Now

It seems that I have failed to post news for two years!!! Not because there was none, of course, but because I have been so busy… That is the excuse, at least.

So much has happened. 2013 was a great year. Our hugely successful revival of The Mikado at English National Opera had more performances in January. I loved bringing life and refinement to Sullivan’s music, and knowing that the audience were actually able to follow the words. This is becoming more and more important to me. The other great operatic highlight of the year was the British stage première of Rossini’s Maometto secondo at the Garsington Festival. What a great, great opera it is! We managed to find four artists who could sing and perform the major roles, no mean feat. The extreme technical difficulty of the vocal writing must be the major obstacle to the work being in the repertoire …and of course fashion. But Rossini shows such a deep sense of music drama. Quite astounding. Edward Dick made a beautiful, gripping production, with wonderful designs by Robert Innes Hopkins. The young chorus was absolutely marvellous, and sang for sixty. And best of all, the work was recognised by audience and critics alike as a masterpiece. If I have a particular ambition, it is to see the opera established in the repertoire. The cause was helped by a wonderful recording taken from live for Avie, enabled by an extraordinarily generous gift from Peter Moores. Don’t miss it!

Of course, 2013 was an annus mirabilis of anniversaries, and I was able to celebrate all three of the major ones, Verdi, Wagner and Britten, with great concerts. Britten with a concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Norfolk and Norwich Festival which included Sinfonia da Requiem and Our Hunting Fathers, sung brilliantly by Mary Plazas, marvellously enough in the hall, St Andrew’s, in which it received its world première. Early Britten, so vital! Then a fabulous concert, again with the Philharmonia, of Verdi and Wagner at the Newbury Festival, which featured extraordinary and ultra-talented Gulnara Shafigullina, the winner of the opera prize at ‘s-Hertogenbosch. She sang Verdi in the first half, the cavatina from Simon Boccanegra, the whole of the tri-partite Act 4, scene 1 of Il trovatore and Elisabetta’s aria from Don Carlos. Then in the second half Wagner, Dich teure Halle and the Liebestod, all this interspersed with choruses by the two composers, rousingly sung by the festival chorus. Then rounded the evening off with a spectacular rendition of  Tacea la notte …Di quale amor from Il trovatore, ending with one of the best E flats I have ever heard live. Simply amazing. Then finally I returned to Norwich for the closing concert, Verdi’s Requiem with the Festival Chorus and the London Philharmonic and a wonderful quartet of soloists. It was a fantastically exciting and moving event: one of the greatest works by the greatest of the three composers to round off anniversaries.

2014 opened with a delightful event, a series of performances of a staged concert for Opera North entitled From Paris with Love. A lot of scenes from operas concerned with Paris, strangely… It was such a pleasure to return to the company and to work again with the wonderful and delightful orchestra and chorus. Some beautiful concerts followed: it was particularly moving to perform Elgar’s Second Symphony in Freiburg with the Philharmonic. They played it with such passion and the audience went wild, even applauding (gently, so polite!) after the third movement. Why do we insist on stifling applause between movements still? Elgar would certainly have expected it. After all, the slow movement of his first symphony was encored at the world première. Another concert highlight was repeating Vaughan Williams’s wonderful work Dona Nobis Pacem, this time in Norwich at the festival again. Another neglected masterpiece, encapsulating all the passion and struggle of Britten’s War Requiem in three-quarters of an hour.

The operatic highlight of the summer was the triumphant production of Offenbach’s Vert-Vert at Garsington. A huge success for the composer, and another British première. It is such a delightful and multi-layered work. We had a really brilliant cast, led by lovely Robert Murray in the title rôle. The opera is riotously funny and at the same time a deep coming-of-age story, brilliantly achieved in Martin Duncan’s production and the beautiful sets by Francis O’Connor. And there is so much exquisite music in the score, wonderfully played by the Garsington orchestra. Pure delight. And we were able to sell quite a lot of copies of the Opera Rara recording.

In the later part of the year, my adventures in Rostock began. How exciting and stimulating it turned out to be. A really excellent orchestra, with whom I gave three concerts in September, including memorable performances of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with wonderful Lars Vogt. Then a new production of Don Giovanni with a great cast, including the lovely Gulnara Shafigullina again and a marvellous production by Lars Franke. Then 2015 began there, with more Giovannis, concert performances of Maometto secondo… More of which in my next news. 2015 is turning out brilliantly so far!