Archive for covent garden

Overheard @ Concerts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

A violist friend of mine tended to have comments for every occasion. After a run of the mill, decidedly average show she’d say: “Of all the concerts I’ve ever played in – that was one of them.”

Overheard at the end of a London Sinfonietta Prom: “Well, that’s two hours less I’ll have to spend in purgatory.”

I overheard this at Covent Garden, leaving the auditorium at the end of La Traviata about 20 years ago – a little old lady to her companion: “It must be difficult if a singer forgets their lines; at least if you are a dancer, you can jump around a bit.”

After a concert of minimalist music at the Bridgewater Hall (again from my viola playing friend): “That music must have taken almost as long to compose as it took to play.”

Overheard during the first interval of Parsifal: “Don’t worry, it gets jazzier from here on in …”

Overheard during a performance of a piece by Philip Glass: “I’ll be glad when we get to the middle eight.”

A member of the band before Act 2 of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten: “Here we go … another 45 minutes of bloody A minor!”

During a performance of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask Of Orpheus where a female character had to do little more than come to the front of the stage and scream, a man turned to his neighbour and said, “I know exactly how she feels!”

Normally the Promenaders annoy me with their stupid chanting, but I remember a chant from many years ago, after a performance of Melancholia II: “If that was melancholia, give us depression!”

I remember overhearing a lady in a cut-glass accent give her opinion on Wagner during an interval of Der Ring des Nibelungen at Covent Garden: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about Wagner. All he does is keep repeating the same tunes.”

In the early 80s in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, I think it was the BBC Philharmonic (then called the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra). Conductor (probably Edward Downes – can’t remember now) comes on stage to conduct a Shostakovich symphony. A woman sat in front of me turned to her companion and said loudly: “We always have this modern rubbish when he comes here”.

Why go to an opera house?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Have you ever met anyone who greatly prefers to experience opera by listening to complete audio recordings at home as opposed to seeing the whole theatrical event in an opera house?

There seem to me to be two different breeds of opera goer, albeit with some overlap. There are those, like me, who basically go for the total experience, music, drama, and production, and we are often disappointed. The other group can accept shortcomings in some aspects, as long as the singing is good, in fact some opera fans are really just enthusiasts for their favourite singers, the voice is all.

It’s now some time since I went to ENO or Covent Garden, as I have endured so many perverse productions that I really cannot face any more. It would be nice if recorded opera made up for my loss, but recent offerings have been disappointing, mainly due to multi-mic balances and other forms of over-produced sound engineering. I still enjoy opera sets from the late fifties and sixties more than recent ones.

This is a very complex subject. Perhaps part of me rather resents the emphasis on opera at the expense of orchestral and chamber music, especially when you consider how few decent large concert halls we have in this country.

While the music is by far the most important part of opera for me, I still go to live opera as often as I can, despite the fact that I sometimes do not like the productions. The sound of live opera simply cannot be replaced for me. I have relatively good stereo equipment, but there is something completely different about the sound in the opera house and the thrill of hearing the orchestra and singers live. I love to see productions that enhance the music for me, but often I would simply be happy if the production did not make it hard for me to concentrate on the music.

Royal Opera Japan tour diary

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Anna Netrebko

Nicholas Wroe joins “Britain’s best opera company” as it begins a whistlestop Asian tour. “It’s not quite rock ’n’ roll – but nearly,” he writes:

While the tour is not quite analogous to, say, Led Zeppelin’s jaunt round the US in 1972, it does have its moments. In a what might be an exquisite extended joke – or maybe because it’s the closest bar to the hotel – the company has chosen a tiny karaoke joint as its late-night meeting place of choice. No sightings of any professional singers in there so far, but to be honest they’re not much missed.

Everyone from stage crew to company managers is in fine voice, banging out Carpenters, Tom Jones and Sex Pistols numbers. There is time yet for a pro to take them on, I suppose, but in the meantime it’s off to Yokohama for La Traviata.

Who knows, one day the Royal Opera may tour the UK.

Joyce DiDonato

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Claire Black of the Scotsman meets American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in Milano (click the link for the full article):

Pop stars, soap stars, Big Brother contestants – it seems that anyone can now be a diva as long as they behave badly enough, wear high enough heels or can warble through, auto-tuner and amplification-assisted, of course, a clutch of crossover classics. But it wasn’t always like this.

Before being in a relationship with Gethin Jones was enough to earn you access to the “d-word”, membership of that exclusive club depended not only on acting like a goddess, but sounding like one too. True opera greats – Maria Callas, Leontyne Price, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf – were remote, grand, impossibly glamorous and certainly not just one of the gals. Soaring vocal skills and awe-inspiring technique were one part of the package, tantrums and hissy fits, or choosing seven of your own records as your Desert Island Discs (as Schwarzkopf did) made up the rest. Their voices may have been sweet but they were not. More than a little attitude has always been part of being a diva.

DiDonato is a perfect example of a new generation of opera singers whose talent and commitment to their art is unquestionable, but who also manage to shake free from tradition, whether that is by writing a blog (named cheekily in DiDonato’s case Yankee Diva) or by mixing more established repertoire with contemporary works – DiDonato won praise in the role of Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s opera of Dead Man Walking, which she’ll perform again next year in Houston. She might be celebrated as one of the finest interpreters of Rossini, but a quick glance through her biography reveals that initially it was for Broadway or a career as a teacher that she was aiming, until at the age of 19 she discovered opera.

It all means that standing at the stage door of Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where I’m to meet DiDonato before the evening’s performance of The Barber of Seville, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I don’t have to wait long to find out. Arriving conspicuously on time, DiDonato is alone, no chauffeur, no assistants, no-one to fetch soya lattes or carry her Blackberry. She is quietly spoken and friendly. And she’s wearing jeans.

Her dressing room doesn’t hold any diva-ish touches either. There are no bouquets of flowers, no bottles of champagne chilling in ice buckets. The only furniture is a stool where DiDonato perches and a small, hard sofa which is mine. The sole luxury is air-conditioning to keep out the sweltering heat.

DiDonato may garner ecstatic reviews for her voice, but it’s also her persona, the sense that she’s down to earth and just like the rest of us that has won her many fans. Partly this is down to her blog, updated remarkably regularly, where she shares backstage chit-chat, photographs that she’s taken and, of course, gives an unmediated glimpse into the life of an international opera singer, a life that’s a lot less glamorous than many might imagine.


Joyce DiDonato breaks a leg at Royal Opera House

Kiri Te Kanawa Retires

Posted in Music, News with tags , , , , , , , on August 13, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I learn that Kiri Te Kanawa is to retire from the operatic stage, something I thought she had done some years ago, actually. I didn’t think she had ever got started! Good voice but no idea about musicianship. She’s known as the “can opener” in New Zealand … don’t ask me why, a friend of mine started it.

Oh dear. I suppose there’s a convention that if one doesn’t have anything nice to say, one keeps quiet, but (and I saw her on numerous occasions in the 1980s in both the theatre and in the concert hall) she was not really an opera singer at all.

She had an undeniably beautiful voice (although she was really more of a jacked-up mezzo than a soprano, as her early recordings demonstrate) but I can think of few singers who were less dramatic or engaged, or who came on stage showing less evidence that they actually knew their part (I remember a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in which she unwisely decided to sing Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder from memory, came unstuck, and André Previn as conductor desperately trying to help her out while shooting her the sort of looks that he normally reserved for Eric Morecambe).

Opera is not just, or even principally, about beautiful voices; it’s about guts, drama, commitment. During her time at Covent Garden you could slum it in St Martin’s Lane and see singing actors of the calibre of Janice Cairns and Josephine Barstow, who may not have had Kiri Te Kanawa’s vocal gifts but knew about performing on the operatic stage.

I’m afraid whatever else Kiri Te Kanawa may have been, in the performances I saw she was never the real thing on stage.

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Brown Bread: Sir Edward “Red Ted” Downes

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I’ve just heard the sad news that Ted Downes has died, with his wife, both of them drinking a fatal draft of poison at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

The son of the conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Lady Joan described today how his parents died together at the Swiss assisted-dying clinic.

He was a great man. I hope BBC Radio 3 will recognise this in its forthcoming programming. It would be nice to hear again some of his magnificent performances of Russian music, much of it neglected at the time he revived it. I think his Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 is still the best I have heard.

Everyone will have their own memories of Ted Downes, but for me it was his Verdi performances that set the benchmark for others to follow. It was remarkable how someone born outside Italy had such a mastery and affinity with the Verdi style.

Not only an outstanding conductor, but also someone who built the Royal Opera House orchestra into an astonishing ensemble in the second half of the twentieth century. The orchestra has grown from strength to strength, and recent Music Directors have benefited from the wonderful work Ted Downes has done. I know that he was very much admired by orchestral musicians.

His wonderful cycle of the Prokofiev symphonies at the Royal Festival Hall was a revelation, particularly the lesser-known Third and Fourth. A fine man who achieved much. I was sorry to hear of his death, but glad that he had the option of ending his life before it became unbearable.

R.I.P. Sir Edward Downes 1924-2009

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Royal Opera House

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , on May 11, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Is it just me?

I have tried to book Royal Opera House tickets today. After waiting twenty minutess in the “waiting room”, I found the usual flash clickable seat option was not available. I could not choose my exact seats. I was only given the option of “area”. I chose my usual “area” and purchased seats, only to find I have been given restricted view seats. I only had thirty minutes to re-hunt and book my seats … so I felt I was really rushing.

Also there were no reasonably priced Kirov tickets … only super-priced seats. Have I missed the boat there?

Altogether – not a great buying experience.

And the Royal Opera House has just posted this:

“We are aware that some customers, using the latest version of Flash, have been unable to view the Select Your Own Seat screen and Seating Detail information. If you experience similar problems, we recommend that you try using a different internet browser (Safari / Firefox / Google Chrome) if available. Alternatively, you may also call the Box Office on: +44 (0) 20 7304 4000”

H’m, a bit late for me.

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