This portrait isn’t immediately arresting, it’s true. The sitter, for all her charm, is no great beauty and she’s dressed with tasteful understatement. Her chief attraction is that pair of searching, intelligent black eyes. But, if you’d lived in the late 18th century, you’d have instantly recognised her as one of the most popular singers of the age. She made her debut at the age of seven and became the toast of opera houses throughout Italy, before being invited to Vienna by the Emperor himself. Here she became a favourite of Mozart and Salieri, both of whom composed music for her. She created the role of the Countess in Salieri’s School of Jealousy and was Mozart’s first Susanna in Figaro. And, amazingly, she was a Londoner: born and bred in Marylebone. On the eve of International Women’s Day, Bampton Classical Opera turned the spotlight firmly onto Anna Selina Storace (1765-1817), known as ‘Nancy’, focusing on music written especially for her.
(Glyndebourne, 31 July 2017)
As the overture plays, we watch two boys running through a wheat-field on grainy old film: the older one dark and responsible; the younger, blond and cherubic. The older boy teaches his friend how to use a catapult fashioned from a v-shaped stick, aiming at an old bottle, but the little one isn’t content until he spots a magpie perched in a tree. His aim is too true: the magpie falls. The spot of blood on its breast is the only hint of colour as the music comes to an end and gathers itself ready for Act I. This strangely haunting little film was our introduction to Glyndebourne’s Clemenza di Tito: a fantastic production which places renewed emphasis on the troubled relationship between the emperor Titus and his boyhood friend.
(Royal Opera House, 7 July 2017)
Mitridate, king of Pontus, is missing, presumed dead. His two sons, Farnace and Sifare, have returned from the battlefield to skulk around their father’s palace and engage in the traditional pastime of operatic royalty: viz. each scheming to beat the other to the throne. Farnace, billed as the ‘evil’ son, is considering an alliance with the wicked Romans. Sifare, the ‘good’ son, is deeply in love with his father’s intended bride, the beautiful princess Aspasia. Plots are well underway when – shock horror! – it turns out that Mitridate isn’t actually dead at all, but has allowed such rumours to spread in the hope of testing his sons’ loyalty. When he returns to Pontus, the scene is set for a right royal show-down. One of Mozart’s first operas, written when he was only fourteen, this has its issues – numerous issues – as a piece of work, but it’s presented in the Royal Opera House’s classic and extravagant production, with a really splendid cast.
(Classical Opera at St John’s Smith Square, 12 June 2017)
When I was eleven, I was obsessed with ponies and still spent an unconscionable amount of time playing with dolls. When Mozart was eleven, he wrote his first opera. Such is life. In this concert, Classical Opera presented three pieces written by the precocious composer between 1766 and 1767, which predictably sounded as rich and sophisticated as many a work by any other mature composer. Staged simply and effectively, with some impressive performances from the crack team of singers, these pieces were the ‘Lambach’ Symphony in G major (K45a), the sombre Grabmusik (K42) and the little opera Apollo et Hyacinthus. As there were three different pieces, I’ve treated this as a recital, which is why I haven’t given it the usual star rating.
Some weeks ago I was searching for photos of the Royal Opera House’s classic production of Mitridate designed by Graham Vick, but when I Googled ‘Mitridate‘ and ‘Vick’, I didn’t get quite the results I was expecting. Instead I found the most incredible series of pictures taken by Tyson Vick, an American photographer, who has spent ten years working on an ambitious project to take at least one representative photograph for every Mozart opera. And I mean every. This remarkable book is the result, and it truly is Mozart as you’ve never seen him before.
This is another post from the deepest, darkest depths of the drafts folder, as you can see from the date I saw this opera. Admittedly there’s limited point in posting on something more than a year after I saw it, but the post was almost complete and it would be a shame not to use it. Besides, it can still be interesting to see how different productions approach the same opera. And Trinity Laban’s performance at Blackheath Halls was a particularly intriguing choice last summer, because only eight months earlier we’d had another, much higher profile Idomeneo in London, which hadn’t exactly received rave reviews. It was a brave decision to put on another version of this challenging opera, so soon after it had come back to bite the team at Covent Garden.
(Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2012)
Since launching the new website, I’ve been busily spring cleaning my blog and, you know what? It’s amazing what you find at the bottom of the drafts folder. As a result, there will be several extremely belated posts cropping up over the next few weeks, starting with some Mozart, in the form of La Clemenza di Tito. As you may remember, I first encountered this opera via the modern, rather conceptual Salzburg version and was keen to compare that with a more traditional production. Enter the Met, stage left, with their legendary, ultra-conservative version. It may not be the most cutting-edge production in the book, but it gave me a visual feast of fine gowns, billowing cloaks and fabulous wigs.
I don’t give ratings to recitals but, if I did, this one would be five stars. I’d go so far as to call it revelatory, not only in showcasing the talent of its leading lady, but also in its programme, which mixed big hitters with some lesser known gems.
(Royal Opera House, via Vue Cinemas, 5 October 2015)
About a month ago I had a spate of ‘firsts’: my first Macbeth, in the striking film version and then, just a couple of days later, my first Figaro, thanks to the Royal Opera House’s excellent live cinema broadcasts. Heloise has been urging me to watch Figaro ever since I first expressed a cautious interest in opera about a year and a half ago. She can feel herself vindicated at last. Of course I would have loved to see the show in person, but thrift is of the essence and so I plumped for the cinema, and three hours of stunning close-ups and lush, intoxicating detail.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
(Glyndebourne, directed by Sir David McVicar, seen at the Proms, 14 August 2015)
This post draws on two encounters with the same production: the live broadcast from Glyndebourne earlier this summer, and the pared down staged version presented at the Proms on 14 August. As has happened so often in recent months, I’d gone to see Seraglio without really knowing very much about it at all. I knew it was by Mozart and I knew it was about someone being rescued from a harem, but that was about it. It turned out to be rather different from what I’d imagined, and I’m delighted to say that I adored the production, largely due to its aesthetic beauty and the sheer verve with which the story was told.