Battle in the Bedchamber (Emerald Envisage)

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His stage society is all prying eyes and judgemental stares; money is in appearances and appearances, as we know, can be deceptive. Yes, one would like to have heard a few more French vowels from Netrebko but the vocal characterisation was spot on and the singing not just fabulous but meaningful. The chemistry between him and Netrebko was, well, steamy in the cassock-ripping Saint-Sulpice scene. Yes, Grigolo was that good. As house debuts go it was little short of sensational.


Dmitri Hvorostovsky dedicated his first Wigmore recital in many years to the great Russian mezzo Irina Arkhipova — a voice which by all accounts set this hall vibrating for days after the event. So how much was it the immediacy of the hall and how much the weathering of a fine instrument? For the most part he chose dark, decidedly world-weary, songs from the catalogues of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.

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The high G-sharp was startling, a trifle hard; most of the warmth was paradoxically in the lower register. Hvorostovsky cracked a winning smile after this number as if to indicate how much he relishes a good drama.

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It was an Onegin moment if ever there was one and suddenly Hvorostovsky was right inside the recital. Now he was really warming up. Heartache and bitter irony would be going into overdrive. But first a burst of sunlight and a Slavonic dance or two. But Elder had the strings swaying into the second subject waltz with portamento as knowing as it was charming. Surprises were sprung: the harp elaborately bowed to Tchaikovsky, bass clarinet and, not for the last time in the evening, cor anglais the excellent Christine Pendrill got to be stars, and Elder really pushed the presto coda and sent it spinning.

Ripe and rubicund. Daniel Hope, a late replacement for Janine Jansen, had the music to hand — a catalogue of fearful difficulties — but his spellbinding performance suggested someone who has been living with and inside the piece for some time. The intensity of his playing was extraordinary in extremis where so much of the music lies. I can still hear him in the epilogue, a voice of protest in the highest positions of the lowest string as if all attempts were being made to stifle him.

Elder and the orchestra traversed the shivering wasteland of the opening Largo with gripping awareness of music effectively suspended in time and space. But then Shostakovich sends in the clowns and outrage is turned to toxic satire. The fabulous trenchancy and panache of the LSO in these short, sharp, shocks of slapstick was something to behold.

Woolcock does at least recognise that the sea is as much the main protagonist here as it is in Peter Grimes and she and her visual team have devised some strikingly beautiful stage effects to convey its omnipresence.


Great sheets of silk later emulate the becalmed surface billowing in the inky moonlight as pearl fishers surface and dive again for their precious trade. The ENO chorus seizes its moments in the limelight.

But the brutal truth is that this hoary tale of two men, firm friends, in love with the same priestess is not afforded the musical wherewithal to penetrate much beneath a decorative surface. I wonder if Bizet knew he was in trouble when he summoned up his greatest hit so early in the first act?

But one thing you always get with Alfie Boe, vocally and physically, is truth and honesty. Quinn Kelsey gave us that, too, though with far more reliance on what is undoubtedly a resoundingly fine instrument. She spun the arabesques and trills of her high coloratura prettily enough but not everything landed and the sound, often shallow and tremulous, tended to come and go. And there was no answer to that. What about that unbelievably beautiful slow movement, Nigel? I know you like that.

Yes, really: Bach with bongos. Why not? And what a stimulating juxtaposition the Duke Ellington second half could have made if the Bach had remained that pure and unadulterated. I guess you take him as he comes or not at all.

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And just as the librettists E. And with astonishingly atmospheric lighting from Paule Constable imagine a wash of surreal lamplight illuminating Billy Budd as he awaits his fate it affords Michael Grandage in his thrilling operatic debut to achieve a filmic transition between the swift moving scenes of the narrative.

The Glyndebourne Chorus, small in number but mighty and incisive in sound, are, of course, integral to the impact of the show meshing brilliantly with the many named roles to achieve a wonderfully busy and coherent ensemble. But it was in the tension of the psychological drama that Elder and Grandage really excelled. It comes as no surprise at all that Catherine Malfitano, a once notable Tosca herself, has fashioned a staging of the opera which frees the singers in ways she herself would have welcomed. The drama — or should that read melodrama — is played out in such a way as to signal and underline every emotion and thought-process.

Her jealousy, her fiery temperament, are easily encompassed by her singing; she is heartfelt and honest on stage. Her Cavaradossi, Julian Gavin, has a beefy, unstinting delivery, too, but he phrases and shades with laudable generosity and sensitivity, not perhaps as subtle and finessed as he strives to be but telling nonetheless.

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After slaying him Tosca walks proudly, hopefully, not through the nearest exit but towards a vision of the heavenly firmament. A little less opera and a little more music drama, though, would have been welcome. In the case of Covent Garden darling Juan Diego Florez the volleys of top Cs seem to be what Royal Opera audiences have been waiting for all season as an opportunity to clear their lungs and stretch their legs. From the moment she first twangs her braces just imagine Joan Sutherland doing that this diminutive, flat-chested, foul-mouthed firebrand — a cross between Annie Oakley and Calamity Janes, only French — more or less single-handedly dictates the pace and energy of the show.

Rarely on the operatic stage has so much ironing been accompanied by no many notes. The joy of Dessay in this role is the way speech and song become inseparable, the way the coloratura punctuates the business and drop-dead timing unfailingly lands the gag and the laugh. There are, though, it must be said, worrying vocal problems, more pronounced since her first outing in the role: notably some degree of occlusion and occasional drop-outs in the softer more reflective numbers.

Well, he stops the show twice, firstly with those buttock-clenching high Cs, but again more memorably when he sings for the hand of his true love in tender covered sound which shows just how elegant and heartfelt his artistry can be. A treat. The energy of one happily infected the other. In turn sultry and luminous, Gergiev plainly wanted the experience to linger.

No one comes through the rhythmic thickets and jazzily exposed wind solos of this amazing piece unscathed. Then again you could hear where the rehearsal had gone. It was written for and played, with blinding virtuosity, by Vadim Repin who may well have answered the prayers of countless virtuosos for something new and audacious they could really play the socks off. MacMillan always comes at music from his own Scottish perspective and this action-packed crowd-pleaser is essentially a compendium of song and dance digging deep into the primitivism of the distant past to unlock memories much closer to the present.

The audience adored it. What a piece — as original now as it was in Him and me both. No room for stars there. It was a good place to start, a good place to establish an integrated sound, because in this piece even the piano is less the leading voice than the textural and harmonic foundation of the sound with the string voices embellishing and enriching, often by way of little canonic responses.

But it was late Schumann — Piano Trio No. But it was the return of the opening theme which brought the most soulful harmonies and magically, reassuringly, the healing light of an angelic voice high in the keyboard. Familiarity can and does breed contempt — but never where Haydn and Mozart are concerned. Sir Colin Davis chose two particularly audacious examples and though we may have known them well it still felt like there would be no second-guessing them. And as in all things remotely Viennese there was always time for a turn around the room in waltz time.

Davis greeted the second subject with knowing delight, a perfect foil to the timpani-buttressed pomp of a rather portly vivace. Another waltz in the trio of the scherzo was more bucolic with yodelling horns. An indication, perhaps, of the hearty, outdoor Haydn Davis likes to suggest — not as light on his feet as he once was but still in rude health. And the pleasures just kept coming with Mozart introducing a medley of enticing tunes before the soloist in Piano Concerto No. But when she did the poise and astonishing clarity of her articulation entirely changed the atmosphere in the hall.

The second subject seemed to emanate from an ornate musical box never before opened, its origins and emotional memories unlocked in the simplest imaginable tune with gauche left hand accompaniment. That extraordinary modulation in the slow movement was truly a frozen moment, the defining chord filling the silence but not a split-second too soon or too late.

And the only question our ears need answering is whether or not that radiant woodwind theme will prevail to exult in E major. Davis and the orchestra gave us a wonderfully raw, grizzled, elemental account of this lofty score. So all the more puzzling why these predominantly alto arias were not transposed into keys in which he could sing them? It could be, of course, that Villazon was deliberately avoiding stress on the upper quadrant of his voice: the few top notes he encountered were merely grazed in the course of his embellishments — but mostly we were firmly in the middle and lower range with way too many phrases simply falling off the bottom end of what was possible for him.

The characteristically elegant dynamic gradations were noted in the opening Accompagnato and his acute sensitivity to the connection between words and sound was certainly apparent. It could simply have been the discomfort of those remorseless phrases below the stave. By the time we arrived at the one truly tenorial role of the evening — Bajazet in Tamerlano — Villazon was relying considerably more on text than singing. It was a relief to hear some free upper register in the shape of his soprano guest Lucy Crowe.

Sadly, the star tenor was for the time being consigned to the shadow of his soprano. Prokofiev and Myaskovsky — firm friends, musical polar opposites. But by encouraging our inquisitive natures Jurowski and the London Philharmonic our doing us all a favour and the good news is that there was a decent turn out in support of his enterprise. All life according to Prokofiev is here with his deep and abiding sense of fantasy topmost.

Its spirit is in essence the most rarefied stream of consciousness. Danjulo Ishizaka played it with a gripping sense of in-the-moment curiosity — his ardour and terrific articulation fully equal to its demands. Prokofiev was right to tease his friend Myaskovsky over the 75 minute duration of his 6th Symphony.