Archive | June, 2014

Beginners’ Götterdämmerung

29 Jun

The title isn’t meant to be patronising but, as Opera North’s Ring reached its conclusion, it struck me that this was, pretty much an ideal staging for anyone new to the cycle.  It’s 35 years since audiences in the North East had a chance to hear the Ring on their doorstep and many at the performance at the Sage in Gateshead that I saw on 28th June would have been experiencing Götterdämmerung live for the first time.

The staging, as for the other operas tells the story simply. It’s very easy to follow the plot, the emotions of the characters are conveyed directly.  There are passages in Götterdämmerung where it’s quite easy for the mind to wander.  It didn’t here and it was a joy to be in an audience that was listening and engaging with barely a cough or a fidget.  The humanity of the characters was clear.  This was an accessible, clear and very, very good version.  This isn’t to say that I don’t miss the insights of more amitious productions (I won’t easily forget Brünnhilde being brought in with the paper bag over her head in Richard Jones’s production) but I don’t think, for example, that I’ve understood the words of the Immolation Scene so clearly or experienced a more immediate performance of the Waltraute scene than I have here.

As in the previous three operas, the performances have been led by the outstanding work of the Opera North orchestra under Richard Farnes.  Just watching Farnes, you have the sense of someone genuinely leading and in control and it is the clarity and the sureness of the pacing that I will take away from the these performances.  The two orchestral show pieces came off outstandingly well, as they ought to, but I’ll also remember the pauses, the management of the dialogue between singers and orchestra, the way in which he caught the dramatic mood, particularly in Act II and those dialogues between the characters so that the emotions were utterly clear.  This was compelling conducting.  Others may get more incandescence, possibly subtler playing, but this was hugely satisfying.

I don’t know how far this cast would work in a huge, acoustically challenging barn and having to ride over the orchestra. Here, stood in front, with nothing between them and the orchestra, they were excellent.  Alwyn Mellor hasn’t the sheer heft of many Brünnhildes but she conveys the wisdom, the sadness and the anger marvellously and her last scene was as moving as I’ve seen it.  Mati Turu Siegfried delivered his best singing in the narration at the end and, throughout, was enthusiastic, confident and you felt able to relax that he would be fine.  Mats Algrem made a lowering, vicious, disturbed Hagen who sang was magnificent malevolence.  Jo Pohlheim made his mark as Alberich.  Eric Greene was a nondescript Gunther, but Orla Boylan was a worried, basically decent Gutrune.  Susan Bickley was luxury casting as Waltraute and the sincerity and openness of her singing made her scene one of the highlights.  Good Rhinemaidens and Norns and predictably excellent work from the chorus.

I do hope they manage to put this cycle together and do them all in 2016 as they seem to be promising.  It’s been great to watch it being built up, but you can only get the whole experience by seeing them in close proximity.  The commitment and intelligence and sheer skill of the performances shows how wonderful Opera North can be and, as in all the others, we came out on a Wagner high, leitmotivs going round our heads and debating aspects of the work.  You can’t legitimately ask for more.

 

Student Gazzetta

26 Jun

Another opera off the “to do” list in my quest to see all of Rossini’s operas. As soon as I saw that the RCM were doing La Gazzetta, I booked even though the one performance that I was due in London for was the night before an excessively early train. It seemed worth it at the time and I went to the Britten Theatre on 24th June hugely looking forward to an becoming acquainted with the opera.

I don’t think that Rossini was really trying when he wrote this piece. The plot. based on Goldoni, starts with the premise of a self-made millionaire, Don Pomponio, advertising in a newspaper for a husband for his daughter, Lisetta. She is actually in love with Fillipo, the owner of the hotel in which they’re staying. There’s a second father trying to marry of his daughter Doralice to an elderly suiter, but she falls in love with the tenor, Alberto. The opera proceeds with a series of silly disguises and padding to the obvious ending. There are lots of tropes from other comedies here and this is emphasised by the fact that he borrows music from Il turco in Italia for the masked ball, from La pietra del paragone for a mock duel. Much of this is stuff that he did better in other operas and you have the slight sense of a composer dragging together in a hurry a few situations that he’d used before and which could readily be recycled.  He reused the overture in La Cenerentola.

The opera also emphasises, if only by its absence, that, while Rossini did write some of the greatest arias in the repertory, much of his greatest work is in the ensembles, the duets, trios and so forth where voices play against each other, contrast, unite and display the different emotions. These are in relatively short supply here and most of the arias struck me as enjoyable but no more. One of the gems is the duet for Lisetta and Filippo in the second Act as they quarrel and make up. Another is the trio for Lisetta, Don Pomponio and Madama Rosa in that act, as Lisetta tries all that she can do to prevent him taking her away. But otherwise there isn’t a lot of true emotion and this struck me as a rather heartless, inconsequential farce.

That said, it got an enjoyable performance here. Donald Maxwell and Linda Ormiston, directing, have updated the piece to the 1990s with plenty of stylish, colourful costumes and a nicely swaying Paris Opera for the finale to Act I. Sensing the weakness of the piece, they’ve added a nice lot of silliness to help the piece along – in the best tradition of a student performance.  The men’s chorus is a male voice choir (Amici di Verdi di Cwmbran) and they appear in a variety of silly disguises including a camel and a group of vicars and tarts; the Palais Garnier (the opera is set in Paris) sways to the chaos of the Act I finale.  None of these gags had anything much to do with the situation or characters and, while entertaining enough, you sensed a slight desperation.  I couldn’t help wondering if a witty English translation by, say, Jeremy Sams, might not have helped the evening even more.

The music was excellent: there are some very classy young singers here.  At the performance I saw, Filipa van Eck was a really stylish, assured Lisetta who sang her arias with great aplomb.  As Filippo, Luke D Williams sang and acted with wit and intelligence.  I’m not sure that his gritty baritone is necessarily ideal for Rossini but he struck me as someone to watch.  Gyula Rab has an attractive tenor which sounds good in this music and, maybe, needs just an ounce or two more sparkle to be ideal.  He was well up to the acting side.  Hannah Sandison was a lovely Doralice.  As Don Pomponio, Timothy Nelson was pompous and sang nicely without being able to disguise the fact that, really, you need to be an older, experienced comedian to do the role (Donald Maxwell, himself, would have been great).  The chorus sang well but seemed quite self-conscious as actors, albeit enjoying themselves – again, rather like a student performance.

Michael Rosewell conducted splendidly.  It sounded great and the orchestra was well-rehearsed and confident.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to see the opera and I can’t imagine any company taking the trouble to perform it with the cast that it needs but I was nevertheless grateful to the RCM for putting it on and giving us the opportunity to judge.  The audience seemed to enjoy it hugely.

Baroque Bill at the Guildhall

17 Jun

The Guildhall’s Milton Court theatre is a huge success. It’s a lovely, intimate horseshoe auditorium, slightly smaller, I think, than the Royal College’s Britten Theatre, but the same idea. It has clear, warm acoustics and an intimate feel. It’s a much more welcoming, professional-looking place than the Silk Street Theatre and the only irritation is that attendants don’t seem quite clear about the best entrances for the seats and that there seem to be quite a lot of stairs to get anywhere. My first experience of a performance in the theatre was for the Guildhall’s summer double bill of operas on 16th June. I hope it won’t be the last.

It was a strange double bill. The first item was Thomas Arne’s The Cooper. This piece lasts an hour and strikes me as the most pointless, witless pieces of theatre that I have seen in a long time. The plot is about an old Cooper, Martin, whose apprentice, Colin and ward, Fanny, succeed in marrying despite his best endeavours. The dialogue is unbelievably stilted and silly, the nadir being the entrance of a drunken neighbour. It’s one of those where most of the musical numbers are prefaced by “sing me that song…”. Most of them are forgettable as soon as you’ve heard them. The best is the point where Martin, hearing Colin in the workshop come down with a candle and thinks that he hears things moving. Sullivan did it a lot better in Pirates of Penzance, but, at least there’s some interesting stuff going on in the orchestra. For the remainder, it’s really hard to imagine any sort of society that would think that this was worth spending time or money on. I can only imagine that it was written for some particular popular comedian.

It was decently done. The singing was good, particularly from Piran Legg as Martin. Romula Gaitanou directed a production that probably didn’t look very different from what went on when it was first done but with virtually no life or wit. A backdrop after a contemporary Dutch performance on the same subject was attractive.  Julian Perkins conducted. I thought the orchestra played the overture quite horribly.  I cannot imagine ever wanting to see this piece again.

Things changed considerably for the second item, Alessandro Stradella’s San Giovanni Battista. This was written as oratorio but, rather like Handel’s ones it’s intensely dramatic. There are heartfelt arias and fascinating duets. Stradella had a dramatic life, apparently involving rather too many liaisons with other people’s wives leading to a number of contracts on his life. I’m now quite curious to see Flotow’s opera about him.

But I digress. This made a good, satisfying evening. It tells the Salome story: essentially St John starts by leaving his followers to tell Herod to pluck out evil from his court. He arrives and Salome demands his head successfully and it ends with a duet for her and Herod – quite extraordinarily fine. There are fine arias for St John, for Salome and Herod and some pretty good duets as well.

Hopkins’s orchestra had improved out of all recognition, Gaitanou’s production had fun suggesting the lasciviousness of Herod’s court by lots of cross-dressing courtiers but enabled you to concentrate on the emotions and the music. This was well delivered. I was particularly impressed by Meili Li’s warm, strongly produced counter tenor in the title role. He sang elegantly,. honestly and with real conviction. Joseph Padfield was a very strong, frustrated Herod, Lauren Zolezzi was a very glamorous Salome and Gerard Schneider (a nice Colin in the Arne) sang very elegantly as Herod’s Counsellor.

I’d like to see and hear some more Stradella after this – maybe one of his real operas.

 

Pub Patience

14 Jun

I’ve so far avoided the small scale opera in pubs trend that’s cropped up in London over the last few years. There are lots of reasons: the venues tend to be out of my way, the operas ones that I know pretty well and, to be frank, if I’m going to hear them, I prefer them to be with a full orchestra in a comfortable, air conditioned theatre rather than with a piano, on benches in an overheated pub.  I’ve no doubt that you can get a lot from the intimacy of the experience, but you miss a lot as well.  However, Charles Court Opera is currently doing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at the KIng’s Head and, performances of Patience being scarce and it being in my top three or four G&S favourites, I thought I’d see what it was like and went to the performance on 13th June.  You couldn’t imagine a much greater contrast to Rosenkaverlier at Glyndebourne the night before.

Patience has Gilbert’s finest libretto and one that seems to work perennially.  It’s a satire on the aesthetic movement but, more importantly, on fashion and pretension.  Musically, it may not have same level of sure-fire hits as some of the others, but there isn’t a weak number in the piece and the scene for the dragoons dressing up as aesthetes is among their greatest comic moments.  It’s also from the pre-Savoy period when casts were smaller and scenic requirements less lavish.  It’s a very easy one to have a lot of fun with.

This show was, actually, better than a lot of fun.  John Savournin’s nine-person and a piano production found a way of making the cramped location work so that you barely missed the accoutrements of chorus that we’re used to.  He’d set it in a pub.  Patience is the barmaid (rather than the milkmaid), the twenty lovesick maidens become three “melancholic maidens” and they, together with the three dragoons supplied the chorus.  It was fine.

Even better was the sense of style, the gentle updating and the wit and good ideas.  The cast was alert, were as skilful with the dialogue as with the singing and understood how to put the piece across. The pub setting worked nicely – the ladies singing “Ah misery” as they poured another drink, Lady Jane deciding not to help herself to a bag of crisps before launching into the second verse of her Act II number about putting on weight and the ladies as Goths.

It was a nice cast.  Joanna Marie Skillett was a delight in the title role.  Patience is probably the stupidest of Gilbert’s heroines, which says quite a lot, but she conveyed the simplicity in the dialogue beautifully and sang her Act II number really well, with complete sincerity.  I’d happily see her again.  Ditto Henry Manning’s Grosvenor.  He managed the lines about his manly beauty to perfection simply because he wasn’t worried about making them funny.  He has a nice baritone and a good wit and some real talent.  Amy J Payne as Lady Jane could possibly have been larger and more of a battle-axe than her colleagues, but the voice suits the role and she was very funny indeed.

Of the others, Helen Evora and Andrea Tweedale were very funny as the other ladies and I very much enjoyed David Menezes’s clear, attractive tenor as the Duke.  Together with Giles Davies’s excellent Calverley and Michael Kerry’s Murgatroyd, this was very funny, believable trio of officers.

My one slight doubt was over David Phipps-Davis’s Bunthorne.  He had a lovely time camping it up and doing a lot of the obvious things very well.  He was very funny and put the words and music across well.  I wondered, however, whether there isn’t another way of doing this role – one where he was less knowingly ridiculous.  I felt he tried a bit hard and that a quieter approach could have been even more effective and, possibly, what Gilbert was getting at.

David Eaton accompanied valiantly on the piano – making me aware of how like Schubert’s lieder accompaniments they sounded.  He couldn’t get the effects of the orchestrations, but in this environment it didn’t matter.

Now this Patience worked because of its setting – in a larger setting, rather like The Mikado in Hastings last year, the absence of a chorus and orchestra would have been missed and the more intimate gestures and acting would have been lost.  It’s difficult to judge, in a place, this size whether these singers would survive in a larger auditorium – though I’m pretty sure that Mr Manning and Ms Skillett would have a very good chance.  That, however, doesn’t make it necessarily any worse.  I had a lovely time, relishing the opera (as with all good G&S performances, I came out thinking that Patience is my favourite), enjoying the wit and the confident performance.  I didn’t have to make allowances.  I also felt that, maybe, I ought to give some other small scale performances of opera a try sometime and that I might get something out of them that I wouldn’t necessarily get from the ROH.  it was worth the uncomfortable seats and the very hot auditorium.

There were seats available at this performance.  The run is on until the 28th.  We don’t see Patience enough.  If you like G&S, I’d strongly recommend you to go.

Returning to Rosenkaverlier

14 Jun

Rosenkaverlier, like Madama Butterfly is one of my pet hates and the performance I saw at Glyndebourne on 12th June was the first I’d been to in 27 years.  I enjoyed it more than I’d expected but that was as much to do with Richard Jones’s production and the fact that I am much more enthusiastic about Richard Strauss’s music than I used to be, as with any rapprochement with the opera itself.  I find the piece horribly artificial and kitschy: a piece of self-conscious artistry in creating an image of eighteenth century, aristocratic Vienna. with a plot that’s toilet-paper thin, bulked out with minor characters of no interest or sense of reality.  Cutting 20 minutes out of each act would be quite a good start, but I’m unconvinced that even that would reconcile me to the piece.  The people I respect who enjoy Rosenkaverlier get very emotional about the characterisation of the Marschallin and the sense of time moving on.  I’ve never quite got this, which probably says as much about this as them but, unlike, one of my companions at this performance, I simply don’t find the monologue at the end of Act I remotely moving.  Gorgeous music, but it never makes me cry.

This production has all the hallmark’s Richard Jones’s style: strikingly garish sets and costumes, precise movement and really intelligent direction of character.  There is barely any sense of tradition about the production – the costumes are a mixture of styles, the sets tend to cramp, pushing action downstairs.  There are some glorious images – the opening of the nude Marschallin like a Botticelli Venus taking a shower watched by Oktavian and, at the end of the act curling up on the huge sofa.  The other bits of business are well enough managed and there is wit and elegance about the production.  It’s a strong piece of work but doesn’t save the opera.

The cast was decent.  I thought that Kate Royal made an absolutely gorgeous Marschallin.  She’s looks good and sang gorgeously, every word told and she sounded ravishing, caught the dignity of the role and its sadness – but there was also a hard-edged certainty, almost cynicism about her which came out as she dealt with Ochs in the last act.  I’m not sure how far vocally she would survive in a larger theatre.  Here it was great.

I also admired Lars Woldt very much indeed as Ochs.  He was a splendidly boorish country cousin with not the smallest idea of how to fit in in this society.  I’ve heard darker, richer voices, but this, again, worked really well in the house.

So to Tara Erraught.  What struck me about her looks was that this was what Jones intended – puppy-ish, young, gauche and immature.  I suspect he was consciously going away from the traditional image of an Oktavian.  I don’t think it’s wrong to comment on that and I think that a lot of the comments, quite frankly, have been misunderstood.  She sang well but not exceptionally.  Teodora Gheorghiu looked petite and young as Sophie but vocally did not really float the top notes and sound as beautiful as I would like.

Of the other roles, Michael Kraus was a really excellent Faninal – unexaggerated and absolutely right; Miranda Keys was a marvellously funny Marianne Leitmetzerin, Andrej Durnaev a fine Italian Tenor.  David Francis-Swaby and Joseph Bader were excellent as Mohammed and Leopold – both well developed characters which they managed to make convincing and funny without upstaging or hogging the stage.

Robin Ticciati conducted.  One of the most admirable things about it was the way he accompanied the singers.  It’s easy in Strauss for singers to be drowned.  Here, you could hear every word and follow the piece like a play.  Otherwise, I thought that what he provided was very decent, unexciting and reliable.  The LPO struck me as on pretty good form.

So, for an opera I don’t like, it could have been a lot worse.  I may even try to get to the rumoured new one at the Opera House when that comes round.

Carmelites for a decade

10 Jun

Dialogues des Carmélites is one of those operas that I don’t want to see that often. It’s not that I don’t admire it but rather that it can seem quite heavy and ponderous if I see it too often. I remember hugely admiring the first run of ENO performances in 1999 and finding myself rather bored by the second, five years later. It’s never going to be a popular opera and it’s interesting that, even with Simon Rattle conducting, the Opera House weren’t able to sell out even a relatively short run.

Nearly a decade on and the freshness has returned and I found myself immensely admiring the skill and individuality of Poulenc’s opera. It’s a deceptively artless piece – what feels like a series of disjointed scenes grows in intensity as the characters are developed and the situation becomes more serious. It’s a meditation on change, on faith, on death and on community and relationships. I love the depiction of the Constance/Blanche relationship, that between Blanche and the Prioress and the scene between Blanche and her brother. And the last couple of scenes are impressive and moving.

The score itself came across wonderfully in Simon Rattle’s hands. He didn’t make it sound too delicate and he caught some of jazzier, almost cabaret textures in the score – the slightly rasping brass. He paced it deliberately but got the orchestra to reflect the feelings onstage – again, the scene between Blanche and her brother was achingly tender and emotional. He managed the last scene really well. I’ve heard the guillotine sound almost comic. Here is came across naturally, arising out of the sound world in the score while still letting you hear the head fall into the basket. This was wonderful conducting and it’s good to have him back.

Robert Carsen’s production appears to have been round most of the world since 1997, when it was new in Amsterdam – rather as Margherita Wallman’s first production was replicated round most of the world. I actually feel that this is an example of where buying in a very fine production like this actually works. Practically, you’re unlikely to want to do it again that decade and, if the production is this fine, why not use it?

This is the first production by Carsen that I’ve seen which has actually made me understand his reputation. It’s set on a bare stage, surrounded by grey walls. A vast crowd of the Community Ensemble provides the crowd of revolutionaries and populace and helps move from one scene to another. There are some wonderful effects. In the last scene, rather than lining up for the guillotine, the nuns stand, singing and gradually and very slowly fall the floor following each stroke. Before that they moved in their black to the back of the stage, almost disappearing against the black of the crowd and then took off their black coats, appearing in white, almost like a shaft of light. There’s emptiness for the Prioress’s death, claustrophobia for the prison scene and a lovely point where the shroud over the prioress’s body is lifted to reveal the flowers on her grave. The direction of the acting is strong. Visually this is as good a Carmelites as I’d hope to see.

The cast was very good individually but I wondered how well they worked as an ensemble. If most of your cast are nuns then, they can be difficult to tell apart and you need to have a variety of voices to get the characterisation across, particularly if the lighting often obscures faces. I had considerable problems working out whether I was watching Mère Marie or the Young Prioress or even Blanche.  Part of this was probably to do with Sophie Koch as Mère Marie. She’s a lovely singer but I find her voice and acting can be a bit anonymous. It’s a role that can be hugely impressive – the second in command who never becomes Prioress and who doesn’t join the nuns at the end – I remember what Josephine Barstow made of it at ENO. Koch – well, it’s not a voice that you instantly recognise and I felt that there was more to the role than she found. I wanted more contrast between her and Emma Bell’s Young Prioress. Maybe Valerie Masterson in 1983 was at the optimistic end of the casting but she brought a youth and infectious enthusiasm to the role. Bell was more serious and, while she sang beautifully and acted well, I’m not sure that you need a Leonora or Elsa for the role.

Sally Harrison caught the humanity and the fallibility of Blanche, if not the fragility and sang gorgeously. Anna Prohaska was a really lovely, impulsive Constance and I’ll happily see her back here. Deborah Polaski was marvellous as the Old Prioress: it’s a gift of a role for an experienced singer and she played it for all it was worth.

Thomas Allen made a marvellous cameo of the old Chevalier de la Force and I very much enjoyed Yann Beuron’s performance as his son – the duet with Blanche was one of the high points of the evening. The smaller roles were more mixed, though Ashley Riches and David Butt Philips stood out, together with Alan Oke’s confessor. The chorus was great and the community group provided huge concentration and a threatening mass appearance. It’s good to see so many people on the Opera House stage.

At the end there was a silence as the lights faded, one that was deeply appreciative or a strong and moving performance.  There’s one more performance and it’s worth catching.  I’ll not be unhappy if I don’t see the opera again until the next decade but I’m glad that my Carmelites for this one was as special as this.

Unmissable Cellini

7 Jun

I love Benvenuto Cellini in the way that I love, say, Rossini’s La pietra del paragone, Shakespeare’s Cymbeline or Mrs Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers.  All of them have flaws and all of their writers did better work, but there is an intensity and certainty about them that is hugely engaging. You sense in all of them that the author knew exactly what they wanted to achieve but didn’t quite succeed, that there are whole passages that need a complete reworking and the pacing is all over the place.  And yet there is something interesting and satisfying about seeing them.  That was what I felt following the ENO’s splendid new Benvenuto Cellini on 5th June.

There are lots of things wrong with the opera.  The balance of the comic and serious doesn’t quite work out.  It’s oddly paced, parts of it take just too long.  Some scenes feel wrong: the comic moments – like the finding of Fieramosca in Teresa’s bedroom need a lighter touch, more Auber or Offenbach, and could be shorter. There’s a glorious number for chorus in the third scene which sounds as though they should all be storming the Bastille but is, in fact, about an unpaid tavern bill.  There are other passages which cry out for better music or an editor.  But, throughout it all, there is the sense that Berlioz has been making a series of conscious decisions, for a reason, even if you feel that, for some of them, he is barely in control.  It’s an opera where the composer was in love too much with the subject and with himself.  I wonder whether Liszt’s Weimar version might have been an improvement.

Anyway, this ENO production was hugely welcome.  I’ve heard the opera in concert and the first Davis recording is a favourite of mine, but it was written to be staged and that is the only way in which you could get an idea of whether or not it works.  And the joy of this evening was the sense that ENO, rather like Berlioz, had thrown everything that it could at it and that there was barely any sense of compromise.

I missed Terry Gilliam’s Damnation of Faust, to my chagrin.  What struck me about this production was how faithful it seemed to Berlioz’s vision and how, in lots of ways, it mirrored the flaws of the work.  He catches the sheer exuberance of the piece: the carnival begins in the audience during the overture.  He’s set it in the nineteenth century and, in Balducci and Fieramosca catches the type of individual that Berlioz hated.  He stages an exuberant carnival, an outstanding entrance for Pope Clement and is wonderfully witty and subversive.  He catches the heroism and selfishness of Cellini and the exuberance of the end.  And yet, for all that, he cannot paper over the weaknesses of the piece.  I defy anyone to stage the end of carnival scene so that you actually follow what is going on and, like Berlioz, he got away with it by creating very convincing chaos.  Much of the first act struck me as remarkably conservative – there wasn’t a lot here that a competent director in the 1960s wouldn’t have managed.  It was well done but the mind wandered.

I don’t think that the music could have been managed much better. Edward Gardner conducted an entirely convincing and committed performance.  The orchestra outdid itself and the chorus was magnificent – singing with vigour and making light of the difficulties.  This must be one of the most difficult operas to pull of musically and the sheer complexity of Gilliam’s production made it an even more outstanding achievement.

I was uncertain about Michael Spyres when I heard him La donna del lago last year.  He cast away all doubts here.  He sang the role as if there were no difficulties worth mentioning, managing the reflective passages and the heroic one with, apparently, equal ease. After the Tara Erraught controversy, I hesitate to say this, but he doesn’t exactly look like a handsome young hero but, unless Jonas Kaufmann decides to have a go at the role, I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather hear sing it.

Corinne Winters was a very good Teresa.  I could have done with a little more sparkle and, maybe more personality, but this isn’t a role that is easy to interpret and I liked her sense of exasperation at the events that unfolded.  It’s a lovely voice, though, and she sang it all very well.

Paula Murrihy struck me as a really good Ascanio – witty and really strongly sung.  Pavlo Hunka sounded unusually under-powered as Balducci, Nicholas Pallesen made a good impression as Fieramosca and Willard White pretty much stole the show as Pope Clement – making me feel that the ENO should really cast him as the Mikado if they still have the Miller production around.

So this struck me as getting as near as possible to getting the spirit of what Berlioz was looking for.  There’s loads wrong with the opera and Gilliams didn’t hide this.  He also, however, made you feel that they didn’t matter and that what we had was a worthwhile experience.  Anyone who isn’t totally allergic to Berlioz should get to it.  I don’t suppose they’ll have another chance.