It’s been quite the year! By the end of it a lot of things had happened that I could have never predicted and I feel very different at the end of 2014 than I did at the end of 2013…
It’s not necessarily been a happier year, but I feel more balanced and certainly more grateful at the end of it. I feel in a strange way … (.i almost said grown up but that is not it, in many respects quite the contrary!) reinvigorated, refreshed, with more things to hold on to on the journey.
Firstly, there is the realisation that nothing is more important or precious than the health of those we love, and our own as well to be able to enjoy it with them. So I am grateful for being ok and accepting of things I can’t change around me but hoping that things will at least stay as they are for as long as possible. There will still be realities that frustrate and make me feel like my hands are tied, but there is some peace I think is good to find in just dealing with things as they are when we can’t change them.
And I’m more determined to keep myself in good working order 😉 It may sound bland and boring, but I recognised how important it really is, among other reasons so I can enjoy the things I want to keep doing and trust that I will be able to deal with things that may come my way.
So yes, massively grateful for feeling like 25 a lot of the time! 😀 It didn’t really look like that in the first part of the year.
My year was thankfully still peppered with a number of live performances and for that I am even more grateful than ever. Every year I say this… 25 years ago I’d have never ever thought possible to live and work in London and enjoy the music I do, have visited the theatres I have, seen the cities I have in these past years. I know and I remind myself of how lucky I am and this year more than ever. So, on to some highlights. (I’ll skip the meh stuff, otherwise I’ll be sitting here as many hours as I spent seeing things. Not because they were bad per se, a few were, but I would still go see them if I could turn back time, you need to go see things to find the gems and everyone gives their best and it will provide a few hours of really nice music, even if it is not necessarily memorable):
The fun –
While a lot of things have been interesting, classical music in particular is not know a lot for the fun factor 😉 But I have seen 2 things which really brightened the heart and made me laugh:
- The fabulous Elisir d’Amore /Donizetti at the Royal Opera House – all cast were brilliant but my thanks go to the amazing Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino &Bryn Terfel as Dulcamara and the fabulous ROH chorus, whom I adore (amazing singers and actors the lot!). The house was shaking with laughter and they should prescribe this instead of Prozac! 🙂
- The new Guys& Dolls at Chichester Festival Theatre with the adorable and warm voiced Jamie Parker (JP I wish you all the roles you want in 2015! And keep singing 🙂 ) Loved this as much as I liked his Henry V at the Globe.
The good and enjoyable –
I realise nothing will quite be able to equal the year of my first Wagner Ring at the ROH and Berlioz Troyens at same ROH, so I needed to remind myself often not to expect to much. However, there were quite a few duds this year so maybe slimmer opera pickings than usual. In no particular order of preference
- Manon/Massenet (one of my top 5 favourite operas) at ROH in spring with the elegant, special and generous American tenor Matthew Polenzani (to find out a bit more about him here He’s a thoroughly accomplished singer and I hope he’ll be back singing in London often. Incidentally, since the reopening of the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 2004 (after the big fire damage) they also have their own traditional new year’s concert and this year they had MP and Maria Agresta alongside conductor Daniel Harding. So I’m able to treat you to my first operatic highlight of the year 2015 straight away! (They sang Boheme too, but I’m bored with that and never liked it much anyways) Here is Matthew’s best bit, an exquisitely sung Verdi aria from the opera Luisa Miller (the lover has betrayed him and this is all about pain):
- Idomeneo/Mozart at ROH in a ‘funny’ production, which was so absurd it unfortunately alienated a lot of the audience (a friend of mine said it gave crap a bad name 😉 ), but which was musically so good I couldn’t care less if they wore bin bags on stage! ( they didn’t, but there were plastic sharks and plastic fish :-p ). Mark Minkowski conducted a heavenly Mozart and Matthew Polenzani sung an impeccable and fiery Idomeneo. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair as actually musically it was sheer bliss, it only misses out on excellent due to production… A lot of people left, I went back 3 times because it sounded so gorgeously!
- Both visits this year to Glyndebourne in the summer provided not only the wonderful tea in the grounds and the countryside outing 😉 (on the cheap as we tend to do either standing or cheapest available ticks) but also 2 great operas: Onegin/Tchaikovsky with the brill Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko and a beauuutiful Traviata/Verdi (one of my all time favourites) conducted by Sir Mark Elder as one can only wish to hear it and sung very well by another American tenor, Michael Fabiano and the sparkling young Venera Gimadieva
- A Werther/Massenet (one of my top 3 – I love French opera as you are bound to find out at some point ) at the Arcola theatre in London sung by great young singers in a reduced setting but it worked wonders. It’s called fringe, but those young souls put their all into it and blew us away, tears and all. Which just goes to prove you don’t need big names or even big theatres to have amazing experiences.
- A Jonas Kaufmann Winterreise song recital at the ROH– it was great, but I was quite sick and sadly this will never be my favourite cycle nor is Schubert my favourite song composer and I just like JK in so many other things more; the Manon Lescaut/Puccini at ROH with JK again and Pappano – another Puccini that doesn’t quite enchant me but Pappano makes it worth a listen and so does Jonas; just not something I sit down to listen to on my own and another good but not great production.
- Juan Diego Florez singing La fille du regiment/Donizetti at ROH – how can you not love him? Always lucky to hear him sing live, just as it is with Jonas Kaufmann 🙂
- Gerald Finley (Canadian bass/baritone) singing songs at Wigmore Hall with Julius Drake and singing the most wicked and charming count in Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro at ROH – one I never miss when he is in town 🙂 Definitely special… and he climbed Kilimanjaro this summer with his sons for charity!
- Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, intriguing production with some good acting though not quite as fulfilling as I’d hoped it would be, but it was an interesting enough experience that I appreciated having.
- Joyce diDonato and Antonio Pappano – season opening concert at Wigmore Hall, she sang beautifully, he’s just incredible and the piano is just one of his many talents and it was great to listen in such an intimate setting even if the program was not always wow.
The excellent and memorable –
Thin opera pickings this year, which was one of the surprises, but thoroughly compensated by ballet and THEATRE!
- Tristan and Isolde – Wagner at ROH, always good, especially with Tony Pappano conducting and Nina Stemme singing and I had also missed Wagner a lot!;
- French baritone Ludovic Tezier and Jonas Kaufmann singing the 2 main characters in Verdi’s Forza del destino, Munich Bayrische Staatsoper- didn’t much like production, wasn’t convinced by the conducting, don’t much care for the soprano but these two ripping at each other while singing are in-cre-di-ble! I can’t find the duets now, but this quick video gives you a shred of it, with the voices melding in Verdi heaven 🙂
- And very much to my surprise Ariadne auf Naxos /Strauss at ROH – again with Pappano conducting and the fascinating Karita Mattila singing. In fact this was one of the bigger musical surprises for me. I don’t like Strauss operas except Elektra and Salome, the neo-romantic ones don’t do much for me and my previous experience of Ariadne has not been good. I only went along to give it another try and I loved it! Due to conductor, brilliant and fun production by Christoph Loy, but above all due to the ladies singing (just in case you were wondering if I was fixated on male voices 😉 a bit , but I do like females ones to, just picky 😉 ). Karita Mattila, Ruxandra Donose and Jane Archibald were all 3 brilliant singers, actresses and just lovely elegant ladies. We had them in a ‘In Conversation’ event and I adored them all, the kind of women you want to become when you grow up, fantastic at what they do, fun, sparkling, powerful and feminine. Definitely one of the special highlights of the year. And I would have never expected that in a million years! Live and learn 🙂
- The Verdi Requiem with Pappano conducting his 2nd orchestra, the Accademia Nazionale St Cecilia Rome on their visit to London. Everyone expected this to be forceful and full of power and instead it was soulful and emotional, it felt absolutely right, true and from the heart, one of the most beautiful renditions I’ve ever heard and the most touching.
- BALLET, ballet, ballet! Everything I’ve seen these past 12 months from the Royal Ballet has been top notch and worth seeing and revisiting. In fact, there is only 1 other thing I saw this year as often as the RB McMillan Manon 😉 I saw every cast and I even got to see Roberto Bolle dance for the first time! The one who brought me to tears was however my lovely Ed Watson, who, together with my other shining star of the year, Steve McRae, danced in the new full length ballet Winter’s Tale (new music and ballet on Shakespeare’s tale of jealousy), which I can’t wait to see again. It’s so reassuring and just amazing to witness the creativity in both music and ballet at the RB (Winter’s Tale by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and music by Joby Talbot)! And there were many more highlights from the RB, like McRae’s peerless Oberon in McMillan’s A midsummer night’s dream and several modern pieces – Liam Scarlett’s ‘Sweet Violets’ and ‘Age of Anxiety’, Alastair Marriott’s ‘Connectome’ and Kim Brandstrup’s ‘Ceremony of Innocence’. I mentioned only 2 of my favourite dancers, but there are several more and I have to say ballet has felt very much alive and exciting this year at the RB, so much new work that I loved and many revivals of great quality. It’s totally exciting to see creativity thriving and I’ve loved all new stuff so far! Keep up the good work RB, you’re doing great! And I don’t regret one bit reshuffling my tight budget to reduce opera a bit and enjoy more ballet, I’ve been richly rewarded!
- THEATRE!!!!! Now this is new and has been a significant shift over the past year. It’s an interest that has been growing slowly and has received a big boost this year. In previous years I could have mentioned a few things I’ve seen, a couple really good ones, but this year has been incredible and one good thing has led to another! While in opera a lot has not made this list and in ballet I’ve felt I wanted to mention most of what I have seen, in theatre bar 2 every single thing I’ve seen makes my list of highlights!
- There was Richard II from the RSC which I saw in their run at the Barbican with the outstanding David Tennant as Richard. Great acting from him and the rest of the cast, great production and one more reason to love Shakespeare. It was the first time I had the chance to see David Tennant act live and I’m totally convinced, can’t wait for the next opportunity, whatever praise he got for the role it was fully deserved;
- Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston, sadly not in the theatre but the cinema version, equally stunning, well acted and great production and the trio of plays at the beginning of the year was completed by
- Henry V with Jude Law at the Noel Coward – one more where I went along doubtful and came out stunned and emotional and excited; he was as good as all the papers said and I am totally on board with the reviews which remarked on how lucky we were in London to enjoy these 3 actors in these 3 great productions! And the year had just begun!
- The James plays at the National – I wish I’d been able to see all 3 instead of just the 2nd , sadly I miss the trilogy due to work travel but what I saw grabbed me totally ; again it ticked all the boxes, great acting, great production, great script in this case too.
- Medea at the National – with Helen McCrory!!! A great example of how you can make modern audiences feel Euripides as if it was happening today! She was breath-taking and I felt like I had barely survived the play it was so intense. I also loved the modern/contemporary production.
Which made me regret even more the many failures in opera to direct them in interesting ways. Theatre this year was anything from traditional like the Richard II or the Henry to the modern and out there like Richard III or Medea and they were all successful in their own ways, there wasn’t a production I felt was useless among them. And yes if I had to pick a genre that really blew me away this year, it was theatre! I went in open minded but doubtful at the same time about its potential impact on me and came away feeling so much and so deeply! And also very very grateful of being able to see all these actors on stage live today.
Best productions –
Speaking of productions, this is just a mention for the direction itself rather than the content or musical value in some cases.
- Kasper Holten’s new Don Giovanni at the ROH – brilliant, modern, exciting, physiologically eventful and insightful! Like few directors with him I felt he really understands women 🙂 Can’t wait to see a revival.
- Alcola theatre Werther by Aylin Bozok – yes great opera can be done with little money and still be wonderful!
- Wheeldon’s Winter’s tale at RB – a perfect example of narrative ballet done in modern ways, narrative ballet for the 21st century but building on all RB tradition, very clever and very beautiful!;
- Liam Scarlett’s Anxiety – contemporary ballet telling a story for modern sensibilities, movie- like, boundary trespassing in many good ways;
- Medea at the National by Carrie Cracknell – ancient theatre for our time, yes it can be done! Loved it! All theatre productions were great, effective in their individual ways, I liked Rii at Trafalgar for its boldness but it wasn’t quite effective, while Medea was new, fresh, contemporary and spot on.
And then there was the epic & life changing!
To be continued… (i’ll update this same post as i want to keep it all together rather than creating another)