John Savournin, artistic director of Charles Court Opera (CCO) and professional opera singer, met me at Rosemary Branch Theatre in the middle of rehearsals (on a chilly Saturday) to discuss CCO’s new and fresh production of The Mikado, which opens this week at the King’s Head Theatre. John talked to me about Gilbert & Sullivan’s inspiration behind the comic work and his optimistic outlook of the opera landscape for Off-West End companies and productions.
Opera wouldn’t be influential if it wasn’t for the role of the ‘diva’ (Italian for ‘goddess’) or ‘prima donna’. Its voices, the magnificent sopranos, tender contraltos, and mellifluous mezzo-sopranos are huge driving forces that foster our love for opera.
Opera is the one of the few artistic genres that elevates the status of women. Since the time of Handel and Mozart, opera’s trouser-roles have also played an influential part. They were specifically made for women to cross-dress as men, manly fighters and despairing boy-like lovers.
To celebrate Women’s Day, I want to share my favourite women in opera from voice to characterisation.
Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert this week (Wednesday 7th) to mark the bicentenary of Anglo-Italian soprano Nancy Storace (1765–1817). The concert includes significant works composed by Mozart, Haydn, Stephen Storace, Sarti and Salieri, which were associated with her, and arias that will be sung by American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker. Here, Jaquelyn, a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, shares her insight and admiration for Nancy Storace and the works she shall be performing at the concert, as well as her love for cooking a hearty Sunday roast.
Carmen as you’ve never seen before
Apologises. This one is a long report because there was plenty to cover on Barrie Kosky’s production. Enjoy!
For those of you who are new to Bizet’s opera, you’ve heard the music before. Without knowing it, you’ve heard the music of Carmen in a perfume, insurance or car advert. It is the second most performed opera at the Royal Opera House (ROH), and many would recommend Carmen as an opera for first-timers to see, yet I’m unsure if I’d say the same for the opening night I attended on Monday.
Welcome! Here’s a roundup of news, posts, bits and pieces I’ve been sharing on Social Media since Day 1 of 2018.
The Globe has announced that they will be showing a new production of Othello this summer. Claire van Kampen shall direct the production with Andre Holland and Mark Rylance who take on the role of Othello and Iago. Tickets are on sale from January 29th, 2018, so get your index finger ready as they will definitely sell out fast. (Click here for the Globe website.)
Ever read a great review of a show and wanted to see the show for yourself, but didn’t know where the theatre was? No worries. Blogger and theatre writer Liz Dyer has pre-made a theatre map for your location needs. If you are a theatre that isn’t listed on the map, let Liz know and she will update the map for you. (Check out the map on her blog.)
Happy News from Alice Jones on Twitter, reporting from Soho Theatre:
Well that’s a first. Someone just proposed to their girlfriend on stage at Soho Theatre! (she said yes)
— Alice Jones (@alicevjones) January 5, 2018
With the upcoming production of Constella OperaBallet‘s award-winning production Sideshows – which is showing at Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells – I managed to get a few words from the composer and conductor behind the work.
Where did the inspiration behind Sideshows come from?
What’s the best way for opera to gain new audiences? The most obvious answer is to encourage new audiences to see an opera and hope that they will enjoy the story, music and singing all at once. Then we have to ask ourselves another question: what are the best operas to show someone who is completely new to the art form? I can see the serious dramas such as La Traviata, Madame Butterfly and Carmen, or even the silly comedies like The Barber of Seville and The Pirates of Penzance being on the top of the list. The narratives are easy enough to follow, depending on the direction and staging, and the music is regularly recycled on commercial adverts (often on radio and TV) which, probably, anyone can recognise.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has taken on the responsibility of introducing opera to newer audiences using an entirely different technique. A brand new exhibition with the collaboration of Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House (and Societe Genrale) has opened at the Sainsbury Gallery. It is the first time the Sainsbury Gallery has exhibited work and artifacts to this scale – the largest in Europe of its kind.
— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) March 5, 2016
There seems to be two misconceptions about opera tickets. Firstly – a point which has been argued to death – that ‘opera tickets are expensive’ and secondly, once a show, or production, has sold out there is no way you can see it, ever!
As a reviewer and blogger, I have the advantage of seeing many operas in London through press tickets, however, this is not ALWAYS the case. With the amount of theatre and opera I see per week (which can range between two to five shows in a week), there are occasions where opera and theatre companies do not provide me with that complimentary ticket. This has encouraged me to seek alternative ways of gaining access to sold out shows and finding the cheapest tickets, which might not always offer the best view but still provides me with a means to view 90% of the opera, and hearing beautiful music and amazing voices.
Opera, theatre, even ballets and classical music concerts, are not only composed and written for the rich and affluent. Keen culture vultures can go and enjoy shows without breaking the bank! Alongside discounted theatre websites and (believe it or not) newspaper, magazine and online publications, actual opera companies offer reduced tickets and special offers as well!
You are in a history class when you watch ‘Prince Igor.’ Consider the current situation with President Putin and the diplomatic crisis. Before Crimea belonged to modern Ukraine its lands and borders, according to ‘Prince Igor’, were Russian, which proves that today’s political upheaval is in fact an ongoing argument which spans from the 12thcentury.
For the first time, Moscow’s own Novaya Opera Company is currently performing, Alexander Borodin’s ‘Prince Igor’ at the London Coliseum. It is based on a poem written anonymously named, ‘The Tale of Igor’s Campaign’ (1185 – 1187.) It tells the story of Prince Novgorod Seversky, Igor Svyatoshalvich and his defeated Russian army by the Polovtsy. Music Critic, V.V. Stasov encouraged Borodin, the chemist and music composer, to write an opera to which he thought was ‘terribly to his liking.’ Unfortunately, Borodin died before he could finish his masterpiece, which was completely by friends, Glazunov and Rimysky-Korsakov. It was first performed in 1890 at St. Petersburg.
Last night, the audience was drawn into another world, Prince Igor’s (Sergey Artamov) glorious Russia where religious omens and Christianity dominate. The opera is mythical and evidently spiritual not only from the music of Borodin and his choice of chorus but the many peculiar details that make a neatly choreographed performance from the peasants dances, standing formations and overall stage direction. A lingering ‘old man’ messiah that dwells on Igor’s psyche also plays a big part.
One would think the opera would hone in on royal Russian ambition, valour and honour but instead it is about a sad, despairing and anxious Prince who cries over the loss of his love and the fate of his people. Artamonov sung the beautiful aria, ‘Neither Sleep, nor rest for a tormented soul,’ which last night’s captivated audience empathised with. Although, Artamonov did not sing as much as Elena Popovskaya, Prince Igor’s wife, Yaroslavna, there was an essence in his voice that identified a good and noble Prince dedicated to his country and proved to be an outstanding performance.
Popovskaya, was the sorrowful beating heart of the performance. She bestowed a strong spirited woman of Russia who even in the face of adversity stood unshaken. Yaroslavna who also suffers separation from her Igor conveyed an unconditional love with 5 dancers behind a misty screen as she sung her aria ‘Oh, I weep’ in the final act. Popovskaya’s manages to create her own unique version of Yaroslavna and introduced an enthralling aria to add to any romantic’s opera playlist. Prince Igor’s son, Vladimir (Aleksey Tatarintsev) and Konchak’s daughter, Konchakovna (Agunda Kulaeva) also give us a tasteful and passionate love duet to a starry sky in Act 2.
With big brassy music including polovtsian traditional dance, period costumes and a large ensemble of 160 players, 120 chorus singers and 63 soloists, it would be a shame to miss out on this opera given that is rarely shown in the UK. Prince Igor is about the orient, the barbaric, the struggle of love and war. Yet there is also a historical sweet solitude encompassed in this Russian opera. The optimism shown through Borodin’s romantic arias are breathtaking even if the opera is based on a gloomy war.
Yuri Alexandrov, producer of the opera wanted to focus on the spiritual aspects. He said: “Igor is a man who suffers and who, by suffering, atones for his sin. That is one of the most important ideas of the production. We have forgotten how to repent and acknowledge our mistakes.” The opera left the audience inspired last night. Some humming the chorus, ‘Glory to the beautiful sun,’ as they exited the auditorium yet due to the deliberate removal of act 3 in most ‘Prince Igor’ performances, not just in Novaya Opera, the finale remains disappointing. What was the aftermath of Vladimir and Konkhan’s daughter’s relationship and what was Prince Galich’s fate? Many questions are left unanswered and it is perhaps the challenge of another production to step up and attempt to fill in the gaps.