Aldeburgh, Snape Maltings, Macbeth – English Touring Opera, IOCO Kritik, 18.04.2019

Aldeburgh Festival / Snape Maltings Concert Hall © Philip Vile

Aldeburgh Festival / Snape Maltings Concert Hall © Philip Vile

Snape Maltings Aldeburgh Festival

 Benjamin Britten Gedenkmuschel am Meeresufer von Snape © IOCO

Benjamin Britten Gedenkmuschel am Meeresufer von Snape © IOCO

Snape Maltings ist eine bedeutende Kulturstätte in Suffolk, England, in der Nähe der kleinen Orte Snape und Aldeburgh gelegen. Bereits vor 2000 errichteten die Römer erste Siedlungen in Snape und bauten Salzfertigungen. Snape und Aldeburgh erreichten durch auffällige kulturelle Aktivitäten überregionale Bedeutung. Benjamin Britten (*1913 – 1976) gründete dort 1948 das jährlich stattfindende international geschätzte Aldeburgh Festival und errichtete in der Folge Konzerthaus (Foto).  Eine übergroße ins Meeresufer vor Snape errichtete Muschel erinnert auffällig an Benjamin Britten, den großen Sohn der Region Snape und Aldeburgh. Hier eine weitere IOCO Rezeption aus Snape Maltings, link:  Dardanus von Jean-Philippe Rameau

IOCO – Korrespondentin Janet Banks besuchte die Macbeth Produktion der English Touring Opera (see video) in der Concert Hall von Snape Maltings: Privat betriebene Touring Opera Companies sind erneut eine britische Besonderheit: im deutschen Sprachraum nahezu unbekannt, in England jedoch häufig anzutreffen.

Macbeth – Giuseppe Verdi

 Produziert von – English Touring Opera

by Janet Banks

English Touring Opera was about halfway through touring the UK with three early works by great operatic composers, Mozart’s Idomeneo, Rossini’s Elizabeth I and Verdi’s Macbeth, when I witnessed this gripping production at Snape Maltings, home of the Aldeburgh Festival.

Tristan und Verdi’s Macbeth | Production Trailer
Youtube Trailer  English Touring Opera
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James Dacre’s production was dramatically engrossing, hitting home time and again, largely thanks to excellent performances by the two lead singers, Madeleine Pierard as Lady Macbeth and Grant Doyle as Macbeth. Pierard had a strong stage presence and powerful body language – everything seemed more intense when she was on stage – and her full-throated soprano was more than a match for Giuseppe Verdi’s vocal acrobatics in Act I Scene 2. Her restless writhings before her suicide in the final act made a powerful contrast to her aggressive confidence in the party which closes Act 2.

The scenes between Pierard and Doyle as Macbeth were particularly intense. Doyle brought a lurking sense of foreboding into his voice from early in the opera and his Act 4 Scene 3 final aria showed impressive dramatic range. Sung in English in a good translation by Andrew Porter, any words which were not audible (and they were very few) were still not lost, thanks to TV screens either side of the stage which relayed the libretto, plus the setting for each act.

English Touring Opera / Machbeth © Richard Hubert Smith

English Touring Opera / Machbeth © Richard Hubert Smith

Designer Frankie Bradshaw’s constumes set the production in the present day: Macbeth politician-like in suit and tie, Lady Macbeth either in silky night attire or a short, smart party dress, the rest of the male characters in military uniform or fatigues. Staging was bare but effective – a chaise longue doubling as a throne, concrete bunker-type walls for the castle, and a nice modern touch when Banquo’s assassins climb up to unplug a security camera before his murder. It’s always a challenge to know what to do with the witches, especially with their far from haunting music. However the green-clad nursing nuns (see foto above) with their Florence Nightingale-like lamps and choreographed movements failed to spook me.

Andrew Slater was a deep-toned and noble Banquo and Amar Muchhala a moving Macduff in his beautiful lyric tenor aria lamenting his failure to protect his wife and children. There was much well-disciplined singing from the chorus, particularly in their a cappella chorale after Duncan’s murder.

—| IOCO Kritik Snape Maltings Aldeburgh Festival |—

Saffron Walden, New Sussex Opera, The Travelling Companion – Charles V. Stanford, IOCO Review, 08.12.2018

Dezember 8, 2018  
Veröffentlicht unter Handel Opera Company, Hervorheben, Kritiken, Oper

Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden, Essex © Saffron Hall

Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden, Essex © Saffron Hall

New Sussex Opera

The Travelling Companion  – by –  Charles Villiers Stanford

– Based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen –

By Janet Banks

Irish-born Charles Villiers Stanford, *1852-1924, successful as a choral and orchestral composer and influential in British musical life, nevertheless struggled to make an impact in the genre he most cared about, opera.

The Travelling Companion, Stanford’s last opera, sets a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It was written in 1916, and first performed in 1925 in Liverpool. Although it met with a better reception than most of his nine other operas, it has not been performed since the 1930s. This performance by New Sussex Opera (NSO) at Saffron Hall, Essex’s newest concert hall, was recorded live for a CD on the SOMM label, in what will be the first ever recording of one of Stanford’s opera.

 New Sussex Opera / The Travelling Companion and John © Robert Knights

New Sussex Opera / The Travelling Companion and John © Robert Knights

Andersen’s tale tells of a lonely traveller, John, who protects a corpse from defilement and is then protected by the spirit of the dead man in the form of a companion, his first friend. John aspires to the hand of a princess and is enabled to solve the riddle required to win it with the help of his mysterious friend. The fairtytale-like nature of the plot means the characters at first seem more archetypal than human. However as the story moves on, by Act 3 the princess is showing a much more complex character, reflected in the music.

This production, directed by Paul Higgins, boasted a sizeable chorus and an excellent 34-strong orchestra under the baton of Toby Purser. It set the action in 1916, the year of the opera’s composition, rather than in 15th century of Andersen’s story. The set was bare, the main props being large coffins, but with no hint of the First World War.

The three main roles, John, his companion and the princess were taken by David Horton, Julien Van Mallaerts and Kate Valentine. Horton’s lyrical tenor was well suited to the simple but aspiring character of John, and he rose well to the demands of the role, though perhaps spreading his arms wide on high notes a few times too often. Baritone Van Mallaerts’ beautiful and mysterious music reflected his supernatural origins and his voice blended well with Horton’s. The extremes of human emotion were not really felt until Act 4, when the Princess shows the torture of her Turandot-like predicament, pleading with John not to risk his life by attempting to solve the riddle. Valentine really showed off the power of her full soprano here, with a voice full of passion.

New Sussex Opera / The Travelling Companion and the Princess © Robert Knights

New Sussex Opera / The Travelling Companion and the Princess © Robert Knights

Supporting roles were taken by Paul Putnins as the King and Ian Beadle and Felix Kemp as the two ruffians and later the herald and the wizard. The chorus also play an important part in the opera, commenting on the action and sometimes very effectively interacting with the main characters.

But for me the biggest among The Travelling Companion’s many delights was in fact the orchestral music – the prelude and postlude, the atmospheric interludes between scenes, and the ballet music in Act 3. It was sobering to think there must be a lot of similarly strikingly orchestrated and beautifully written music by Stanford that has not been heard for nearly a century. Let us hope that as a result of New Sussex Opera’s initiative, other companies will be inspired to resurrect more of Stanford’s forgotten operas.


The NEW SUSSEX OPERA company (NSO Ltd) is a privately operated, Community based, nationally acclaimed English opera company aiming

– to stage brilliant performances of hidden gems
– to bring the delight and excitement of opera to new audiences
– to create opportunities for performers and back-stage specialists
– to hone their talents and advance their careers,
– to nurture new creative talent of any age.

Despite its name, the NSO reputation extends way beyond its home territory: national newspapers and IOCO review the innovative productions and comment favourably on them. While chorus-led productions play to capacity houses around Sussex and Essex, London’s prestigious Cadogan Hall regularly hosts its major productions. and you can get an idea of their musical and theatrical quality and impact by looking at our past productions and reviews. The list of NSO past productions stretches back decades and includes 5 UK premieres. The Travelling Companion performed at Saffron Hall, Essex and reviewed by IOCO had not been produced anywhere since 1930.

—| IOCO Kritik New Sussex Opera |—

Cambridge, Cambridge Handel Opera Company – Julian Perkins, IOCO Interview, 23.05.2018

Great Hall, The Leys School, Cambridge © The Leys School

Great Hall, The Leys School, Cambridge © The Leys School

Cambridge Handel Opera Company

 Julian Perkins – Director  Cambridge Handel Opera Company

The Cambridge Handel Opera Company (CHOC) in Cambridge, England, is a new professional organization that celebrates the fusion of music and the stage with performances that are not just ‘historically informed’, but ‘historically inspired’. There is meaningful integrity between what happens in the music and what happens on stage. Baroque stagecraft is incorporated into their productions in a manner that speaks directly to audiences. In April  2018 Cambridge Handel Opera Company staged a highly acclaimed production of Handel’s Rodelinda, HWV 19 in Cambridge at the new theatre at The Leys. In May 2018 Victor Jarosch, IOCO, spoke to Julian Perkins about his objectives and future plans for the CHOC.

Victor Jarosch (VJ): Julian, who or what inspired you to take up the harpsichord, and pursue a career in music?

Julian Perkins - Artistic Director Cambridge Handel Opera Company © Julian Perkins

Julian Perkins – Artistic Director Cambridge Handel Opera Company © Julian Perkins

Julian Perkins (JP):: As the youngest of four, I was born into a family of musical noise. Sitting on my mother’s lap at the piano, making music started out as little more than sibling rivalry. Apart from anything with a keyboard, I enjoyed singing, playing the violin and recorder (infuriated at having to wait until I had legs long enough for the organ!). My patient parents packed me off to music courses including Pro Corda in Suffolk, which nurtured my deep love of chamber music. I first met the harpsichord in my teens experimenting with Baroque music in chamber groups. How could one not love instantly the joy of the dance, the chatter of counterpoint and the freedom to improvise? And what better way to earn a living than sharing with others this life-affirming music?

VJ: Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

JP: At school, David Langdon and Ralph Allwood both went way beyond their job descriptions in supporting my various musical interests. As a choral scholar and organist at King’s College, Cambridge, it was enriching to experience music as part of a daily form of worship. In my studies, I was a shameless magpie in hassling as many musicians as would tolerate me. Amongst others, Trevor Pinnock taught me the importance of connecting with the sound, David Parry the physicality of conducting and Noelle Barker an understanding of the voice.

 George Frederick Handel tomb at Westminster Abbey, London © IOCO

George Frederick Handel tomb at Westminster Abbey, London © IOCO

As a child, there is one stand-out experience that continues to inspire me: singing as a treble in Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand’ under Klaus Tennstedt. I was a dreamy child, but Tennstedt captivated me for reasons I have never fully understood. A grumpy old man, in poor health, flailing about in a seemingly haphazard manner on the podium – but I have never, ever heard an orchestra or choir sound like they did with him – and this had nothing to do with his relative fame. I can only put it down to his complete identification with the music and his utter determination to transmit it to his fellow musicians. Humbling.

VJ: What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

JP: In addition to keeping up and improving one’s musicianship and technique, my greatest challenge is ring-fencing the administration. Like the hydra’s heads – where two more appear if one is amputated – I find that email requests have an alarming tendency to increase the more one writes! Just the other day I sent off programme details for a forthcoming festival only to find two more similar requests in my inbox for other bespoke events. Whilst it is important to keep abreast of the administration, it is vital to maintain the discipline and enjoyment of studying and practising one’s art. I just turn off the computer at a certain point and know that the world will probably not collapse if one email gets slightly delayed.

Cambridge Handel Opera Company / Rodelinda © Jean-Luc Benazet

Cambridge Handel Opera Company / Rodelinda © Jean-Luc Benazet

VJ: As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

JP: Words can be a dangerous medium in rehearsals. Isn’t it truly said that a large part of a conversation happens through one’s body language? While images, colours and metaphors can be useful, I like to communicate my ideas primarily through my gestures and, when I’m directing from the keyboard, my playing.

VJ: How exactly do you see your role as a conductor? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

JP: I like to enable the musicians to give of their best by providing a framework within which they can work. One needs to balance the dangers of being over-prescriptive on the one hand with being wishy-washy on the other. Every group is different, of course, but if I can earn a group’s trust, stimulate their imagination and have a clear idea of the sound I want, then things are looking good. Inspiration comes out of this – but one can’t plan to be inspiring. As for the composer’s vision, one can only hope to convey this by having a cultural appreciation of their life and works, and by scrutinizing the score again, again and again.

VJ: Which recordings are you most proud of?

JP: They each have treasured memories, but I’m probably most proud of how my first solo recording came together. This was the world-première of eight harpsichord suites by Handel’s younger English contemporary, James Nares. Historic Royal Palaces granted me the honour of recording on the Royal Harpsichord at Kew Palace. The project attracted dozens of subscribers – and even some artwork from one of Nares’ living descendants.

VJ: Which particular works do you think you play best?

JP: Those that are imbued with lyricism and harmonic interest within a cohesive musical structure. A good dollop of counterpoint never goes amiss either!

VJ: How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

JP: I like mixing treasured favourites with pieces that are new to me. It’s fascinating how The Frick Collection in New York juxtaposes art and media from different periods. Similarly, I enjoy devising programmes that have meaningful resonances, such as arias by Handel or Hasse alongside recent responses to earlier works by composers like Stephen Dodgson or György Ligeti. And fresh challenges are irresistible! For instance, I recently created an opera pasticcio about Casanova with the writer Stephen Pettitt. We joyfully plundered operas and oratorios from Vivaldi to Bellini, committing some glorious heresies along the way. Watch this space for our next run…

Westminster Abbey London © IOCO

Westminster Abbey, London © IOCO

VJ: Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

JP: I find that the quality of a venue is determined as much by the unique chemistry of the audience as by the room itself. I have given recitals in some unusual locations – including a water mill – in which the sense of occasion gave a special quality to the venue. Acoustically, it’s often rewarding to perform in a space where there is some wood panelling as this helps to give a glow to the sound. Among venues that are perhaps lesser-known, Wilton’s Music Hall in East London has a particular charm. Originally a Victorian music hall, its acoustic is akin to the Wigmore Hall in its clarity and warmth. There is also an alluring patina to the building’s fabric that makes it feel like the equivalent of a well-loved pair of slippers.

VJ: Who are your favourite musicians?

JP: Those who are brilliant, humble, open-minded – and fun!

VJ: What is your most memorable concert experience?

JP: Arriving to rehearse Handel’s Messiah only to find that the organ was at the wrong pitch. Transposing the piece up a semitone in the concert proved to be good brain-gym!

VJ: As a musician, what is your definition of success?

JP: Knowing that I have touched a listener’s emotions.

VJ: What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

JP: In addition to the normal nostrums such as preparation, punctuality and professionalism, another ‘P’ has come to have increasing importance for me: Process. When I was starting out as a musician I sometimes worried too much about what people might think of me. Now, I try and focus more on the ever-changing process of making music and let the listeners decide for themselves what they like. When Roger Federer turned the tables and beat Rafael Nadal to win the 2017 Australian Open, he spoke afterwards of having played the ball and not the opponent. Similarly, I think performers should give due importance to playing the notes (grouped together musically!) and not the audience. It’s impossible to make people like you, but if you’re absorbed in what you’re doing, that in turn should draw in the listener.

VJ: Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

JP: Playing a positive role with my wife in the lives of our two sons, giving lots of fulfilling performances, teaching proactive students – and enjoying good food.

VJ: What is your most treasured possession?

JP: My appetite for learning. As the Artistic Director of Cambridge Handel Opera, I recently conducted a staged production of Handel’s Rodelinda in Cambridge. Praised for its  ‘flawless ensemble’ in IOCO, Cambridge Independent headlined its review by stating that ‘Productions of Handel’s operas don’t get much better than this one’.

This season also sees Julian’s concerto debut at the Sage Gateshead with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, his directorial debuts with the Croatian Baroque Ensemble and Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, a solo appearance on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Early Music Show’, a world première of a choral work by Stephen Dodgson and the debut of his group, Sounds Baroque, at St John’s Smith Square. Solo recitals include appearances in Boston (USA) and at the Petworth Festival, Lammermuir Festival, Northern Aldborough Festival, London Handel Festival, St George’s Bristol and the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, and duo recitals for the Budapest Bach Festival and Mozart Society of America. He returns to the Anghiari Festival in Italy this summer to conduct the Southbank Sinfonia, performs with Florilegium and continues his collaboration with Coram in directing the annual Handel Birthday Concert with Sounds Baroque and international soprano Rebecca Evans. Forthcoming recordings include a programme of Purcell’s songs with soprano Anna Dennis and Sounds Baroque, the second volume of Mozart’s keyboard duets on original instruments with Emma Abbate, Schubert’s sonatas for violin and piano with Peter Sheppard Skærved and the world première of Stephen Dodgson’s opera, Margaret Catchpole. His recent recording of Howells’ clavichord music was described by The Guardian as ‘a virtuoso showcase’ and praised by MusicWeb International as ‘exemplary’.

VJ: Thank you, Julian, for the interview.

—| IOCO Interview Cambridge Handel Opera Company |—

Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Rodelinda by George Frederick Handel, IOCO Kritik, 12.04.2018

April 13, 2018  
Veröffentlicht unter Handel Opera Company, Hervorheben, Kritiken, Oper

Great Hall, The Leys School, Cambridge © The Leys School

Great Hall, The Leys School, Cambridge © The Leys School

Cambridge Handel Opera Company

Rodelinda  by George Frederick Handel

Cambridge, Great Hall, The Leys

 George Frederick Handel tomb at Westminster Abbey © IOCO

George Frederick Handel tomb at Westminster Abbey © IOCO

Cambridge Handel Opera Company puts on Baroque operas that celebrate the fusion of music and the stage with performances that are not just ‘historically informed’, but ‘historically inspired’. There is meaningful integrity between what happens in the music and what happens on stage. Baroque stagecraft is incorporated into our productions in a manner that speaks directly to audiences. Cambridge Handel Opera Company staged Handel’s Rodelinda, HWV 19 in Cambridge at a new theatre, the ‘Great Hall’, at The Leys. The dress rehearsal and performances took place in the week of 3 – 7 April 2018.


Rodelinda – Review by Janet Banks

Hats off to talented artistic director Julian Perkins for resurrecting the Cambridge Handel Opera Company, which had staged annual Handel productions from 1985 to 2013 in the historic university city. He plans to alternate operas by Handel with those of his contemporaries, and if this production of Rodelinda is anything to go by, audiences can look forward to historically informed and artistically rewarding productions in the coming years.

Cambridge Handel Opera Company / Rodelinda © Jean-Luc Benazet

Cambridge Handel Opera Company / Rodelinda © Jean-Luc Benazet

Simon Bejer has designed the production simply but effectively, entirely in blood red, black and white. Costumes are loosely early 17th-century – ruffs, doublet and hose, the staging minimal, but hung with red draperies. Sung in English, it is expertly accompanied from the pit by period instruments laid out as an 18th-century opera orchestra, with a harpsichord and bass instrument on each side of the pit, and conducted by Julian Perkins.

Alice Privett never disappoints as the faithful wife Rodelinda. Her opening lament for her, supposedly, dead husband Bertarido, is impressive in its rich, deep colours, and she excels both in the passionate anger required when resisting the advances of the usurper Grimoaldo  and in the more calm set-piece arias.

Her unwelcome suitor, Grimoaldo (tenor William Wallace), white-faced and weak minded, comes into his own in Act 2 when his anger at finding Rodelinda and Bertarido together brings forth vehement coloratura – the only time spontaneous applause was drawn from an otherwise rather reserved audience. His adviser Garibaldo is sung by baritone Nicholas Morris, who from the first has the ability to hold the stage with both his effective acting and his characterful voice. Ida Ränzlöv who sings ‘bad girl’ Eduige, dressed for the part in black vinyl skin-tight trousers and a slashed farthingale, enters into the role with almost comic effect, rolling the „R“ of Rodelinda scornfully and cheekily unlacing Unolfo’s doublet.

Cambridge Handel Opera Company / Rodelinda © Jean-Luc Benazet

Cambridge Handel Opera Company / Rodelinda © Jean-Luc Benazet

It is left till Act 1 Scene 2 before we hear a counter-tenor voice – that of Bertarido, in hiding, walking among the tombs. Although initially his voice is not striking, William Towers soon captivates the audience with his beautifully controlled long notes, and his Act 2 aria ‘Nature’s voice replying’, each line echoed from the circle by recorders and flute, is beautifully accomplished. Tom Scott-Cowell, as Unolfo, has the other countertenor role and delights the audience with Act 2 aria ‘Daylight is dawning’ just before the interval.

For me, however, the musical high point of the opera was Rodelinda and Bertarido’s duet at the end of Act 2 ‘I embrace you’, movingly sung in their separate dungeons, with flawless ensemble and both voices blending seamlessly.