glorious years of opera.

The blu-ray gives you a good taste of the quality of the opera productions at Glyndebourne and, if you have never been there, it may make you wish you had.

Read my review here.

Glyndebourne_blu-ray cover

Last Night of the Proms and A Dream Come True!

As a little girl, growing up in my native country of Portugal, one might think that I did not know anything about the Proms. But in those days, the Portuguese Television used to broadcast live, every summer, the Last Night of the Proms. It became a tradition in my family to watch it together, in particular my father and I. He is a lover of classical music, opera and literature and I owe him my first experiences and learning of all those fantastic things. It should come as no surprise that since then I wanted to be there, in person, at the Royal Albert Hall in the middle of all those lovely people, singing along with the orchestra and soloists, dressed in elaborate costumes and waving their flags; obviously, having a whale of a time. Finally, after so many years, my dream came true and I was a member of the audience at The Last Night of the Proms. And what a Last Night it turned out to be! Read the rest of the review if you enjoyed the beginning

Joyce DiDonato triumphant at the Last Night of the Proms
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Magnificent Marin Alsop, the first woman to ever conduct a Last Night

Photo Credits & Copyright: Packed Royal Albert Hall (at the top) on Sat, 7th Sept for the Last Night; of Joyce DiDonato and of Marin Alsop taken by Chris Christodoulou for the BBC, courtesy of the BBC Proms Publicity Office

Christiane Karg: A Real Breath of Fresh Air!

Christiane Karg is a young German soprano (33) with a flourishing international career, which has naturally developed from her already celebrated, distinguished work in Germany and Austria. She is the owner of a delightful voice, with crystal clear tone and easy, very warm high notes, a solid, accomplished technique and an admirable enunciation and intonation of whatever language she happens to be singing. Her personality is cheerful, straight-forward, open and honest but at the same time she is vivacious, spontaneous and there is a quiet strength that emanates from within her once she begins to speak about her work.

She is an honest, determined, passionate singer and a charming, spontaneous, warm and genuine human being. Her energy and vivacity are contagious; her knowledge and professionalism commendable. Whether she is speaking about herself, her colleagues or her work, she is always open in her opinions, truthful and appealingly natural. In a world where image and perception seem to be everything, Ms Karg was to me a real breath of fresh air. Read my full interview with Christiane Karg. Enjoy!

Christiane Karg 17703 High Res 
Photos of Christiane Karg by Gisela Schenker, courtesy of Ms Karg’s management

Glyndebourne Festival 2013 – The “Wow” Factor!

Glyndebourne opera house in the middle of the Sussex downs, is nowadays much more than just a place of entertainment and picnics. Their work with the community and educational projects are exemplary and their digital initiatives to make opera available to people everywhere and from any background is second to none.

I had the pleasure of interviewing their General Director (David Pickard) on Friday, 1st March as a preliminary to the Summer Festival that I and other collaborators from Seen and Heard International will be reviewing. Mr Pickard is a very interesting person and made a fascinating interviewee. You can read the full interview here .

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Glyndebourne by Leigh Simpson, courtesy of Glyndebourne’s media manager Vicky Kington

Jonas Kaufmann: A Portrait!

Jonas Kaufmann, the tenor from Germany, is one of the most exciting voices on the planet; sometimes, described as the “movie star” of opera. Kindly and in spite of his extremely busy schedule, he agreed to give me an interview. Needless to say that I felt very happy and a little excited.

Kaufmann is not only a great opera singer, demonstrating admirable musical integrity and professionalism; he is also a kind, friendly and unassuming person. It was a real pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss his work with him. The article and the full interview can be read here.

There are many excellent recordings featuring Jonas Kaufmann. Some are solo works with orchestra (opera arias) or simply with a pianist (Lieder). The two CDs of arias, below, are my personal favourites.

 

Margaret Ruthven Lang: Do you know her?

Margaret Ruthven Lang was a name completely unknown to me until I received a CD of songs that she composed. Ms Lang was actually a fascinating American composer and a pioneer in her day. She lived an incredibly long life (born in 1867, she died short of her 105th birthday in 1972), was a fascinating woman and an extraordinary composer.
Intrigued by her compositions, after listening to the CD, I was so impressed that I felt compelled to contact the two artists that brought her songs to life: Tenor Donald George and pianist Lucy Mauro. Kindly, they gave me an insightful interview about Lang, the composer and Lang, the woman; contributing to a very interesting review of a delightful recording by a fascinating female composer. You can read the review and interview here or by clicking on the CD cover.

The Met! A not so positive impression!

I was in New York City last week and attended a performance of Rossini’s Le comte Ory at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was my first attendance, in person, at the celebrated Met and I was really excited about it. Therefore, I am really sorry to say that while the production was excellent, the auditorium was a disappointment. It is far too wide and deep for lighter voices and early 19th Century bel canto operas, as was the case with Le comte Ory. Juan Diego Flórez sang the title role and, as ever, he was brilliant; however, through no fault of his own, his voice faded on occasions, as if he was singing from a great distance…and indeed he was! My seats were in the second row of the Grand Tier (some of the best seats in the house) and therefore a section of the auditorium where this kind of thing should never happen. This problem was even more noticeable with coloratura soprano Diana Damrau but again through no fault of her own. Of the lead singers, Joyce DiDonato was the one whose voice could be heard more distinctly, perhaps because of the nature of her instrument (she is a mezzo), as in terms of impeccable technique and singing quality, it will not get any better than the trio formed by Flórez, Damrau and DiDonato. Their performances were superb: the singing (in spite of sounding distant) was spot on, with the right balance between beauty and technical prowess; and dramatically, all three singers were very convincing in their roles. Flórez as the loveable rogue was very funny throughout, particularly while disguised as a nun, displaying some excellent comic timing; Damrau looked alluring in gorgeous colourful gowns but suitably innocent and, perhaps if I may say saving the best for last, DiDonato was absolutely fabulous as the page Isolier. Never before have I seen a woman playing a “trouser role” so convincingly! Her boisterous gestures, boyish posture and walking manner were so believably male that when she first appeared on stage and I whispered ‘That is Joyce’, my husband, sitting next to me, exclaimed in total surprise: ‘No, you’re wrong; it can’t be! It’s some young man!’

I liked this performance of Le Comte Ory very much (and will possibly purchase the DVD or the blue-ray when available) but I would have enjoyed it even more if the acoustics of the Met’s auditorium were better. I am not sure what could be done about the quality of the sound but it is clear that something must be done. I had the impression that the Met is perfectly built for grand or powerful dramatic operas but not for other genres. Operas from composers such as Verdi, Massenet, Meyerbeer, even Puccini but most of all Wagner will undoubtedly shine in an auditorium such as the Met’s; however, I am sorry to say that for other more subtle or delicate type of music and singing, it does not do it justice.

Finally, I must comment on American audiences and their need to continuously applaud (I am not talking solely about opera audiences at the Met, I have experienced the same at Broadway musicals or the Boston Symphony to name but a few). Why must this be? While their enthusiasm is touching and supportive of the artists, it goes one step too far, as there are instances when it becomes disruptive. As an example, during the second act of Le comte Ory there is a beautiful duet between the count (disguised as a nun) and the young countess whom he is trying to seduce. As the fist part of the duet finished, the audience immediately applauded and as a result, one could not hear the beginning of the second part! Flórez was moving his lips but all one heard was the loud clapping of the audience! It is fair enough that there is a roar of approving “bravos” once a piece, which was performed outstandingly, has come to an end but more than that it becomes intrusive and spoils the overall enjoyment of the performance.

A real shame then that the sound problem and the over enthusiastic audience spoiled some of the enjoyment of the evening, as the cast, settings and direction were superb. I must honestly say (and I hope it does not sound superior or arrogant, as this is not the intention) that in the european opera houses, which I often visit (meaning London, Berlin, Munich and Barcelona) the production would have come across as much more effective and enjoyable even with a lesser cast.