Monday, 16 September 2019

Omer Meir Wellber’s inaugural at the BBC Phil

‘I don’t think in history there’s been a music director who opened his tenure with a children’s concert.’

That’s not my comment, it’s the words of Omer Meir Wellber, the young new chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, on his first public appearance with the orchestra at its home in Salford since officially entering on his realm.

He’s proud of it. He conducted the Phil in two Proms concerts in London this summer, but as far as its North of England base is concerned, a children’s concert to launch the BBC’s ‘Bring the Noise’ school music streams and podcasts, and a studio concert live-streamed on iPlayer and the Philharmonic website and shown for passers-by on the BBC’s big screen outside its MediaCity studio (it will be broadcast on Radio 3 later), have been the only inaugural events for the new maestro. The Bridgewater Hall audience in Manchester will have to wait until December for his series concert appearance.

Of course it’s all to do with existing contractual commitments and scheduling – but he says he asked for these inaugural performances because he had one week available in the early autumn to be on-site with the North West band – and it’s also symbolic of the spirit of youthfulness and a zeal to communicate that comes with Omer Meir Wellber at the helm. The Phil are only just beginning to find out what hit them when he got the top job.

That studio concert, for instance. He conducted Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony (the latter from memory) in the second half – pretty much what you might expect from a new chief conductor with a strong track record in the Austro-German classics (he did Mozart’s ‘Linz’ symphony and Act 1 of Die Walküre in a Bridgewater Hall concert last October on the day his appointment was announced).

But the first half had not only the Summer movement from The Four Seasons with a mandolin solo instead of violin (Jacob Reuven, with whom he works in an educational project called ‘Strings of Change’ to help Bedouin children, based in Beer-Sheva, was the soloist), but also the most off-the-wall version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 12 (K414) I have ever heard. He was his own soloist for it, but instead of the variety of contemporary written cadenzas available for each of its movements (of which there are a number), Wellber produced a succession of improvised interpolations – based on the written ones, it is true, and one of them really just a transcription for three soloists in succession – for a jazz-klezmer group including trumpet, clarinet, solo violin, accordion, bass, drum kit and his piano, which took us stylistically a long, long way from 18th century Vienna. He’s at home in these idioms as much as any other, and soon had his audience tapping their feet and smiling at the wail of the clarinet and accelerating dance beat that finally adorned Mozart’s restrained Andante.

‘I’ve done this on a smaller scale before, when we asked the public to vote on what sort of cadenzas they would like – I think even Mozart would approve.’

There may be fun in it, but Wellber takes fun seriously. ‘If you have spontaneity in yourself, it’s wrong to cover it,’ he says. ‘My background is that of a gypsy. If there’s something in you, then this is what you bring. When I was younger I used to do magic shows with music – I would do the tricks and play my accordion. I’m now at a point in my life when I can bring out new things as a conductor.’

So who is this self-confessed gypsy with an accordion, preparing to do magic with one of the UK’s top broadcasting orchestras? It goes back to a childhood in the south of the state of Israel, a family with a remarkable range of talents and connections, and a musical training that gave him a rock-solid grounding and respect for gifted teachers.

His mother and family were both from ‘Eretz-Israel’ families – those who’d lived in the land for generations before the founding of the state in 1948, and answered the call of David Ben-Gurion to make the desert bloom, moving from Tel Aviv to Beer-Sheva, which was where Omer and his sisters grew up.

‘That was the biggest decision made in my life – the kind of thing that makes you a different person. My school wanted me to go to Tel Aviv as a kind of prodigy, but my parents wouldn’t have it. I grew up in a place where you have people from 20 different backgrounds and a basically poor economic environment. And my upbringing was in a free style: each of us did what they wanted to do, we were never pushed into anything. I was ambitious, but I have one sister who is not and one who is as much as me.’

‘Music was always there for me. But so was the theatre – in my family about 70 per cent were involved in teaching, including my parents, and the rest were in acting, so I was familiar with the backstage side of theatre life.’

His cousin, Eli Danker, is well known in Israeli theatrical life, and is set to visit the Philharmonic to perform in a future season: ‘He was the most important influence on me, in a way, as my father died when I was young.’

Omer learned to play piano – and accordion – from the age of five, and the violin and mandolin from the age of 12, because, he says, he was already a composer and wanted to find out how those instruments worked. He stayed in ‘normal’ schooling, with extra teaching at the music specialist school in Beer-sheva until the time came for national service in the army (as all Israeli youngsters do) – but his time in uniform was cut to a year and a half so that he could join the national Jerusalem Music Academy.

He studied with Michael Wolpe (himself taught by Alexander Goehr at Cambridge) because at that point he wanted to make composing his main interest (and he does have a string of compositions to his name), but gradually shifted to conducting.

From 2008 to 2010 he was assistant to Daniel Barenboim, both at the Staatsoper in Berlin and La Scala (he and his family now have their home in Milan), and he acknowledges the importance his mentors have had in his development: ‘Since the age of eight I’ve benefited from really big people as teachers – I don’t think an artist can ever be an auto-didact, and I still speak to my first teacher back in Beer-Sheva.

‘Oscar Wilde said “A fine artist imitates, but a brilliant artist steals”, and I took as much as I could from Barenboim, but now I imitate him less and less. I’ve been professionally conducting for 15 years, but in the past five I have found what is my priority and what “fits” for me.’

Those 15 years have included a remarkable range of experience and activity – music director at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, conducting Verdi operas in Vienna three years running, appearances at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and frequently at the Semperoper in Dresden, where he is now principal guest conductor; and he’s been seen a number of times with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and conducted at Glyndebourne (Madame Butterfly last year), in addition to orchestral concerts worldwide.

Oddly enough, he has memories of a brief previous stay in Manchester as a 12-year-old, when his father, a trade union leader and socialist politician in Israel, was offered a diplomatic job in the UK and came to the city. ‘He hated the job and went back to Israel after a year, and I was not here all that time anyway, but I attended King David School and got to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time!’

He says he also started making model railway sets as a hobby then – another unexpected characteristic of a man of many parts, so it’s almost no surprise to learn that he’s a published author, too. He’s written about Mozart’s three Da Ponte operas (The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosí fan Tutte), in a book called ‘Fear, Risk and Love: Moments with Mozart’, and has a novel about to appear in German, Italian and English. The title in the German version translates as ‘The Four Times that Chaim Birckner Fainted’, which he describes as ‘an alternative story of Israel … about a tired, incompetent Holocaust survivor who goes to Israel: he’s a big liar and he lives a strange, passive, crazy life.’ The politically conscious aspect of his heritage is coming out here, he says, in the light of a new emigration from the country on the part of those of left-wing convictions.

And what will the BBC Philharmonic see in terms of future programmes and projects from Omer Meir Welber? It’s early days yet: his 14 December programme at the Bridgewater Hall includes the UK premiere of Sophia Gubaidulina’s Triple Concerto for violin, cello and bayan (a Russian kind of accordion), along with Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, and he’ll be back in March with a Beethoven programme and in April with Richard Strauss, Schnittke and Shostakovich (also toured to Nottingham): the rest of the autumn-winter-spring season was pretty well sorted when he was offered the top job earlier this year.

He says in the programme booklet for Manchester: ‘In every concert, I want to try to tell a story’ and refers to ‘political themes we’ll be exploring over the next few years’. As we spoke he was discussing plans for next year’s BBC Proms and the season to follow them with the orchestra’s general manager, Simon Webb, and his staff. But it’s probably safe to say, ‘Expect the unexpected’.

Philharmonic trumpeter Gary Farr was asked on camera about the experience of working with him on those improvised Mozart concerto cadenzas in the studio concert. He said: ‘Much of it was Omer’s imagination – and it took all of us to orchestrate it!’

Omer Meir Wellber rehearsing with the BBC Philharmonic. Picture: Mark McNulty

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Latham-Koenig's new boundary-breaking orchestra

The RNCM hosts a concert on 21st September that could be a real landmark. It’s not an event confined to Manchester – rather, one of a series that begins in Russia and then moves to the UK for performances at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, Leeds Town Hall, the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, The Anvil in Basingstoke and finally Cadogan Hall in London.

It’s the inaugural tour of the Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra, a project pioneered by conductor Jan-Latham Koenig to bring young musicians from Russia and Britain  together to play and perform – a bit like Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which likewise is about young musicians coming together and creating links across cultural and political boundaries.

Behind it is a group of top musical training institutions, both in Russia and the UK, of which the RNCM is one, plus some high-placed well-wishers and sponsorship from BP and its Russian counterpart, Rosneft.

Latham-Koenig is well placed to make this idea happen, as he’s chief conductor and artistic director of Moscow’s Novaya Opera Theatre – the first and only British conductor appointed to lead a Russian cultural organisation. The orchestra’s name, obviously enough, derives from the friendship that developed in the 1960s between Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, bridging what were then the big divides of the Cold War. With help from their mutual friend, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, both Britten and Shostakovich were able to cross the ideological boundaries of the time.

Taking part are 87 young players, 52 from Russia and 35 from the UK, who will have been welded together for a week, in Sochi in Russia, by professionals from orchestras and opera houses. Their Russian dates include the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory and the Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg, before they all come to Britain.

The RNCM programme on the tour features Pavel Kolesnikov as piano soloist in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, along with Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra.

Among the orchestra members are the newly announced harpist to the Prince of Wales,  24-year-old Alis Huws, and violinist Elizabeth Lister, cellist Abigail Davies, bassist Thomas Betts, bassoonist Christian Bushnell and trumpeter Thomas Watts, all from the RNCM. 

Latham-Koenig believes Britten and Shostakovich were the two greatest composers of the 20th century in their respective countries, and adds: ‘Above all, they were friends, two geniuses who admired each other. They were different personalities, but you can see that in subtle ways they were both influenced by each other’s music.

‘I am thrilled that we are launching this first British-Russian orchestra in the spirit of a friendship under unlikely circumstances – the language barrier, which Britten and Shostakovich contended with, was their smallest obstacle.’

Jan Latham-Koenig and the Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Review of National Children's Orchestra with Jess Gillam and Jonathan Bloxham, Bridgewater Hall

To tackle a programme including Mahler’s First Symphony after one week’s acquaintance together would be a tall order for any professional orchestra. That the National Children’s Orchestra under Jonathan Bloxham sounded so good doing it is little short of miraculous.

Of course they’re not to be compared with adult professionals, and don’t attain the near-professional standards of the National Youth Orchestra or conservatoire bodies. But if there’s one thing their concert at the Bridgewater Hall on Saturday showed it is that these youngsters can produce amazing sounds with orchestral instruments, both individually and together.

They began with Korngold’s Schauspiel Ouvertüre – itself written by a 14-year-old – in which the most immediate feature of their sound was the sweetness of the string playing and the blending of their brass. Mahler’s Symphony no. 1, when it came, tested every department of the orchestra but emerged as a real success, bringing their audience (favourably biased, admittedly, in many cases) to its feet in admiration. Jonathan Bloxham and his team of music staff had achieved something remarkable in their week’s course of training: the precision of much of the playing (from a very large body), the richness of tone in many areas, and the collective creation of great musical effects were thrilling.

Before that their star soloist, saxophonist, Last Night of the Proms darling, broadcaster, RNCM product and undoubtedly the most exciting thing to have come from Ulverston since Stan Laurel, Jess Gillam, made her own impact with a piece by John Williams called Escapades from Catch Me If You Can (a three-movement suite from Williams’ film score).

Characteristically, she made light of all its intricacies and sailed through its lively jazz-inflected text with an infectious sense of enjoyment. As long as the NCO keeps its emphasis on top-class music making being fun, it really can’t go wrong.

Jess Gillam c Kaupo Kikkas

Monday, 29 July 2019

Review of Don Giovanni at Clonter Opera

Clonter Opera is 45 years old – what began as a kind of summer party for enthusiasts sitting on bales of straw in a barn has become a north west artistic institution, with a purpose-built theatre and proven track record of providing real nurture for young singers as they begin to make their names in a demanding profession.

This year’s summer production of Don Giovanni is notable for the calibre of the production and music team behind it and the results they have achieved: Clive Timms is completing 10 years as music director and finally conducting his 75th performance here, with Robin Humphreys the long-time assistant music director and repetiteur, and Valeria Racco assistant conductor. Martin Lloyd-Evans has brought a fresh re-thinking of the story as director, and Nate Gibson has created an inspired design concept that neatly overcomes the problems of its varied settings (an issue that can easily defeat other designers).

We’re in the present day, or pretty near (mobile phones are much in use; one is the source Leporello consults for the ‘Catalogue’ aria of his boss’s sexual conquests in Act 1). Gibson and Lloyd-Evans have imagined the place as the USA, but it could easily be any other prosperous, soulless and fundamentally seedy Western society. The characters are nearly all genuinely young in years (that fits the Clonter casting), and what separates the powerful from the powerless is not so much aristocrat versus low-born as money and hypocrisy.

Don Giovanni would have a clear case to answer from the #MeToo movement these days: but how much are the victims of such a libertine complicit in moral failure themselves as they thirst for revenge, redemption or respectability, Lloyd-Evans asks. Perhaps his amorality carries more honesty than their conformity. In this view the homespun couple Zerlina and Masetto, in their attempt at a banal, Las Vegas-style wedding and enjoyment of simple, loving carnality, are the ones we should really admire …

The single set has two movable ‘walls’, with shutters that can each be closed or open to reveal a second view: evoking inside and outside, foreground and background, a bar, a club or a morgue with instant effect.

And the statue of the Commendatore, murdered at the outset and who finally answers Giovanni’s invitation to dine and then drags him down to Hell? In this case we see the man spookily re-appearing as silent Uber driver, barista or barman, and finally as a corpse that moves and a living head served up on a platter …  

The singers are all technically excellent – some much more than that. Eliza Boom (Donna Anna) and Alexandra Lowe (Donna Elvira) are familiar to RNCM opera attenders, and each impressed here, the former for her passionate delivery of ‘Or sai chi l’onore’, the latter for the power in her singing, her believable characterization and a glorious ‘Mi tradi’ aria.

New to me was Alexandra Oomens (Zerlina), who deserves a medal just for wearing the crazily high-heeled boots she was kitted out with but whose acting and voice had life and loveliness; ‘Vedrai, carino,’ especially.

Of the men, Fabian Langguth rightly dominated the show, as the Don himself. He got the idea of the louche seducer perfectly, and his light baritone, endearing in his amorous songs and almost a croon in ‘Deh vieni all finestra’, converted itself to a convincing imitation of Leporello’s bass tones moments afterwards: there’s a lot yet to be revealed there.

Simon Grange, who was Leporello, has enviable resonance and a great comic gift, his face never still, which should stand him in real stead in the future. Andrew Henly (Don Ottavio) brought golden tone to ‘Il mio tesoro’, and Stephen Fort was finally imperious as the doom-beckoning corpse-Commendatore.

Masetto can sometimes seem a one-dimensional idiot – but in this production he’s a more regular guy and even a bit of a hero in his own way. Jacobo Ochoa has a fine baritone voice and acts, and reacts, very well.

Fabian Langguth, Alexandra Oomens, Jacobo Ochoa, Alexandra Lowe, 
Andrew Henley and Eliza Boom in Clonter Opera's Don Giovanni. c Andrew Billington

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Review of Georgiana at Buxton International Festival

While Manchester International Festival prides itself on its biennial ‘new work’ (sometimes less than complete, less than new or less than work), Buxton International Festival creates new productions every year. This time, in the 40th anniversary festival, it has created its own new work as well.

It’s a very interesting species, too. They’ve revived the genre of ‘pasticcio’ opera – once common practice all over Europe – which is made by taking musical numbers from existing sources and giving them new words to fit a new plotline. In England the words would be in English, even if the arias and ensembles were originally in foreign-language opera, and there would be spoken dialogue and probably melodrama (speech with background music) as well.

The story here is that of Georgiana, Duchess to the 5th Duke of Devonshire – portrayed by Keira Knightley in the film, The Duchess – and it could hardly be more fitting for Buxton. Almost every stone and blade of grass in the town is connected to the denizens of Chatsworth in some way, or bears the name of Cavendish or Devonshire. In the old days the 11th Duke, and Deborah the Duchess, used to be at every festival first night in Buxton Opera House.

Georgiana, though, was an unusual Duchess. Fabulously good-looking – just look at Gainsborough’s portrait – she was a daughter of the Spencer family, as was Diana Princess of Wales in a later era. Funny, that: there were three people in her marriage, too.

When at first she failed to provide her husband with a male heir, she was joined in his affections and home life by Lady Elizabeth Foster (‘Bess’) – herself the victim of a time when even the noblest married women were their husband’s chattels, and, intriguingly, very good friends with Georgiana, who introduced her to him.

She formed her own extra-marital liaison, too, with Charles Grey (later the Earl Grey of tea fame), who, fitting the style of the time, is played as a mezzo trouser-role here. Their daughter was not allowed to join the Cavendish home.

The film makes you feel Georgiana was a victim. She was in many ways, but she was also a reckless gambler, as well as socialite, political organizer and author. This scenario, by Buxton Festival CEO Michael Williams (who also penned the lyrics for the musical numbers) puts that side of her life in focus, fleshing out her many-sided character.

The music has been chosen by Mark Tatlow, who has achieved an extraordinary thing by making a pasticcio entirely of music Georgiana might or could have heard in her lifetime and adapting it to a tale that’s both comic and tragic.

They make a comedy duo of playwright Sheridan and politician Charles James Fox, and present the early part of Georgiana’s story with a broad, comic brush (though there are strongly dramatic entrance arias taken from Soler and Storace for Georgiana and her mother, and an appealing bit of Mozart to introduce the unhappy Duke).

We also get some popular songs of the period to suit the scenes of public life, one literally from The Beggars’ Opera, whose atmosphere percolates much of the first half of Georgiana.

But the impressive part of this compilation-piece comes later. As the story reaches its tragic culmination, Tatlow introduces his adaptation of Mozart’s wonderful concert aria, ‘Bella mia fiamma’, its chromaticisms bearing the weight of the Duchess’s feelings as she loses her daughter borne to Grey. And the ‘duettino’, adapted from Paisiello, for Georgiana and Bess as the friends (whom the scenario suggests had their own intimate relationship, too) prepare for the parting of death, is superbly chosen and was movingly sung by Samantha Clarke (Georgiana) and Susanna Fairbairn (Bess), under Tatlow’s tender direction.

There’s a touching detail, too, in the introduction to this one – it’s a tune, played on fortepiano by Mark Tatlow as maestro al cembalo, which apparently was the real Georgiana’s own composition.

This performance has been cast with very fine and experienced performers. Benjamin Hulett is powerful and particularly excellent in the florid runs of his Act 2 aria (taken from Linley’s The Duenna). Samantha Clarke and Susanna Fairbairn are wonderful singers and effective actors; Olivia Ray makes a very effective contribution as Lady Spencer (Georgiana’s mother); Katherine Aitken sings Grey beautifully and Rhys Alun Thomas makes a baleful Blackmailer; and Aled Hall and Geoffrey Dolton keep everything alive as Sheridan and Fox.

Matthew Richardson’s direction is sure-footed, clear and entertaining with a simple but effective set (design by Jon Morrell). It’s quite remarkable … and could even set an example for the future. Pasticcio lives again.

Samantha Clarke and Benjamin Hulett in Georgiana

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Review of Orpheus in the Underworld at Buxton International Festival

Seen in Salford on tour in 2015, Jeff Clarke’s reinterpretation of Offenbach’s operetta for Opera della Luna has been revamped for the Buxton International Festival and is even more fun than before.
Jeff is still in charge as director; the choreography by Jenny Arnold enlivens the whole show again, with four ‘infernal dancers’ for the Cancan and much else besides; Maria Lancashire’s jolly costumes are back.
There is re-introduced ballet music rarely heard in other productions – I guess they knew they needed proper dancers for the infernal CanCan, and so they might as well use them thoroughly – so we have a pas des moutons in the opening pastoral and a flies’ polka later on.
And changing from a thrust stage arrangement without much of a set to the proscenium view at Buxton, with some very nice cloths and props by designer Elroy Ashmore, makes quite a difference.
There’s a little orchestra with single strings plus six others, playing an arrangement of the score by Thibault Perrine which works very well, and Luna performers from the previous version are Louise Crane (Juno), Katharine Taylor-Jones (the character of embodied Public Opinion – in this case transformed into an Arts Council of England assessor who knows even less about art than Sir Les Patterson) and Tristan Stocks as Orpheus, who has to sing tenor and play Che Faro on the violin while in character – ie badly, which he does rather well.
We also have some very good new actor-singers, in particular Daire Halpin as Eurydice, Anthony Flaum as Pluto, Matthew Siveter as Jupiter, Lynsey Docherty as Diana and Paul Featherstone as Mercury and John Styx.
The operetta, brought back to its historical roots by Jeff Clarke, shows the inhabitants of Olympus (all one dysfunctional family, rather like Downton Abbey at its worst) and an Orpheus and Eurydice who don’t actually like each other, with Pluto disguised as a shepherd carrying her off to the nether regions. Jupiter and the other gods descend to the underworld, Jupiter gets Eurydice out by disguising himself as a fly, and it all ends with a party and … see for yourself.
Jeff Clarke’s updated the text again with lots of topical allusions (MeToo, fake news, Wikileaks, etc., etc.), ‘When I was king of the Beotians’ this time becoming a soliloquy by one ‘Dave’ who was ‘king of Chipping Norton’ and ‘called that referendum … Donald Tusk has since confirmed it – I have a special place in hell’. Too true.

To the barricades! Scene from Orpheus in the Underworld credit Craig Fuller

Monday, 8 July 2019

Review of Eugene Onegin at Buxton International Festival

Shelley Jackson (Tatyana) and George Humphreys (Onegin) in Eugene Onegin 
at Buxton International Festival (picture: Genevieve Girling)

There’s freshness in the air at the Buxton Festival this year as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, and nowhere more so than in the first of the year’s opera productions, with new artistic director Adrian Kelly conducting for the first time, Jamie Manton making his Buxton debut as director of the production, and a young cast all of whom are making their house debuts.
That’s all to the good, and one continuing factor very much to the good is the quality of the 24-strong festival chorus. They were stalwarts of this interpretation, not just in their singing but in performing some simple but nicely executed choreography as well (by Jasmine Rickets, with dancers Lowri Mashburn and Katie Fairs incorporated into the ensemble), and moving stage props around – indeed, becoming stage props of a sort in some scenes.
Onegin has to have dancing in it, with the much-excerpted waltz and polonaise in the score, each essential to a scene of social dance as much rooted in the story as the ball scenes in Pride and Prejudice. Its typically Romantic saga could have been the outcome of that other plotline if you imagine Mr Darcy spurning Elizabeth Bennet’s feelings and going off for a few years’ Casanova-style adventures, only to return to find her married to someone else and himself wishing he’d taken his chance when he could have.
Of course Tatyana, the heroine here, begins as a much more innocent and lovestruck girl than Elizabeth (with her father to guide her) ever was. Onegin himself is pretty much a cad, killing his best friend in a duel occasioned by his flirting with Tatyana’s sister. So there’s a much more Byronic flavour to Pushkin’s story, which was originally told in sonnet-like verse, giving the whole thing an ironic tone akin to Childe Harold (reflected in this English translation).
All this gives the opera subtleties one hopes to find in its protagonists’ interpretations, as well as enjoying the soaring romance in the music. Jamie Manton leaves them with plenty to do, as the set is about as minimalist as they get: bare boards, autumn leaves, a few chairs and some chandeliers for the first part of the story, some snow for the middle, and better quality chairs for the posh ball in St Petersburg at the end. There is symbolism in the shape of a little girl in ballet shoes who appears beginning and end, and the climax of the duel scene, a sudden plunge into red light, is effective – intriguingly followed by the Polonaise dancers at first carrying death masks and dressed in black.
The principals’ singing is high-quality in every case, the men – George Humphreys as Onegin, David Webb as Lensky, Joseph Doody as M Triquet and Joshua Bloom as Gremin – to my mind filling their roles adequately without ever making you think they’d got real psychological depth in them.
The younger female ones, though – with whom Tchaikovsky perhaps felt the greatest empathy – were contrasted. Shelley Jackson, as Tatyana, has a darkly-shaded soprano tone of real potential and yet never quite made me think she was a youngster in the agony of desperate passion, even in the highspot of her role, the first act’s famous Letter Scene – though she never wrote a word, as far as I could tell.
Angharad Lyddon, as Olga, sang very well and acted the youthful, carefree soul I always imagined: you could see why Lensky fell for her. Gaynor Keeble and Ceri Williams, Madame Larina and Filipyevena, were excellent and inhabited the older women’s characters.
The Northern Chamber Orchestra were in the pit as usual and made a fine fist of the score.