Saturday, 9 December 2017

CDs of my year: a personal selection

Here’s a personal set of CD reviews for Christmas – maybe these could help solve your present problems …

Wagner: Parsifal (soloists, Hallé Orchestra, Royal Opera Chorus, Hallé Youth Choir, Trinity Boys Choir, conducted by Sir Mark Elder: Hallé HLD 7539 , 2CDs)
This is a BBC recording of the complete Parsifal given by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé at the London Proms last year, issued on the Hallé label as a 70th birthday present for Sir Mark in June this year. It sounds remarkably well, considering the Royal Albert Hall was the ‘studio’, and the performance itself is superb in every respect. Personally I find the work something of an acquired taste, but it’s clear that Si Mark has acquired it, and he sustains the atmosphere of rapt contemplation throughout (he calls it a ‘one-shirt work’ in contrast to the other Wagner music dramas for which at least two shirts’ worth of perspiration is needed). If you can handle hearing all those Dresden Amens (a Lead-Kindly-Leitmotif, if ever there was one), then this is for you, too.

Vaughan Williams: Symphonies nos. 4 and 6 (Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder: Hallé HLL 7547)
Sir Mark and the Halle have already recorded VW’s symphonies 1, 2, 5 and 8 to considerable acclaim, and this is an equally notable document. The works are each in their own way ‘war’ symphonies, the fourth dissonantly angry and full of foreboding (though with beautiful melody, too), the sixth seen by many as post-war reaction to the horror of Hiroshima, with its long, almost featureless and eery finale. Sir Mark always brings freshness and clarity to his music, and this is no exception.

Scriabin: Symphony no. 2; Piano concerto (Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kirill Gerstein, conducted by Vasily Petrenko: LAWO Classics  LWC1139)
Scriabin’s earlier works are being championed by Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic, and offer a few surprises to the listener who (like most of us) does not know them as regular concert repertoire. They’re closer in style to the high Romantic vein of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov than Scriabin’s most visionary, later music, which makes them a rewarding experience in the hands of such a great-sounding orchestra as this and its highly gifted conductor – also music director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. On the other hand, they’re somewhat uneven, the major example of this being the finale of the second symphony, where after a seriously discursive first two movements (like a vast slow introduction and allegro), a beautiful Andante and a lively scherzo, descends into mere vainglorious posturing where something much weightier is needed. But well worth hearing for the beauties along the way. 

‘Suites and Fantasies’, various composers (Joo Yeon Sir, violin, Irina Andrievsky, piano: Rubicon RCD1003)
As debut discs by solo violinists go, this is an exceptionally rewarding and entertaining one. Joo Yeon Sir’s technique is fabulous, and she is recorded by Andrew Keener and produced by Matthew Cosgrove – both signs of superb quality. She and Irina Andrievsky play the charming pastiche (or is it?) Suite in Old Style by Schnittke, Falla’s Suite Popular Española, Britten’s youthfully spiky Suite for Violin and Piano op. 3, Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le Toit, and Frolov’s Concert Fantasy on themes from ‘Porgy and Bess’ – what’s not to like? Highly recommended.

‘The Silver Stars at Play’, contemporary Christmas carols (Kantos Chamber Choir, directed by Elspeth Slorach: Prima Facie PFCD075)
A great idea to fill a CD with new, or mainly new, settings of Christmas music, sung by Kantos, the choir of emerging professional singers of the north west, conducted by their director Elspeth Slorach. There are many little gems here (though, as with any collection of such a kind, the quality of the material varies), among them Paul Ayres’ Hodie Christus natus est, Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s This Time is born a Child, Andrew Cusworth’s Of a Rose, Peter Maxwell Davies’ Child of the Manger, Andrew Mayes’ Christmas Music and Mark Hewitt’s Silent Night setting – and the title piece, by Colin Hand.

Adam Gorb: Dancing in the Ghetto and other works (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic 10/10 Ensemble, conducted by Clark Rundell; Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble, conducted by Mark Heron and Timothy Reynish; Manchester Camerata, conducted by Mark Heron: Prima Facie PFCD047)
This collection of recent works for large ensembles by the Royal Northern College of Music’s head of the school of composition – whose highly crafted writing I always find stimulating and usually very enjoyable – has two pieces with the kind of over-the-top, klezmer-influenced, knees-up dance rhythms he’s so good at (Dancing in the Ghetto and Weimar), along with his Symphony no. 1 in C, which is light-hearted, a little bit referential and enormous fun, and Serenade for Spring, which does exactly what it says on the tin. The last piece, Love Transforming, is a long, slow, deeply felt single movement written for Timothy Reynish’s 75th birthday concert and a very different kind of music, but equally intense. I was there for the concert when it was unveiled, and though the recording cannot capture the spatial effects it creates alongside exploring fascinating timbres, I’ll stick to my verdict then that it is ‘both evocative and a model of how to write clearly and imaginatively for unusual textures’.

Anthony Gilbert: ‘Travelling with Time’, recent music on historical themes (various performers: Prima Facie PFCD041)
A collection of pieces written over the past 30 years by Adam Gorb’s predecessor at the RNCM, Anthony Gilbert, this links them together by imagining a journey through history from the 9th century to the 20th, with music for voice, instruments, cello, piano, string quartet and string orchestra. The stand-out for me is Another Dream Carousel, an evocation of Viennese life prior to the Nazis’ horrors – I admired the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s playing of this when it was new in 2000 and it’s good to have it on this disc.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Hallé’s Messiah: review

The Hallé’s annual performance of Messiah has a venerable tradition. Begun by Charles Hallé in December 1858, it’s been the subject of interpretations by some of its great permanent conductors and for many years an exercise in the grand effects of massed choral singing beloved of our forebears. Barbirolli, theatrically, used to have his choir shout the last ‘Hallelujah!’ of the allegro tempo as loud as they could – that certainly made you jump!

This year’s conductor, John Butt, is from a different stable. His award-winning recordings of great choral works of the baroque period, Messiah among them, are usually made with very small forces and represent, as closely as scholarship can define, the original details of a particular performance.

Someone once said that if you want to imitate the performance conditions Handel faced, you should stage the smallest orchestra you think you can get away with, and then make sure that they outnumber the chorus. But there’s no chance of that in a Hallé performance in the big space of the Bridgewater Hall (which was virtually sold out on Saturday) – so what we had was historically informed, rather than historically authentic.

It was a brilliant success in practice. John Butt performed the work without cuts, and brought a sense of the lively, dancing rhythms of much of Handel’s music, a near-operatic pace, as the units of the first part (in particular) unfold like scenes on a stage, and a good ear for dramatic effect, which Handel’s instincts provide and which can be leveraged well enough in an enlarged setting such as this without deserting the sound qualities of the original instrumentation (the chattering oboes duplicating the violin lines are always really effective).

He didn’t completely buy into Barbirolli’s idea that the chorus should begin ‘Glory to God’ sotto voce, to fulfil the ‘da lontano’ marking and make the angels glide into our foreground as if on the wing, but he had their accompanying trumpets up on high, sounding from the very heavens.

And for the final chorus he threw modesty to the winds and had Christopher Stokes open up the resources of the Marcussen organ (instead of a chamber instrument) for once, to accompany the choral peroration – a spine-tingling moment.

His soloists were a gifted quartet: outstanding among them the tenor Thomas Walker, who brought the arresting style of baroque opera to his recitatives and was outstanding in the Passion music, and Mhairi Lawson, who beamed like an angel, with the glow of telling the Gospel story as if we’d never heard it before. They, and mezzo Anna Stéphany and baritone Robert Davies, were perfectly on-message with baroque embellishments and shakes – although I noticed that ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ was closer to the Victorian preference for effect through simplicity, and none the worse for it.

The Hallé Choir sang with consistent precision and excellent attack, particularly in ‘O Thou that tellest’, ‘Surely He hath borne our griefs’ and, of course, ‘Hallelujah!’ – well worth standing for. Tradition has its place, and there is still a thrill in seeing an entire house acknowledge the presence of the King of Kings.

(The historical note in the printed programme needs some adjustment, particularly if it’s to be used again any time. Charles Hallé’s first Messiah in Manchester was in December 1858, when he began a ‘Manchester Choral Society’ series – with his new orchestra and alongside his other concerts – that continued until 1861. The only reason the oratorio doesn’t feature in the collected programmes of his orchestral concerts until later is that, although there was a ‘repetition’ added to the latter in March 1859, subsequently the Choral Society series included the work in December 1859 and December 1860: only when the two series were amalgamated in 1861 does the December Messiah appear as part of the ‘new look’ season. Look at the concert records and contemporary newspapers and it’s all there. And Sims Reeves, the great Victorian soloist, was a tenor.)

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Review of Halle concert with Ryan Wigglesworth

Ryan Wigglesworth, principal guest conductor of the Hallé, gave a programme for this week’s ‘Opus One’ concert that would have seemed outrageously heavyweight for that audience a few years ago. But it wasn’t, and the reception for Mahler’s fourth symphony showed just how much the traditionally ‘popular’ Opus One repertoire has come closer to that of the reputedly ‘heavy’ Thursday series.

He began with Mozart, and a concert aria to boot, which certainly won friends and influenced people. Joanne Lunn, the soprano who stepped in to replace Elizabeth Watts, was a charming performer of Ch’io mi scordi di te? – a classical stylist whose voice quality betrays hidden depths and holds manifest richness. In partnership with Ryan Wigglesworth (who directed and played the piano part Mozart originally wrote for himself), the piece was poised and elegantly phrased, with a controlled burst of passion for ‘Stelle barbare …’ and a degree of agitation perceptible in the final stanza (and some fiercer wind playing in its reprise).

More Mozart followed, keeping the chamber orchestra sized team of strings for his Symphony no. 34 (K338). It’s intellectual weight is in the first movement, which was taken at a sober pace for vivace, allowing for crisply articulated lines, some moments of foreboding and a grand gesture to end with. Perhaps Ryan Wigglesworth was seeking impact and profundity in the slow movement, too, among its graceful melodic shapes and occasional harmonic surprises, but I’m not sure there was much there to be found. The finale – an overture in all but name, with an ear-worm of a main theme – produced even and efficiently busy string playing from the Hallé, led by Paul Barritt.

Then it was time for Mahler. Symphony no. 4 is considered one of his most ‘approachable’, on account of its gentle melodies and cheerful themes associated with the Des Knaben Wunderhorn song that concludes the work, and in this reading it began all grace and gradual transition, with skillfully balanced textures and contrasts of woodwind tone the most telling aspect of the playing.

But of course there is something more macabre to come, and it made itself more apparent in the playfulness of the second movement, the symphony’s scherzo. Ryan Wigglesworth followed all the score’s directions to the letter, with never any additional stroke of drama. There was warmth from the horns in chorus and silvery beauty from the strings in the long slow movement, with peace and goodwill its dominant aspect, even in the ‘surprise’ gesture at its close, which was neat if not exactly startling.

Joanne Lunn returned to sing the solo of ‘Das himmlische Leben’ in the final movement, with beautiful pianissimo and a lovely portamento for St Ursula. The movement’s last defiance was an emphatic blast at the repetition of the opening theme of the whole work – a nice touch.

Ryan Wigglesworth and Joann Lunn

Monday, 6 November 2017

Review of BBC Philharmonic concert (Brett Dean, Sally Beamish, Beethoven and Elgar)

The BBC Philharmonic plunged into music of the 21st century on Saturday at the Bridgewater HalHall, with Simone Young conducting and Jonathan Biss their piano soloist.

(It was balanced with Beethoven and Elgar, but more of that later).

Brett Dean’s Testament, in its 2008 revision for orchestra, was a stimulating beginning. It’s inspired by Beethoven’s ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’ – the unsent letter in which he grappled with thoughts of suicide (‘Testament’ in this context = a will, to be read after one’s death) but resolved to pursue his calling as a musician in spite of encroaching deafness.

The composer’s description itemizes a three-stage process of ‘leave-taking, an acceptance and a fresh start’, and that’s certainly mirrored in the music. It was played with care and considerable precision, Yuri Torchinsky in the leader’s chair of the Phil.

The other novelty – Sally Beamish’s Piano Concerto no. 3, ‘City Stanzas’ – was premiered in January this year and written (at Jonathan Biss’s request) explicitly to ‘partner’ Beethoven’s first piano concerto. Beamish says it was affected by the political situation in the UK and USA as she composed it last year, and that it’s ‘darkly sardonic’ in all three movements. I have the impression that its concept changed as she worked on it, and that the intention to write something about urban landscapes took on grimmer aspects without completely extinguishing the more light-hearted aspects which she may have had in mind originally.

Its structure follows that of the Beethoven concerto, with the marching rhythms of its opening turned quite militaristic and grotesque, and its ‘second subject’ making a strong and near-lyrical impression, though with heavy tread. The slow movement’s bleak sound, with gloomy chords from the piano and lugubrious woodwind solos, is a real lament for something lost. The finale catches Beethoven’s lightness and wit – a touch of dance band music included – but ends with a good deal more anger than he put in: a testament to 2016’s politics, I guess.

Jonathan Biss played the solo part with love and expertise, and the BBC Philharmonic backed him all the way. In the actual Beethoven Piano concerto no. 1 (which preceded the Beamish concerto), we had a stylistic mix, with the orchestra’s beginning in attempts to inject lightness and classical articulation to their sound but reverting more to their tried-and-tested tutti quality as time went on. Jonathan Biss was a model of classical decorum, but added telling passion and drama in the course of the first movement – almost as if a new music was being invented before our very eyes. The slow movement had a poised solo with muscular accompaniment.

The concert ended with Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations. The Phil, of course, can play this with their eyes shut, and the accent in some places was again on muscularity, with a big finish that brought an enthusiastic reception. It was in the quieter and gentler movements, however, that their best qualities came out.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Review of Hallé performance of Shostakovich Symphony no. 4

The most substantial of Sir Mark Elder’s three opening programmes with the Hallé for the 2017-18 season came last (after an Opus One set and a Thursday concert), on Saturday, as a ‘Hallé Collection’ evening.

Unusually, it was a ‘Beyond the Score’ night, with a single work in focus, illustrated and illuminated first by a film-plus-actors sequence, with musical extracts played by the Orchestra and Sir Mark, and then the full piece done ‘straight’, after the interval.

These presentations, devised by Gerard McBurney for the Chicago Symphony, have been used by the Hallé twice before – the ‘New World’ symphony and the Enigma Variations being the subject-matter. This was altogether weightier historical subject matter: Shostakovich’s Symphony no.4.

In fact there’s so much to be said about the fourth symphony – withdrawn from the public on the eve of its première in 1936, in the wake of the ‘muddle instead of music’ campaign against Shostakovich (most probably directly inspired by Stalin) and never heard until December 1961 – that contextualizing it fully, even with abundant clips from old Soviet newsreels and projections of contemporary posters, with excerpts from letters and speeches by key players in the drama – was bound to be an impossible task.

The printed concert programme, striving for background to the background, gave us much information but didn’t explain whose voices we were hearing or what the origins of the clips were. So it was an impressionistic glimpse of an alien and terrible time that came across: powerful if not informative, and veering towards a message that certain parts of the work were ‘about’ such things as factory output, poverty and deprivation, sport and recreation, home and family, and so on.

In fact the music spoke more clearly when it was ‘about’ nothing but itself. And that was in the second half, as Sir Mark piloted the orchestra through a performance that seized and maintained tension from the outset. The fourth is a massive, sprawling symphony that seems like Mahler’s constructions in some respects, employs an orchestra of the size he would have liked, and uses its potential for massive effects and chamber-music-like interludes in a somewhat similar way.

One challenge of performing it is to maintain a continuing musicality, particularly through the long first movement – as Günther Herbig did when he conducted it with the BBC Philharmonic for the Hallé/Phil Shostakovich cycle in 2010. As then, there were outstanding solos from the wind instruments along with bitingly satirical episodes, and Elder’s string section has a silky tenderness that fits the mood of the quieter music in both the first two movements beautifully.

And Elder found a trudgingly determined pace for the funereal (and Mahlerian, if you think of his first symphony) tune of the slow movement, fatalistic yet determined, with incredible intensity and wonderful lyricism alongside it. This was truly the emotional heart of the work.

By contrast, the finale bounced along with heady optimism and dashed into its Keystone Cops, clown-style sequence with zest. The big (mock?) peroration was powerful in the extreme – making the doom-laden epitaph to it all the more harrowing.

It was a great performance. The one question I’d have liked to have considered was this: when Shostakovich wrote the fifth symphony, as ‘a Soviet artist’s reply to just criticism’, had he really undergone a change of heart musically?

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé

Friday, 20 October 2017

Opera North's 'Little Greats'

Opera North’s season of ‘The Little Greats’ is bringing six short operas to The Lowry, in pairs, from November 15 to 18, with a Saturday matinee of one also available on the 18th. Thanks to the generosity of Opera North, I saw them all in Leeds, in slightly different combinations from the Salford ones, so this is a preview/review.

First off on this side of the Pennines are the classic pair of Italian ‘verismo’ tragedies, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, only in this case Pagliacci comes first. On the Thursday it’s Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, followed by a rarity from Janáček - Osud (meaning Destiny). On the Friday two lighter, shorter works take the stage with Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti and Trial by Jury by Gilbert & Sullivan, and on the Saturday L’Enfant et les Sortilèges is repeated in the afternoon, and then Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana recur in the evening.
Pagliacci, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges and Osud were all originally slated to be conducted by Aleksandar Markovic when he was the company’s music director. He left somewhat abruptly in the summer, and Tobias Ringborg, already part of the season’s conducting team, has stepped up to the rostrum for Pagliacci (he was already down for Cavalleria Rusticana and Trouble in Tahiti) and Martin André has taken over L’Enfant and Osud. Oliver Rundell conducts Trial by Jury.

In the event, the entire enterprise is a great example of Opera North’s ensemble philosophy, with principal singers in one production popping up in support roles in another and chorus members frequently stepping into the limelight, and it seems only natural that set and lighting design for all six productions is by Charles Edwards, and there’s a common front cloth showing the assembled team – directors, performers, chorus and all – in a group photograph.
Edwards directs Pagliacci, and his reinterpretation of the ‘strolling players’ story uses the idea of an opera company in rehearsal. So the performers are themselves – concept photos of the other operas are visible on the rehearsal room walls, and the chorus are first heard sitting down practising their notes. Props that will recur in other Little Greats shows are simply lying around.

It’s not so much ‘On with the motley’ as off with it, most of the time – though Peter Auty, as Canio the tragic clown, gets to wear his face-paint and wig for the ‘final run-through’. Nedda (Elin Pritchard) is having an affair with the conductor, Silvio (Phillip Rhodes).
It all begins with Tonio (Richard Burkhard) giving the prologue, suitably adapted, in English (‘You’ll see a company rehearsing an opera’), though the story itself is sung in Italian – until in the final line Tonio reverts to English to shout that ‘The performance is over’. It’s almost a motto piece for the entire series (though I hope this verismo does not extend to real stabbings behind the scenes at Opera North).

Cavalleria Rusticana is a masterpiece that sprang full formed from its creator Mascagni’s youth and which, arguably, he never excelled. It’s been popular for excerpting from the day it was written (Charles Hallé conducted the much-loved Intermezzo in concert in his later years), and that, the Easter Hymn and the Brindisi (drinking song) pop up everywhere.
It has the reputation of being the first ‘verismo’ opera, with a degree of truth to real life that the art form had never created until then. It is true to its title of ‘melodrama’, and, if any opera deserves the reputation of being a shabby little shocker, this is surely it.

Karolina Sofulak’s production shifts it in both space and time from 19th century Sicily to Poland in the 1970s – Catholicism is still the background, but it’s in the ‘greyness’ and scarcities of a subjugated society, as well as the treatment of young women, that she sees parallels. The only clear locale is a shop, and there is no visual equivalent of a church, just a wooden panel with a cross on it – for some reason, the scorned Santuzza’s former lover Turiddù (who is ultimately to die for his seduction of Alfio’s wife, Lola) climbs on to it with arms outstretched like a crucifix at one point, though I couldn’t see why.
The great virtue of this offering is that it has the same two outstanding women principals as does Osud: Giselle Allen is Santuzza, and Rosalind Plowright is Lucia (Turiddù’s mother). Turiddù is Jonathan Stoughton, a young British tenor with a big voice making his only contribution to The Little Greats with this role, and Phillip Rhodes is a highly convincing Alfio – we see him as a decent bloke and possessor of the only decent little car in town, driven to vengeful murder as he realizes his marriage is utterly adulterated.

Annabel Arden directs L’Enfant et les Sortilèges in a manner that, like her other best work for Opera North, is faithful to the score and the book but full of imaginative touches. The Child (Wallis Giunta) has his hand-held electronic device to engage his attention at the outset, rather than listen to his Mother (Ann Taylor): what youngster today wouldn’t? Fflur Wyn, Quirijn de Lang, Katie Bray, John Graham Hall, John Savournin, Lorna James, Kathryn Walker, Victoria Sharp and Rachel J Mosley complete the cast – the sort of team only an ensemble enterprise of this kind could provide for Ravel’s 45-minute fantasy.
It’s definitely on with the motley in the costume department, as chairs, teapot, fire, wallpaper figures, cats, squirrel, storybook princess and the rest all come to life, following Colette’s delicious libretto. The story, with its hints at adolescent awakenings alongside dawning awareness of the need to help one’s fellow-creatures as a child grows up, in Annabel Arden’s version retains an innocence that’s wholly appropriate.

Osud is an early work by Janáček but requires considerable resources: there are 26 named roles, it’s in three acts and takes an hour and a half – in short, a compact opera in its own right.
It gives a fascinating insight to its composer’s own psyche, as it’s a tale he concocted himself about a composer writing an opera in which his own life and love are the inspiration. So it’s a story within a story (almost a leitmotiv of the Little Greats season), and another aspect of the Janáček characteristic of writing about emotions he’s acutely felt already.

Annabel Arden is again director, and she presents the scenario pretty straight. She’s borrowed an idea from those who have staged this rare piece in recent years in the Czech Republic, which is to begin in the present day. She shows Živný, the composer (John Graham-Hall), supervising an exam in his music conservatory, and then runs the first Act as a 20-years-ago flashback in his mind, followed by the second Act as a 15-years-ago flashback, returning to the present for Act Three, where the exam ends and the students ask him about his opera. But she doesn’t change the order of the notes.
The opera is sung in English, but with surtitles also, which with Janáček’s orchestrations helps.

There is a particularly strong cast. John Graham-Hall brilliantly sang the title role in Opera North’s The Adventures of Mr Brouček a few years ago; Giselle Allen (who’s done wonderful work for Opera North in the past) is Míla, the object of Živný’s passions; and Rosalind Plowright is her mother. Peter Auty, Richard Burkhard, Dean Robinson and Ann Taylor are there, too, and the other roles are supplied from Opera North’s multi-talented chorus.
Trouble in Tahiti and Trial by Jury contrast with the bigger emotions of some of the other ‘Greats’. They come from different eras – Leonard Bernstein’s from his early years as a composer in the 1950s, well before West Side Story, but clearly showing some of the knacks that would go to make that later masterpiece – Gilbert & Sullivan’s first extant collaboration from the late-ish 19th century but before the polished gems of HMS Pinafore and it successors.

Each has a claim to attention, though, not just because some of their creators’ skills were embryonic when they were written, but because some were already fully formed. (Bernstein, in particular, was already a master of the ‘ear-worm’ of a simple melodic motif that can tug at your heart-strings as it returns and is quoted from one number to another). Both works carry a degree of social satire of their times – and in these productions both get treatments which connect, albeit tangentially, to the ‘behind the scenes’ or ‘story within the story’ themes of Pagliacci in its new guise.
In Matthew Eberhardt’s production  of Trouble in Tahiti we are in a radio studio, as the Trio who act is a kind of Greek chorus in the score do it to make the links and jingles of the format. The scenes unfolded are of a husband and wife who are growing apart and a child who suffers as a result – catching the unease the fifties brought about growing post-war affluence and soullessness.

In John Savournin’s Trial by Jury it’s a more thoroughgoing modernization of the G&S original, which may not be to everyone’s taste, though the audience I was part of loved it. The period seems to be the 1930s, and the overture is obliterated by a supposed flouncy TV showbiz reporter (borrowing the idea from Singing’ in the Rain) outside the courtroom, establishing the re-interpretation of the plot as that of a jilted film star suing for her offended feelings but really just hyping up the publicity for her latest picture. Women were rare on juries in the Thirties, but Savournin has several of them, and a woman as the Plaintiff’s Counsel, rather than the baritone Sullivan wrote for, so the whole thing is even more topsy-turvy than usual.
Apart from that, it’s much as G&S wrote it, with the dotty old judge (Jeremy Peaker) the centre of most amusement. Glamorous (and RNCM-trained) Amy Freston is The Plaintiff. This showbizzy kind of style is her ideal milieu, and I’m happy to recall that I first heard her lovely voice singing another work by Sullivan, back when she was still at ballet school in London.

Pagliacci - Peter Auty as Canio and Elin Pritchard as Nedda (Credit Tristram Kenton)

Cavalleria rusticana - Katie Bray as Lola, Phillip Rhodes as Alfio and Giselle Allen as Santuzza with the Chorus of Opera North (Credit Robert Workman)

L'enfant et les sortilèges - Quirijn de Lang as Grandfather Clock and Wallis Giunta as the Child (Credit Tristram Kenton)

Trial by Jury - Amy Freston as The Plaintiff and Jeremy Peaker as The Learned Judge (Credit Robert Workman)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review of the Basel Symphony Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall

The Bridgewater Hall’s international orchestra series opened with a visit from the Basel Symphony Orchestra, with its Blackburn-lad (and clearly proud of it) chief conductor, Ivor Bolton.

They may not be one of those that immediately spring to mind in lists of the world’s top ten orchestras, but the Basel band have a sound of their own, based – at least on this showing – on 40 strings only, with their four double basses standing to play and digging their bows in to give a firm underpinning to a bright tutti. The strings are also capable of making a murmur of a pianissimo and everything in between, so they made the most of the hall’s acoustic properties.

I have the impression that Bolton has schooled them carefully for this tour, and the Lustspiel-Ouvertüre by Busoni, lightweight though it might be thought in some ways, was a demonstration of neat ensemble, incisive articulation, beautiful woodwind tone and a glittering climax: a very good start.

Saint-Saëns’ Cello concerto was not as pristine in every part orchestrally, but its great virtue was the playing of the soloist, Sol Gabetta. She was last here in 2015, with the Dresden Philharmonic, giving a glorious interpretation of the Elgar concerto, and she did not disappoint this time. Her tone carried through the accompanying textures with ease; she could reduce it to a perfectly controlled whisper, and is adept at letting a quiet phrase hang in the air almost to the point of extinction – in short, a delight to hear. Ivor Bolton contributed to the total effect with imaginative handling of the more cliché-like lurches of style in the writing (with Saint-Saëns you never quite know whether you’ll get Russian misery, Mendelssohnian gossamer or Schumannesque outbursts, but they’re all there).

Her encore piece, Fauré’s Élégie (for which two horns who otherwise enjoyed an easy night were brought on stage), is almost a miniature concerto and endeared her still more to her listeners.

The meat of the evening was Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7. Hardly a novelty, of course, and many of us have probably heard what we consider definitive performances of it in the past. I found Ivor Bolton’s approach overdid the portentousness and heavy drama a bit (the opening sostenuto almost lost the will to live by its end) and though well enunciated didn’t capture all the dance-like qualities that are there to be found.

The scherzo was instead vigorous, loud and proud, with some rasping horn tone to emphasize the point (but more deathly pauses). And the finale was a solid mix, with Bolton determinedly stirring the bowl. A pretty thick raclette, in fact.

But it wowed the crowd, as did their extra bit of Fauré – the Nocturne from his music to Shylock.
Sol Gabetta

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Review of Manchester Camerata's UpClose event at HOME

Manchester Camerata has made its UpClose series into a brand in its own right these days, and in the Gallery space at HOME, Manchester’s theatre-cinema-gallery-arts centre and its new artistic partner, it had a venue for ‘Pocket Symphonies’ that no doubt brought an enquiring set of new ‘experience seekers’, too.

What they found was a sequence of music tracks realized by their composer, German creative wizard Sven Helbig, the piano quartet parts played live under his direction by Camerata’s Adi Brett, Ann Beilby, Hannah Roberts and Simon Parkin, alongside film created and curated by HOME’s own Chris Paul Daniels.

That sounds pretty prosaic, but it was an experience that held attention for most of its about one-hour duration, and the magic was in the marriage of the music and the visuals – many of them archive footage with a nostalgic twist, or (in one case) time-lapse shots of familiar scenes in our own busy-bee city, woven into fascinating tapestries of superimposition.

Biggest hit on the night was one dominated by images of speed along a railway track, matching the pounding moto perpetuo of the score, which they decided to make into an encore, too.

Helbig described his work – which is on an existing album, played by full orchestra and piano quartet – as a ‘song cycle’, and I guess that’s what it is, if you think songs-without-words. (Symphonic they are not, though in one or two I wondered whether ‘Pocket Passacaglias’ might have fitted, with their chaconne-style variation of an underlying four-bar unit, or sets of units).

But hey, the man comes with imprimatur of the Pet Shops Boys and Snoop Dog, among others, as well as classical outfits, so you know he’s not an idiot. He can certainly write effectively for piano quartet, and his music can be plaintive, or hyper-energetic, or loads of other things, and is very appealing (tonal all the way) within its album-track dimensions.

Is this the way to woo listeners into the classical world who find traditional symphonies too long? Well, at one point (just before the railroad track) I thought perhaps an hour of one similar-length piece after another was going to be too long. But music with something to look at is another genre, anyway – maybe even a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk – and if Wagner could do the maxi version, Sven can do the mini.

Pocket Symphonies (rehearsal shot) Picture: 0161

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Review of Clonter Opera's The Marriage of Figaro

Clonter Opera has a remarkably good and large cast to offer in its 2017 summer production, and what’s more a very gifted and imaginative director in Stephen Medcalf, who’s come up with the idea of keeping the location as Spain (Figaro is the former Barber of Seville, remember?) but bringing the timing forward to that of the fascist 1930s.

It works remarkably well. You can believe that the Count (army uniformed and a pretty nasty piece of work in this production) might really want to have his way with Figaro’s young bride who’s in both his clutches and his employ. Figaro’s position – smartly dressed chauffeur and smart-brained with it – makes him an inferior and yet capable of standing up to the boss with some success. Designer Nate Gibson pays homage to Dali and Gaudi in a setting which is minimal (at Clonter it has to be) but evocative.

The music is in the highly capable hands of Clive Timms, with Liz Rossi leading the Clonter Sinfonia who play a reduced score in the tiny Clonter pit. The principals clearly know their business and they come together very well indeed in the ensembles.

Are there some stars of the future at Clonter this year, as there so often have been in the past? Margo Arsane (Susanna) and Henry Neill (Figaro) were impressive from the start. She’s a natural stage performer, acting and reacting to the story throughout, and her soprano is pure and clear, with power available but never over-used. He a gifted actor-singer with well developed tone in his voice and a lot of energy and charm. Josep-Ramon Olivé as Almaviva has confidence and stage presence, Andrew Irwin brings a fine tenor voice and a real comic gift as both Basilio and Curzio, while Angharad Lyddon as Cherubino sings delightfully and has mastered the art (and walk) of being a girl playing a boy who at times is pretending to be a girl.

Elizabeth Skinner (the Countess) brings a lovely mature sound to her role; Eugene Dillon-Hooper is a believable Dr Bartolo, with Jade Moffat (Guidhall) vocally strong as Marcellina. There were valuable contributions, too, from Edward Robinson as Antonio and Corinne Cowling as Barbarina.

Henry Neill as Figaro and Margo Arsane as Susanna in Clonter Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Picture by Pauline Neild
Josep-Ramon Olivé as Count Almaviva in Clonter Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Picture by Pauline Neild
Elizabeth Skinner as the Countess in Clonter Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. Picture by Pauline Neild

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Transports of delight

The Scott Brothers – Jonathan and Tom, organist, pianists, composers and creative animator between them, and much besides – are appearing in concert at Rochdale Parish Church on Saturday 22nd July, at 3pm.

The Scotts, Manchester born and educated and still resident in Failsworth, have played in major concert halls across the UK and venues in Europe, the Far East and South America.  

Their Rochdale concert will celebrate the arrival at St Chad’s of a magnificent and rarely-used grand piano gifted to the church by a secret generous donor.

Jonathan, 36, and Tom, 33, both studied at Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music, gaining major prizes. They have recorded CDs, played on network radio music

programmes, and performed background music for film and TV productions. Their diary of concert programmes covers piano duo, piano and organ, and harmonium and piano.

Their Rochdale programme includes Bach, Schubert, Liszt, Rossini, Tarrega and Albeniz . . . and Duet Sequence written by Tom himself. 

Tom, an artist and designer as well as a musician, is also the mastermind of a novel and original series of animated films bringing classical music to a new audience.

And it just happens that Tom’s talents have been employed in another fascinating direction recently. He’s been assisting five different local groups with the ‘Tram Tracks’ project, in which the Bridgewater Hall is celebrating its 21st birthday alongside the 25th anniversary of Metrolink by helping to create 93 new songs, performed and recorded by over 1,200 people from across Greater Manchester and now available free online – there’s one for each station on the present-day Metrolink.

Tom says: ‘I worked with five schools to create songs which represented Weaste (St Luke’s Primary), Monsall (St Augustine’s Primary), Navigation Road (Navigation Primary), Ashton West (The Heys Primary) and Radcliffe (Chapelfield Primary).
‘I had a really great time and journeyed on the tram to each of the schools (the schools were very close to their respective tram stops).

‘In the school workshops we discussed everything about the tram and what it meant to the local area. It was all very positive, and we had a chance to talk about all of the interesting elements about the places where the children lived, and some local history which might have otherwise been unknown.
‘Musically, we discussed pulse and rhythm in music and I taught the groups how to conduct and form ideas when constructing music or verse. We gathered all our ideas and wrote our songs, and after a few days I returned to rehearse and record the tracks.

‘All the children were brilliant and enthusiastic throughout, which really shines through on the recordings.’

The tracks are available to listen to online via the Bridgewater Hall website (
The piano at Rochdale Parish Church has also been used by the Scotts to create a video – see it on
And Tom has been commissioned by the Bridgewater Hall (as part of their 21st anniversary celebration) to create a new animated film (he’s done the story, the music and the animation) called The Composer and the Mouse. It tells the story of a talented yet hapless composer who finds his own musical style with the help of a mouse – it’s a fun introduction to classical music with live music and visuals aimed at a wide range of ages. The world première will be at the Bridgewater Hall on 2nd September at 1pm in a family-friendly concert. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s popular organ concert series at the Bridgewater Hall continues on August 30th at 1.10pm with a ‘Lunchtime at the Opera’ programme, and then ‘Fantastic Feet’ on 3rd October. There’s a video about the series on
And the brothers have been invited to perform organ and piano duos at some international venues over the next few months, including the National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan, on 12th August and the Basilica of Santa Maria de Montserrat, Barcelona, Spain (in the Montserrat International Organ Festival) on 9th September at. Details of their globe-trotting and other performances are on - Transports de Joie indeed.

The Scott Brothers: Tom (left) and Jonathan

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Review of Y Tŵr at the Buxton Festival

Y Tŵr (The Tower) is a two-hander opera in Welsh by Guto Puw, with libretto by Gwyneth Glyn, based on a play of the same name by Gwenlyn Parry. It was brought to the Buxton Festival by Music Theatre Wales after premiering at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival in May, having been commissioned and produced jointly by Music Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh-language national theatre of Wales.

It’s about a couple, whom we see in the first flush of young love, then in middle age, and finally when they’re old and facing death. Bit of a downer, that last act, and if there’s a positive message of any kind it’s that in the end they do find they’ve made a partnership of a kind that survives through thick and thin – including his frustration in his career and her infidelity. In each section of their lives the idea of a passing train is introduced (sandpaper sound effects and a 'ragtimey' theme in the orchestra) and she describes a dream about a butterfly – beautiful and quite powerful symbols which you can interpret as you wish … the Elusive Butterfly of Love was the song that came to mind for me.

So where does the Tower come into it? That’s also up to us to interpret, as it seems to stand for different things at different times (in the middle act, I think it represents his belief in ‘success’, and in the final one they speak of having been to the top and come down again). Gwyneth Glyn’s note explains that it’s a metaphor for their relationship and also for life’s challenges and expectations.

We don’t actually see a tower in Michael McCarthy’s production, however – just a ladder at the back of the stage. Nor of course do we see the train – though the sandpaper choo-choo effect tells you it’s a steam one, which jars a bit with the present-day costuming.

The score is subtle and at times beautiful, with some rather obvious ‘ascending’ and ‘descending’ motifs, and touching on tonal language only when the melody of a Welsh lullaby is introduced towards the end of each act. That brings a halo of recognition each time it comes and makes an attractive contribution.

Everything depends on the acting and singing of the two protagonists, of course, and they are both good: not surprisingly, Gwion Thomas (as ‘Male’) is better at being the middle-aged and old characters than the young one, and Caryl Hughes (‘Female’) far better as the young thing in love than her later counterparts.

A thoughtful piece, and one with some notable aspects.

Gwion Thomas and Caryl Hughes in Y Tŵr

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Review of Buxton Festival's Albert Herring

Albert Herring is one of my favourites among Britten’s operas. It’s a gentle comedy of English village life, as it was just after the Second World War (even though it’s based on a French story originally), with a libretto brilliantly written by Eric Crozier and some priceless opportunities for characterization by the principal singers.
Basically the story is that the village committee of Loxford meet to choose a May queen, who must be a girl of unimpeachable morals and manners – and there aren’t any in the village. So they choose the dutiful and rather naïve Albert, who helps his mother in the greengrocer’s shop, and make him King of the May instead. At the fete his lemonade is spiced with rum by the young and lively couple, Sid and Nancy, and he disappears for a night of … well, we never find out, as he tells a good but unlikely tale when the village worthies, having convinced he must be dead, realize he’s OK after all. He asks Nancy afterwards ‘I didn't lay it on too thick, did I?’, so what really happened in his night of self-discovery remains a mystery.
Albert Herring can work in a large opera house and also in a small-scale setting. At Buxton, director Francis Matthews had the opportunity to present it in an ideal environment, and with designer Adrian Linford’s detailed and evocatively piecemeal sets – adapting quite neatly to the changing scenes – the visual presentation was delicious. We are reminded of the post-war time of the opera’s composition by little details of crumbling masonry and left-over hardware from the years of conflict, and part of the appeal of the piece is that it catches the note of liberation (especially of young people) that was just on its cusp at the time.
Musically the performance was of a very high standard: conductor Justin Doyle has done the piece before in one of Opera North’s interpretations and knows not only it but most of the cast extremely well, as a number of them are Opera North regulars. Yvonne Howard as the tweedy grande dame and moral crusader, Lady Billows, was magnificent, and Heather Shipp brought Mrs Glum to being Albert’s mum. Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts was the pompous ass of a mayor, Mr Upfold, and Mary Hegarty delightful as the schoolteacher, Miss Wordsworth.
Kathryn Rudge was a star in her own right as Nancy the red-lipsticked blonde bombshell, and Morgan Pearse (whose gifts are new to me) was a model of a singer in tone, diction and acting ability as Sid.
Lucy Schaufer, Nicholas Merryweather and John Molloy completed the ‘adult’ cast admirably, and Sophie Gallagher and Bonnie Callaghan as the girls Emmie and Cis were excellent (Nicholas Challier, as young Harry, walked his part the night I went while RNCM rising star Charlotte Trepess sang his role from the wings).
Best of all was Bradley Smith as Albert, a young singer of golden tone and impressive acting ability – never over the top but believably engaging as the hapless Albert.
However, there was one aspect of this production which I thought intrusive and pointless. Francis Matthews has invented a silent character he calls ‘The Stranger’ – in his trilby and double-breasted suit I’d call him The Spiv – who seems to shadow Albert a lot and in the long entracte between acts two and three interacts with him in a kind of slow pas de deux.
Symbolic of something? Maybe – it’s an idea that’s been used before and adds very little to the genius of the original.

Albert Herring - Bradley Smith as Albert. Credit Robert Workman

Albert Herring - Morgan Pearse as Sid and Kathryn Rudge as Nancy. Credit Robert Workman

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Review of Buxton Festival's Macbeth

This was a real achievement by Buxton Festival 2017. They chose the 1847, original, version of Verdi’s first operatic adaptation of a Shakespeare play (and he didn’t try any others until in his old age), which gave the performance something of a collectable cachet and made it part of a trilogy of ‘early Verdi’, with Giovanna d’Arco last year and Alzira coming next.

It also – fully justifiably – put the opera into the medium-size theatre ambience it would originally have had. Buxton has to beware of trying to do pieces that are too ‘grand’ for its stage, and it normally keeps its chorus to a total of 16. On this occasion that number was doubled by the inclusion of ‘Young Artists’, which was enormously worthwhile – but the work is so taut and economical in construction and style that it seems ideal for the intimacy of Matcham’s opera house.

In Elijah Moshinsky the festival had one of the world’s great Verdi directors, and in festival artistic director Stephen Barlow an equally gifted Verdi conductor. Moshinsky may not have had the kind of spending budget he would get at the Met in New York, but he made use of every device he could to make this the super-charged Romantic drama Verdi saw in it. There may only have been one three-sided-box of a set and few moveable props, mainly schoolroom benches (not much room for anything else when you have a big chorus on stage!), but it was designed with a yawning perspective to imply a world of mystery (Russell Craig the designer) and video projection and sound effects were there to eke out its imperfections – weather noises for the blasted heath, clanking and rumbling for the assembling army, and so on. The spooky goings-on of Macbetto’s last prophetic encounter with the witches, and the final battle, were both visually evoked by Stanley Orwin-Fraser with considerable elaboration, though some of his imagery seemed to stray from the descriptions in the text (which follows Shakespeare’s remarkably closely).

But the musical drama and the characterization of the central couple were both very powerful, and Barlow and his principals, Stephen Gadd and Kate Ladner, deserve much praise for those. Because of the nature of the story, the other roles are relatively subservient – Duncano (Ben Thapa) and Banco (Oleg Tsibulko) each get done in by half way through, and Macduff (Jung Soo Yun) and Malcolm (Luke Sinclair) only come into their own towards the end, but each role was well acted and strongly sung (as were the lesser ones and the children’s appearances).

But Gadd and Ladner were superb, not just individually but in the portrayal of their relationship. They seem to catch an almost sexual charge as they plot their horrible deeds together (Ora di morte e di vendetta), in a way you imagine notorious murderer couples of more recent history may perhaps have done. 
He has an incisive timbre and the ability to make even the hell-hound evoke some sympathy from us – she brought richly-layered psychology to the role Verdi called ‘Lady’: evil beyond words in the duet when she and her husband realize returning were as tedious as go o’er – and in the sleep-walking scene able to create the kind of out-of-body vocalization the composer wanted, while keeping well on top of his purely musical demands.

It’s a demanding work in every sense, and this was one of the best non-comedy operas the Buxton Festival has mounted for some time.
Stephen Gadd as Macbeth

Kate Ladner as Lady Macbeth

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Opera for all of us - Buxton, MIF and Clonter

Opera in this part of the world comes in concentrated bursts. Opera North often offer us an early week in the year and a late one, with three different shows each time, and right now we have the Buxton Festival with its three in-house productions and one from Music Theatre Wales, plus BambinO, the ‘opera for babies’ provided by Scottish Opera in the Manchester International Festival, and next week Clonter Opera in Cheshire swings into action with its main summer production, The Marriage of Figaro.
Buxton is presenting the rarely seen 1847 Florence version of Verdi’s Macbeth, Britten’s comedy Albert Herring, and (in co-production with The English Concert), Lucio Silla, an opera Mozart wrote at the age of 16.
The festival has secured a great Verdi director in Elijah Moshinsky for Macbeth, whose interest in early Verdi has already borne fruit in Giovanna d’Arco in 2015 and will continue with Alzira next year.
Stephen Barlow, now in his fifth year as artistic director of the festival, conducts Macbeth, with Stephen Gadd in the title role, Australian soprano Kate Ladner (a wonderful Giovanna in Giovanna d’Arco) as Lady Macbeth, Moldovan bass Oleg Tsibulkov in his UK debut as Banquo, and South Korean tenor Yun Soo Yun as Macduff. Remaining dates are 14, 18 and 21 July.
Justin Doyle is conductor for Albert Herring – after piloting the excellent, intimate production of the piece for Opera North four years ago, which never toured. This time it’s directed by Francis Matthews, and the cast includes Opera North favourites Yvonne Howard (Lady Billows), Heather Shipp (Mrs Herring), Mary Hegarty (Miss Wordsworth), Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts (Mr Upfold) and Kathryn Rudge (Nancy). Remaining dates are 12, 15, 19 and 22 July (the 19th is a matinee).
Laurence Cummings conducts Lucio Silla, and Harry Silverstein directs a team including Joshua Ellicott, Fflur Wyn and Rebecca Bottone, with the outstanding soprano Madeleine Pierard as Cecilio. Remaining dates are 13, 16 and 20 July (the 16th is a matinee).
Buxton is also hosting Music Theatre Wales’ new opera, Y Tŵr (The Tower) by Guto Puw –  the first time a work in the Welsh language has been toured outside Wales. That’s on 17 July.
Over to Clonter for The Marriage of Figaro. There’s a public preview performance on 20 July, and main ones on 22, 24 (matinee), 25, 27 and 29 July. It’s directed by Stephen Medcalf, who’s set it in 1930s Spain during the civil war, exploring class dynamics and a strong gender divide – plus, of course, the work’s wit and heartrending emotion. It’s going to be sung in Italian with English surtitles, and Clive Timms conducts the select Clonter orchestra.
So we have plenty of operatic choice, but for a limited period only. I’ve reviewed BambinO and Lucio Silla already, and Macbeth, Albert Herring and Y Tŵr are to follow – and also The Marriage of Figaro.

Macbeth - Jung Soo Yun as Macduff and Company (credit Robert Workman)

Albert Herring - the Company (credit Robert Workman)

Monday, 10 July 2017

Review of Buxton Festival's Lucio Silla

Mozart was 16 when he composed this opera, and capable of taking complete musical charge of the thing, supervising rehearsals and so on. He’d had two previous hit operas at the theatre in Milan (precursor of La Scala) already by 1772.

It’s getting quite trendy to explore his early theatre works these days, and inevitably we look for pre-echoes of the masterstrokes we know from the operas of his maturity. And some are there in Lucio Silla: the story itself, of how a nasty despot finds enlightenment and generosity of spirit in the end, has later parallels in Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito; the imaginative use of the orchestra to convey moods of tension, resignation, poignancy or passion as a background to the action; a scene in a graveyard that makes you think (a bit) of Don Giovanni; and several testing arias for the high voices, written as only Mozart could to bring out the best and most beautiful sounds in virtuoso singers.

For this Buxton Festival/The English Concert co-production, conducted by Laurence Cummings, the singers were well chosen and delivered excellent results – in one case, outstandingly so. Soprano Madeleine Pierard, in the hero’s role of Cecilio (two of the four men in this story sing with high voices, so they’re women in ‘trouser’) was a knock-out in her delivery of arias such as Il tenero momento and in the trio Quell' orgoglioso sdegno.

Rebecca Bottone was also on top form, as his faithful fiancée, Giunia, looking terrific and singing with beauty and sensitivity over a wide range (in, for instance, Frà I pensier più funesti di morte).

Joshua Ellicott makes the title role a study in the Roman ruler as inhuman monster … until his last-minute change of heart. He almost chewed the scenery, until a bit of it fell off prematurely … so he pulled all the flimsy stuff down anyway. Fflur Wyn (as Celia) and Karolina Plicková (as Lucio Cinna, the other trouser role) were both very fine, the former in Quando sugl'arsi campi especially, and the latter in De più superbi il core.

As a story, Lucio Silla certainly makes you wait for its best moments, as the happy ending only comes around two hours and 45 minutes in, and the first night audience found the final affirmations of sweetness and light quite amusing.

As a production (Harry Silverstein, design by Linda Buchanan), it bore the marks of shoestring budgeting, with one basic framework of a set, and costumes from the left-overs box. I was disappointed by the static, all-face-the-audience presentation of the graveyard scene and others employing the chorus.  But at least it was better than a concert performance.

Lucio Silla - Madeleine Pierard as Cecilio and Rebecca Bottone as Giunia. Credit Robert Workman

Lucio Silla - Joshua Ellicott. Credit Robert Workman

Lucio Silla - finale scene. Credit Robert Workman