Posts Tagged ‘ENO’

Aida, ENO 3 October

October 5, 2017



Photo acquired from Twitter at about the right angle

While the reviews from the first night were rather lukewarm, and there were also half-hearted bag checks to negotiate on entering the building, this proved to be a worthwhile investment of £30 at the Leicester Square ticket booth.

Latonia Moore’s Aida reminded me that it seemed to be a long time since I last heard a heavyweight operatic role dealt with so masterfully and the conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson really got on with things.  From where I was sitting, Ms Moore and Ms Wilson often seemed to be roaring each other on, determined to triumph in spite of every obstacle, and generally they did.  Gwyn Hughes Jones had a real tenor ring as Radames and Eleanor Dennis was simply outstanding as the High Priestess.

The production was…strange.  There were some striking stage pictures that really might evoke an alien civilisation.  There were also many occasions that recalled illustrations of opera in years gone  by, with hero and heroine centre stage facing the conductor, embarrassed in strange costumes, her bending his eyes toward him as the only acting allowed.  Michelle DeYoung’s Amneris ended up looking like a toilet roll holder, quite possibly a pregnant toilet roll holder, and also sounding a lot like Aida’s Mum and not at all like her bitter rival.  The quite long period where she was downstage facing the audience and addressing Radames who was in a cage behind her was not a very good piece of direction.

As with many operas, Aida has scenes of climactic emotional conflict (which is what opera is really there for), scenes of grand public display, and scenes that advance the plot.  In this production, the first two worked pretty well and the third didn’t.  The translation also offered up some embarrassing feminine rhymes plain for all to see in the surtitles.

I would certainly recommend a visit–there’s plenty to think about even where it doesn’t exactly work.

La Boheme Special Ticket Offer at the Coliseum‏

April 11, 2013


We have received an email about this.  It says:

Valid on shows 24th May to 29th June 2013
Top price seats Mon -Thu : was £83.00 now £41.50
2nd price seats Mon -Thu : was £50.00 now £25.00
Top price seats Fri -Sat : was £86.00 now £43.00
2nd price seats Fri -Sat : was £55.00 now £27.50

Offer available for 48 hours – book by 2.30pm Fri 12 April 2013 at


Yes the link seems to work anyway…See here for what I know about opera/classical music bargains in general.

The Death of Klinghoffer, ENO 28 February

February 29, 2012


Picture from classical-iconoclast

Everyone must have seen this and given their opinion by now.  Intermezzo (who is of course inerrant) gave hers without having seen it:  Audience slowly lulled into torpor would be my guess.  And she was quite right.  Well, I spent a lot of the first half asleep, but in the interval I decided to stay out of curiosity and I was alert enough at the end to make my way gratefully towards the exit.

There were of course some extremely lovely choruses and the hijacker Mamoud had a very nice solo number as well.  But the libretto had some of the worst lines ever set to music  (Evil grows exponentially/Laying a weight upon the tongue, anyone?)  That may have been an attempt to avoid unwanted Biblical associations in describing the Holy Land but sounded a lot like ineptitude.  More seriously perhaps, it didn’t give anything like enough opportunity for dramatic conflict between the characters, so there was no opera.  Rats!  I’d already seen the good bits in a concert at the Barbican years ago.

The music was better than the words by a long way, but it was often stuck indeterminately between minimalist and post-minimalist Adams.  The text (words and music) really didn’t tell the story, so we saw a whole intensive care unit of back-projections and intertitles, along with a very good cast and conductor, brought into play to try to keep the patient from dying, .

So a return from the grave for opera seria perhaps, with the characters reflecting upon the emotions they might be feeling to the accompaniment of soporific music…

Les Saisons Russes du XXI Siecle–Programme 2, Coliseum 15 April

April 16, 2011



We had managed to reach our seats without programmes or castlists, so I tried to call up the spirits of the vasty deep on my Nokia.  They didn’t appear with any great alacrity, and I only managed to find out that the Independent had given Programme 1 one star.


Anyway, a guy appeared in front of the curtain and told use he was Andris Liepa.  He explained that the original  choreography had been lost, and they were using new choreography by Juris Smoriginas.  The production had been restored from Bakst’s originals by Anna Nezhnaya.

Restoration meant projecting a green sine wave on the stage.  Otherwise, the production concept came down to a box of Quality Street.  My companion said it compared unfavourably with a pantomime she had been to in Croydon at the age of eight.

I had never heard a note of Balakirev before, but I was impressed by how closely–after some loud oriental pastiche at the beginning–it matched my prejudice of inoffensive ineffectuality.  I doubt that I’ve ever heard ballet music so devoid of eroticism, or indeed affect in general. My companion felt that the choreography combined the worst of an end of the pier show and Spearmint Rhino.  I said she didn’t know about Spearmint Rhino.

Link to original poem by Lermontov here; not-very-good translations here and here.



So after the interval, Andris Liepa appeared and thanked a wide variety of Russian oligarchs for their support.

This time the chocolates had been supplemented by a box of old toys, and the assembled oriental potentates dancing-girls and slaves were all very white.  Beforehand I had thought that the Rimsky-Korsakov music would be less boring if you had something to look at to take your mind off it, but I’m not so sure now.

Some flashy and pointless dancing from Nikolai Tsiskaridze as the Golden Slave drew very loud appreciation from the house, and whoever it was doing Zobeida turned out to be a very good milker of applause even by Russian standards, and almost on a level with Maria Ewing.

And then we got let out, hurrah!

Later:  I think that webcowgirl’s sightless taxidermist idea explains quite brilliantly what’s wrong with the season as a whole.  But I must say it wasn’t quite the worst corps de ballet I’d ever seen…

Parsifal, ENO 1 March

March 3, 2011


Stuart Skelton as Parsifal

When Hayley told me she’d slept badly the previous night I suggested that a large dose of Wagner was just what she needed.  In fact, from our advantageous perch at the front of the Upper Circle she studied the workings of the orchestra with interest while I rested with my eyes closed.  When I did open them I was puzzled by the monochrome-Japanese-disused-quarry-1980s-science-fiction aspect of it all.

I thought that the second act promised sex, women’s voices, colour, more sex, magic tricks with spears…In fact it was equally monochrome.  Jane Dutton seemed overparted as Kundry–the thing about Parsifal blundering away and leaving Herzeleide to perish alone didn’t work for me at all–they’d decided to ignore the spear stopping in midair.

But in the third act the music was just too good and got me in the end, in spite of the stupid blasphemous parody of Christianity (entirely Wagner’s fault, not the production’s), the railtrack going from nowhere to nowhere and other brilliant ideas I was not brilliant enough to appreciate.

As many critics have pointed out, Sir John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz was highly effective as well as showing wear and wobble, while Stuart Skelton as Parsifal was really rather splendid–maybe a little more tenor ring needed, but otherwise excellent.  The conducting of Mark Wigglesworth was effective rather than profound, and also jolly loud towards the end (as Hayley pointed out).

The translation combined English matter-of-factness (so the pseudophilosophical pseudoprofundities never had a chance of seeming to mean anything) with an unEnglish wrenching of syntax.  But never mind.  We weren’t there for the words, or any sense…

“A Dog’s Heart” at ENO: Selected Passages From Correspondence With My Friends

December 24, 2010

Not a doggy dog

This was certainly a good Theatre de Complicite show, and managed to avoid any unfortunate accidents with foreign alphabets.  As an adaptation of Bulgakov, it focused on making effective stage effects and moments out of the action, and so rather skated over the *meaning* of the action.  As an opera, the first half wasn’t, while the second was  more encouraging.

The production was spectacular, the music mostly just mildly irritating and irrelevant to the action – although I do keep thinking of the ‘rough’ dog voice.  As for the meaning, it seemed pretty objectionable to me.  But not having read the original, I can’t say whether that was due to a loss of nuance in the production.

Maybe ‘meaning’ isn’t the right word.  If you want a take-home message then you’d probably object more to the original, since it’s more sympathetic to Prof Preobrazhensky and the dog Sharik and totally hostile to the newly-created Sharikov.

But nuance is what is missing.   As is typical for Bulgakov, the precision of the language creates a very clear and ‘realistic’ picture of the main characters and their relationships, which provides a solid basis or framework for the grotesque elements.  Here the normal is missing–in Bulgakov, Sharik is a very doggy dog, while here he’s something strange from the beginning.

If Bulgakov’s text  had ever been published, part of the interest for a contemporary readership would have been in the detailed evocation of a settled, prosperous way of life–‘The Russia we have lost’.  But again we didn’t get much normality here. Then again, positive themes such as the devotion that Sharik and Bormental feel for Preobrazhensky, and his paternal care for the members of his household, are discarded

They also threw away the theme of inside v outside, which is very typical of Bulgakov (and Russian literature in general).  Think of ‘The White Guard’ at the National for instance.  Since B. was essentially a dramatist, and only took to writing stories because he couldn’t get his plays performed, the fact that once the dog is in the flat all the action takes place there must mean something.  In principle, the action was ‘inside’ here, but with people coming in through the wallpaper and a chorus of doctors appearing the ‘inside’ effect was lost.

Spectacular, but is it ‘inside’?

Janacek would have made a bloody good opera out of this text, but I’m afraid it was rather beyond Aleksandr Raskatov.  Although this is an opera by a Russian composer on a Russian text it hasn’t (as yet) been put on there, and I don’t think it would go down very well.

You might say that this show does for Bulgakov what the Bolshoi’s recent  Eugene Onegin did for Tchaikovsky–the difference is that Bulgakov, and in particular how to interpret the present situation in the light of his texts, is still very much a live issue.  Still a long time to go before ceremonial pissing on his corpse is a popular option!

… I don’t think they entirely lost the inside/outside thing.  The invasion of the safe, comfortable inside world seemed quite effective to me.  And I thought the dog was surprisingly doggy – I think that’s why I liked the voice.

The  idea of Sharik having two voices is interesting, since he’s the only character whose thoughts figure in the text–the rest are seen from the outside.  This is more my idea of Sharik (from the 1988 film):

That’s a nice dog…

Both the essay by James Meek and my Bulgakov Encyclopedia want to make someone stand for Lenin/Trotsky but they can’t agree on who–for Meek it’s Preobrazhensky when he decides to operate on the dog while for the BE it’s Sharikov when he pulls the revolver on Bormental and declares he’s going to show everyone what’s what.

The text dates from the height of the New Economic Policy in 1925 which allowed private enterprise and led to some strange consequences (which are satirised in Preobrazhensky having an operating theatre in his flat–that is in itself a joke, like the sex strike in Lysistrata say).  Also at that time the Communist government didn’t seem particularly united or likely to survive.  But the opera sets the action in the Stalin period–presumably because that’s all the stupid Dutch/English are thought able to recognise–which makes nonsense of Preobrazhensky threatening to emigrate or being able to play one faction off against another.

I think if I had to give an interpretation it would be in terms of two parallel actions.  Firstly Preobrazhensky (representing let’s say the Russian educated classes, who were firmly opposed to the Tsarist regime) introduces alien elements into the starving but good-hearted masses (Sharik), with the result that they turn into something nasty.  But Sharikov swiftly rises to an important position in the Moscow feline elimination hierarchy and acquires a leather jacket as well, while his donor Chugunkin was merely a scrote who scraped a living playing the balalaika  in low dives.  The difference is that Sharikov has also had alien elements implanted by Shvonder in the form of the Engels-Kautsky correspondence and suchlike.  He is–the revolutionary proletariat are–low-lives further spolied by having half-digested ideas above their station.

So the educated classes need to shoulder their responsibilities and undo the harm they have caused.  (If you want to be properly offended, note that names ending in -er as in Shvonder are regarded as Jewish in Russia.) Still, Bulgakov practised what he preached–he stayed in Russia while the rest of his family emigrated…

Idomeneo ENO 23 June 2010

June 27, 2010


The end (from

We had a long and uninspiring evening in the Coliseum. The original story of Idomeneus had first of all been made safe for 18th century audiences by adding a happy ending and some love interest, and then further changed by for instance eliminating any mention of a sea monster.  At times in the music one could hear things that would become interesting in Mozart’s later operas and for long periods one was deeply bored.

As many commentators have pointed out, the production was marked by extras crossing the stage while the principals were delivering their big numbers.  I can think of three reasons for this:

i)  About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

Well, in this context Mozart is an Old Master and he intended something different.

Brueghel's Icarus--a bit different from crisscrossing waiters

ii)  Electra actually interacts with the waitstaff in various ways that the other main characters don’t, so maybe this reflects her isolation and the idea she is in the wrong place and should be in the underworld with her brother Orestes.

iii)  The director (Katie Mitchell)  felt that the opera was just too boring and the audience needed to be kept entertained somehow.  In the first place, if you don’t believe in the piece you shouldn’t put it on and in the second if the production was meant to entertain the audience independently of the opera why was it so drab?

Still, the video projections were quite nice…

At the end, one of my companions remarked that a bad woman who wore red was bound to come to a sticky end.  Then she found she had left her bag in the pub.  The other felt that after 11 hours in the office 3 h 20 min of this was taking tedium too far.