An Introduction to the Music Section
Chairman: Guy Dammann
Hon Secretary: Amanda Holloway
Royal Festival Hall
A “staged concert”, according to conductor Iván Fischer, is “a theatrical performance designed for a concert hall”, its goal “organic unity” between music and theatre. That’s what opera performances are anyway, aren’t they? Oh, wait…
A tenor short
Tannhäuser, Royal Opera House, April 29th, 2016
Strong though the musical case is for this Tannhäuser, the haze of director Tim Albery’s unfinished dramatic thoughts makes it all rather vague.
ENO appoints Daniel Kramer new Artistic Director
Dead on arrival
Lucia di Lammermoor
Royal Opera House
The image of Lucia coming on stage, mad, covered in blood, singing like an angel, is one of the of most famous scenes in the whole operatic rep. This definitive mad-scene (accompanied memorably by a glass harmonica) embodies the results of too much pressure within the family in a way Hilaire Belloc 80 years later might have made comic...
Look to the lady
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
What was going through Nicholas Collon’s mind as he stepped onto the CBSO podium for his third visit this season? No doubt he had been in the frame to succeed Andris Nelsons as the orchestra’s principal conductor, but if he felt any disappointment at being passed over in favour of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla it didn’t show. A pity the listeners to the Radio 3 relay of the concert couldn’t see the elegant modesty of Collon’s conducting.
Gustav by Gustavo
LA Phil, Barbican residency
The Barber of Seville
Welsh National Opera
With Rossini’s Barber of Seville, the first of their trilogy of Figaro operas, Welsh National Opera set out their stall. Sue Blane’s costumes were bright, Ralph Koltai’s set was contrastingly downbeat, the activity of Sam Brown’s production was frenetic and the atmosphere that of panto.
Not really Godunov
Royal Opera House, 14 March
Richard Jones’s new Royal Opera production of Boris Godunov is excessively house-trained. Has there ever been so tidy a production of Mussorgsky’s sprawling epic? Admittedly this original 1869 completion, a version never before staged here (where the composer’s and Rimsky’s revisions have mostly been the norm) took fewer operatic liberties than the 1872 version which was designed for more conventional tastes.
Iphigénie en Tauride
Pia de’ Tolomei
English Touring Opera
Hackney Empire, 5 & 10 March
English Touring Opera has a strong programme of fine operas, with 21 towns to visit from Truro to Perth this challenging season. Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride was sung in French, though I think English (which they are using for Don Giovanni) would have been better. Donizetti’s hardly-known Pia de’ Tolomei was in Italian, best for bel canto even when the voices are not so Italian. The Hackney Empire, a wonderful Frank Matcham theatre, was packed out, the works enthusiastically attended and applauded.
And then there were nuns
Il trittico, Royal Opera, 25 February
Richard Jones’s production, set in the austerity ’50s, captures the claustrophobia as well as the colour of these human stories. It was much admired when it opened in 2011, especially the detailed set designs: Ultz’s Seine-side quay with a realistic barge deck, Miriam Buether’s airy convent hospital ward and John Macfarlane’s fusty old man’s bedroom.
The Marriage of Figaro
Figaro Gets a Divorce
Welsh National Opera
Wales Millennium Centre
20 & 21 February
Even before Welsh National Opera’s orchestra under Lothar Koenigs strikes up the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, members of the cast in modern dress are on stage, reading or stretching as if for a work-out. Enter Figaro in 18th-century dress: he shows them the contents of the costume hampers and shepherds them offstage. Yes, it’s a dumb show, intended to provide some kind of framing device.
Norma, English National Opera, London Coliseum, 17 February
Those keen to update Bellini’s druidic tragedy can take their pick from colonial history – so how Christopher Alden lit on 19th-century America is anyone’s guess. These Gauls and Romans play out their oppression and rebellion in a big wooden barn somewhere in the Midwest.
The Magic Flute, English National Opera, 16 February
If ENO can get only half an audience for the fourth performance (of 13) of one of the most popular and glorious of all operas, whose fault is that? The tantrums of an arts sector with an infantile inability to take responsibility whenever the Arts Council asks someone to pull their socks up are pathetic. ENO isn’t the NHS, and nobody should have to pour endless money into a hole the company has dug for itself.
Careful what you wish for
The Devil Inside, Music Theatre Wales, Peacock Theatre, 6 February
Some malign force must have been at work on the second night of The Devil Inside when conductor Michael Rafferty stopped the performance ten minutes into the second scene because all the lights in the pit had gone out. Perhaps the evil spirit at the heart of this opera – a flickering absinthe-green light in a glass globe – was making his presence felt.
L’Etoile, Royal Opera House, 1 February 2016
A wholesale rewrite – a brace of new characters, a bucket-load of new dialogue – and more pantomime than the back end of a horse makes Chabrier’s L’étoile more Agincourt than entente cordiale in Covent Garden’s first-ever production. How you react to Mariame Clément’s riotous jumble-sale of cultural references – buy one get five free – will probably depend on your opinion of Chabrier’s score.
Passion on the scaffold
Andrea Chénier, Opera North, 19 January
Umberto Giordano’s most successful opera immortalises a worthwhile subject: a poet and political activist guillotined in Robespierre’s terror. But it is not just for the fabulous lyricism of the opera and its tenor title role that one should catch this well-judged, satisfyingly-cast Opera North production, but for the quality and memorable fervour of Luigi Illica’s fine libretto and the intelligent theatricality of Annabel Arden’s well-focused staging, which really works at words and ideas harnessing text and music.
Less is more
Pelléas et Mélisande, Barbican Hall, 9 January
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. As Debussy’s magical score was sprung from the orchestra pit and played to a sort of heavenly perfection by the London Symphony Orchestra on the platform – giving every instrumental nuance the exact degree of delicate freightedness it wants – so an adolescent staging by Peter Sellars galumphed all over a drama which owes everything to the art of suggestion.
Too much reading
Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 4 January
A revived Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House won a roar of approval from its audience. And no wonder: it had been a roaring musical success. The title role (sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the earlier part of the run) was performed by the Polish baritone Artur Rucinsky. An Onegin the audience could sympathise with, this was a man who messed up, not a romantic villain.
Arpeggiata, Wigmore Hall, 21 December
And lo, the early music virtuosi L’Arpeggiata cast a spell over a sold-out Wigmore Hall three nights before Christmas. Their sins of sub-jazz impro with Purcell, committed during their last visit in 2014, were forgiven; that local hero is still a protected species as far as the English are concerned.
Is your journey really necessary?
Winterreise, St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch 8th December 2015
Anyone expecting a straightforward recital of Schubert’s Winterreise from bright young British tenor Allan Clayton at Shoreditch Church will have been broadsided by this wacky ‘reimagining’ for orchestra and voice by Hans Zender, first heard at the QEH in 1993.
Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci, Royal Opera House, 3 December
Call it Damiano Michieletto’s revenge. Earlier this year the Italian director took a shellacking for his production of Rossini’sGuillaume Tell at Covent Garden – for an opportunistic scene of sexual molestation, but mostly for being generally boring and pretentious. His response is a bit of old-skool banality that would hardly look out of place done by a populist producer at the Albert Hall. (Although unlike the Royal Opera, Raymond Gubbay never troubled the public purse for 25 million quid a year.)
Soap opera scrubs up well
Zazà, Barbican Hall, 27 November 2015
Among Italian operas à la française, Zazà has fared particularly badly. Though more credible than Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur and better structured than Puccini’s La rondine, Leoncavallo’s tale is a domestic doodle with as little action as Waiting for Godot. And yet, as Opera Rara’s latest archaeological dig has revealed, musically it’s a feast, drenched in lushly melodic colours that favour the waltz and sway with a heady, schmaltz-free sentimentality.
From Morning to Yawning
Morgen und Abend, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 13 November
Haas’s music is inventive, carefully suited to Fosse’s purpose, and does create the sort of implicit world redolent of various happenings that people who like this sort of thing will take as meaningful...
The Force of Destiny, English National Opera, 9 November
A brother is obsessed with murdering his sister for revenge; both are deranged. What better metaphor could there be for civil war? Calixto Bieito, directing his first staging of La forza del destino (a co-production with the Canadian Opera Company Toronto and the Met in New York), homes in on the parallel and ties the opera’s levels of conflict together so soundly that its drama becomes almost believable.
Pelléas et Mélisande, English Touring Opera, Malvern Theatres, 22 October
A chamber version of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande: it should make perfect sense. The complexity of the relationships between Maeterlinck’s characters, the million delicate refinements of Debussy’s score: surely a scaled-down version could only reveal further subtleties to this most poetic of music dramas?
Critics Mocked by Great German Orchestra
Leipzig Gewandhaus in great form at the Barbican
The Tales of Hoffmann, Britten Theatre, London, 9 October
In James Bonas’s staging for English Touring Opera the scene is shifted from old Nuremberg, and Hoffmann has become instead a '30s film director – cue echoes of German Expressionism, plus plenty of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Everything is properly grotesque, including the lurking nemesis Lindorf, done up like Count Orlok and stalking about with panto-villain glee in Warwick Fyfe’s somewhat over-emphatic performance.
From Lolita to Lulu
Salome, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall Birmingham, Friday 2 October
Among many sensational opera performances at Symphony Hall over nearly a quarter of a century, this Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra presentation of Richard Strauss' powerful one-acter is an immediate stand-out.
BBC Broadcasts Philosopher’s Tone
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Barbican Hall, Friday 25 September
When Friedrich Nietzsche was asked in what category he placed his book Also Sprach Zarathustra, he replied ‘Symphonies,’ so it was appropriate when, in the same year as Strauss’ wordless version, their contemporary Mahler set a text from it at the heart of his Third Symphony, completed in 1896
Critics’ Circle Announces Music Awards for 2014
George Benjamin wins 2014 Critics’ Circle Award for Outstanding Musician
The fourth annual Critics’ Circle Music Awards are announced today, with composer George Benjamin to receive the 2014 Award for Outstanding Musician. The awards for Exceptional Young Talent in music were made to composer Charlotte Bray, singer Mary Bevan and pianist Igor Levit.
Jack Massarik 1940-2014
Veteran musician, jazz writer and critic succumbs to cancer aged 74
Jack Massarick, long-time Critics' Circle member and the Evening Standard's jazz critic for 35 years died on Sunday 13 July, due to late diagnosed pancreatic cancer.
Iestyn Davies receives Outstanding Young Talent award
Countertenor is presented with award on Barbican stage
Music section awards
John Eliot Gardiner receives 2013 Outstanding Musician Award
Conductor and Bach scholar presented with award at Royal Opera House ceremony
Music Section Awards 2013
Gongs for John Eliot Gardiner, Ryan Wigglesworth, Iestyn Davies and Yevgeny Sudbin
Benjamin Grosvenor at the Barbican
Presented with his 2012 Award for Exceptional Young Talent
Oliver Knussen at Aldeburgh
Knussen Receives 2012 Outstanding Musician Award
2012 Music Awards
The winners are announced
2011 Music Awards Presentations
The first two Awards for Exceptional Young Talent
Alina Ibragimova and Robin Ticciati receive their Music Awards
Critics' Circle Music Awards
The Music Section announces its Outstanding Musician Award and Awards for Exceptional Young Talent
Members of the Music Section
Including Honorary Members
The music section has 76 members. It at present consists overwhelmingly of classical music and opera critics, though we would welcome as members critics of other kinds of music (jazz, pop, and world music) if they want to join us.
Edward Greenfield, 30 July 1928 – 1 July 2015
Veteran classical music critic dies at 86
Edward Greenfield, a legendary figure in classical music criticism, died on 1 July having never stopped listening and writing.
Andrew Porter, 1928-2015
Music critic, cultural commentator and translator of operatic libretti
Andrew Porter, who established an eminent reputation on both sides of the Atlantic over a long career in music criticism, has died in London at the age of 86.
Michael Kennedy, 1926-2014
Critic, writer, biographer and journalist dies
Michael Kennedy, the prolific critic, writer, biographer and journalist, has died at the age of 88.His lifelong association with the Telegraph began at age 15 in 1941 at the newspaper's Manchester office. He began writing music criticism regularly in 1948 while climbing up the sub-editor ladder, becoming chief sub-editor and eventually, in 1960, the newspaper's northern editor. When the Telegraph stopped its Manchester edition, Kennedy turned to criticism full time and in 1989 moved to become chief music critic for the Sunday Telegraph.
My Dear Mozart
The plight of music criticism
Circle President, Tom Sutliffe, on the plight of music criticism today.
Reflections on the state of the arts
We Do Things Differently Here
Reflections on the state of opera and the theatre in Britain today.
New Music Section Awards
Watch this space
The 77 members of the music section will soon be casting their votes for the 2010 awards. Awards have been given from time to time in the past, but the plan is now to put them on a permanent footing by presenting them annually.