TOElegantly redesigned uditorium under its pointed canopy, the sides open to the elements to allow ventilation, the fixed seats replaced by recycled and mobile chairs – these are all the steps that the ever imaginative Opera Holland Park, in its silver wedding season, He has given safety performances back to his audience, and they worked. The capacity is only 40%, 400 people, with financial consequences to bear, but the first night was filled with a feeling of a welcome return and a strange adventure in the new world.
This is still a young company by opera standards, but over the past decade, OHP has nurtured young artists, with a keen eye for talent. The fruits were offered in a new staging of The Marriage of Figaro (sung in Italian) in which three of these local singers took on the lead roles, triumphantly: Elizabeth Karani (Susanna), Nardus Williams (Countess Almaviva) and Julien Van Mellaerts (Count Almaviva), with Ross Ramgobin as Figaro and Samantha Price as Cherubino, both going back to OHP.
Oliver Platt’s production, designed by Takis, took its visual accents from the Mozart era (powdered wigs, frock coats) but with ingenious contemporary touches. The opening in broad daylight of the opera “in the open air” can be a challenge and this took time to find focus, the voices at first did not quite match the liveliness of the London City Symphony, conducted by George Jackson. When it lit up (the singers built their confidence, raced across the double stage, enjoyed Platt’s detailed directing wit), it lit up, aided by the supporting cast and eight-person heroic chorus. By the time the elusive and courteous Earl of Van Mallaerts apologized to his kind and emotionally battered Countess (Williams making a rich, silky role debut), we knew what we’d been missing all year.
If we could ever go to Munich the day might come, we would soon find musical life led by two figures who are now central to UK cultural life. Simon Rattle will be the principal conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Vladimir Jurowski, after 14 exceptional years with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the oldest principal conductor of any London orchestra, will become the elite musical director of the Bavarian State Opera. Serious, uncompromising, daring, this Russian has been an exciting asset and we will miss him. His farewell concert at the orchestra’s Royal Festival Hall home was, by necessity, filmed and broadcast live (available on Marquee TV). The advantage is that it leaves us with an invigorating testimony of what this association has accomplished.
By Tchaikovsky swan lake he has been close to Jurowski’s heart since his childhood in Moscow. For a long time he has wanted to perform the work with the LPO in the original version of 1877: two and a half hours of music, with the 54 numbers, as the composer wrote it. Most of us only hear Swan Lake in Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s modified 1895 version, modeled for their own choreography two years after Tchaikovsky’s death. The original is a darker, more exploratory work, the symphonic orchestration in logic and invention. Here, each end of the four acts felt more disturbing and electrifying than the last. The LPO played at the top of its game, and every soloist deserved a mention, especially the leader, Pieter Schoeman, who was virtuoso in his miniature violin concerto passages. Jurowski will be with him LPO at the Proms on August 12 and back in the fall. Reserve now.
In its new association with St John’s Smith Square, the Southbank Sinfonia gave a “rush hour” concert of unknown British landscape-related repertoire. Vaughan Williams’ first Serenade in A minor, full of bloated themes and folk-inspired charm, might not supplant his more mature works, but it was a pleasure to listen to. By Thea Musgrave Green (2014) for bristling strings with a lively conflict around the opposing forces of the violin and bass, skillfully played. Michael Nyman’s work in 1998 Strong in the oaks, strong in the oaks causes it lacks the same taut energy, but it bounces nicely. (Replace “oaks” with “crime” for the tongue-in-cheek New Labor presence here.) Olivia Clarke, Mackerras fellow at the English National Opera, conducted with sharp, analytical insight and lyrical purpose: a name to watch.
Star Ratings (out of five)
The Marriage of Figaro ★★★★
LPO / Jurowski ★★★★
Southbank Sinfonia / Clarke ★★★★
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism