strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
I've just come back from hearing Michael Maniaci sing in Keiser's The Fortunes of King Croesus for a second time. And by the gods, am I glad I went.

I knew he was good last time, I did. But with the excitement of the weekend generally, the novelty of Keiser's music to my ears, and the fast-moving spectacle of the production, it was hard to concentrate on just one singer's voice. This time, I had the plot clear in my mind, didn't need to get confused about who was in love with whom, and knew when to expect Maniaci's big moments. It helped, too, that while last time we were in the Upper Circle (the middle of three balconies), this time I was in the second row of the stalls, slap bang in the middle and mere feet from the orchestra pit. The difference in position alone made the whole thing so much more intense - like seeing something in colour or hearing something in stereo for the first time, when you've only experienced it before in black and white or mono.

Maniaci's voice )

All night I was entranced - by Maniaci, but also by both Gillian Keith (Elmira) and Fflur Wyn (Clerida), who would both have been worth going back for even if it weren't for Maniaci. Gillian Keith especially flew and soared with searing agility through the part of Elmira, and rightly dominated the opera with an astonishing range of beautiful arias. But then there was the moment when Maniaci began to sing 'Elmira, where are you gone?' (Elmir! wo bleibest du?), and entrancement turned into complete absorption. His messa di voce on the long, plaintive 'Elmira!'s was devastating. My heart was in my mouth. I shut my eyes so that nothing could distract from the pure experience of the sound. I'd known the aria was good last time, but this time, pre-warned, I was overwhelmed. Could I really be hearing anything so powerful, and yet so human? The lingering grief, and yet the perfect control and rich shape which he gave to the sound. I was completely wrapped in the moment - nothing but a pair of ears sucking in the melody he was unveiling.

And then, once again, it was all over - too quickly - and it was out into the confused strangeness of the street. How could ordinary life be going on after that music had finished? How could buses run and drunks shout? How could people not know? The journey home sped by in shell-shocked bewilderment. Betrayal - that what had been so beautiful could be so definitively over. Already, the memory of the sound is slipping away, and there's nothing I can do to refresh it. I feel as though I don't want to hear anything ever again, if it can't be Michael Maniaci singing 'Elmira, where are you gone?'.

All is not lost, though. Radio 3 were there, recording the evening for broadcast later in the month. Believe me when I say that I shall be there, hovering by my set with a supply of fresh tapes in hand.

strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
Crumbs, but today was busy. Two lectures, two seminars, barely time to sit down and remind myself what I was actually supposed to be teaching in the next session before it hit me, and I spent the last seminar being systematically and relentlessly coughed all over by a student no more than a metre away from me. After the fun and games last week, I do not want another cold, thank you!

Anyway, thankfully now it is all over, and I only have a Latin class to teach tomorrow. So I can get on with blogging my extremely exciting and splendiferous weekend...

The pivotal hinge of the whole 48-hour period was Opera North's production of Reinhard Keiser's The Fortunes of Kings Croesus, which I'd been busy organising an outing to since May. It was lucky I'd successfully bought a three-bedroomed house in the intervening period, as I had four house-guests for the weekend (a fifth, [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23, sadly couldn't make it in the end due to illness) - my Mum, [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula, the artist formerly known as [livejournal.com profile] kharin and [livejournal.com profile] megamole. And it was just so fabulous to see everyone anyway! To think that the added bonus was not only baroque opera, but a composer I'd never heard performed before and a chance to hear Michael Maniaci sing live at last was more than enough to have me in a state of fizzing excitement by early Saturday evening.

You can see as much from the grin on my face )

And so off we set in our finery through a crisp, autumnal-smelling evening, to rendezvous with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz and take our seats in the auditorium. I have a recording of the opera directed by RenĂ© Jacobs in 2000, but had only listened to it in a fairly haphazard and perfunctory manner, so I knew some of the tunes beforehand, but had absolutely no clue as to the plot )

Keiser )

The production )

Maniaci )

And friends )

Fangirling )

We did do the Wrens, too, and then home again under a bloated half-moon. And the next day was all communal breakfasts, and chatting, and guests slipping away one by one, until I was left alone once again. Except that I didn't have time to get sad or mopey about it, because it was off for my own humble brand of singing at choir practice, followed by chat and dinner with [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau to round off the weekend.

There are two more performances of Croesus in Leeds, on the 7th and 10th of November, and you know what? I think I might go again. Because I can, and because I still bitterly regret not going to see David Cordier sing Bertarido in Rodelinda for a second time in Oxford when I felt much the same about his performance and I could have done. It doesn't even have to be that expensive, either - judging from the Grand Opera House website, there are some quite cheap last-minute tickets available, and neither performance is likely to sell out completely. June, after all, is an awfully long time to wait for that CD...

Weekending

Sunday, 18 March 2007 18:54
strange_complex: (Claudia Cardinale car)
Well, I had a very lovely weekend with my Mum.

The focus of her visit was really Opera North's performance of Monteverdi's Orfeo: one of the first true examples of the opera genre, which enjoys its fourth centenary this year. It was on at Leeds' Grand Theatre - a triumph of Victorian opulence which makes you crane and peer around the auditorium in a mixture of horror and wonder while you are waiting for the show. Nonetheless, it still didn't quite make it into the same league as Belfast's Grand Opera House, by the simple dint of failing to have ornamental elephants.

The production was - interesting... The story, of course, is the straightforward tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, covering in this version their wedding, his journey into hell, his fatal look back, his despair at losing her a second time, and finally his transportation into the heavens by his father, Apollo. So a simple production could have cast the singers as alternately Arcadian nymphs and shepherds and demonic residents of the underworld, or perhaps gone for a 17th century courtly Italian look, in keeping with the anniversary and the work's original context. No-one can do a simple production of an opera in this post-modern age, though, can they? Instead, the cast were mainly dandies and bohemians, from a mix of different ages and cultures, looking on and laughing with ironic detachment at the somewhat crazed antics of Orpheus and his (decidedly unwilling) bride. A personification of La Musica, who introduced the performance, was a deliberately ungainly cabaret dancer with smudged make-up, while Apollo at the end was revealed to have been a stooped, greasy-haired, balding old man, who'd been sitting on the side of the stage all evening, ostentatiously recording Orpheus' every aria with a portable tape machine.

I'm sure it said a lot of profound things about the artificiality of spectacle, the cruelty of the human condition and the haziness of the lines between life and death, sanity and madness, spectacle and spectators, etc. etc. But, basically, it was overly-contrived showiness for the sake of it, and I wish they'd just let the music speak instead. Especially because it was so good - as a score and as a performance! It was rich, lively, varied, engaging, and really brought the story and the characters to life. In this case, of course, the effect was that two narratives were going on in parallel - aurally, Monteverdi's sincere love story, but visually, the director's crazy weirdness. Musically, my only quibble was that I wasn't very fond of the voice of the singer who played Orpheus, Paul Nilon. The rest of the audience obviously disagreed with me, as he got thunderous applause at the end, but I just found his voice too strident, and lacking in warmth or sweetness of tone. I guess Orpheus is always going to be a hard role to cast, though, if he's to be a convincing musical genius for everyone.

The rest of the weekend we spent mainly taking advantage of the fact that Mum had come up in the car, so we could get around and about the place more easily than I usually can on my own. We did a good batch of house-hunting on Saturday, seeing four properties around the Headingley area. In the end, I didn't fall for any of them, but we nipped round to a couple of others today to have a look at them from the outside, and they did look promising. So I've got a couple of leads, and will phone tomorrow to get appointments to see them properly.

Another little car job that needed doing was taking my old stereo to the tip - it's been sitting in my hallway ever since my new one arrived back in November! Unfortunately, I didn't bank on Mum deciding to make her trip up to Leeds into a jaunt for the parental second car (which doesn't get out very often), so we must have looked a right pair of prats turning up at the tip in a red Mazda MX-5 to throw away a stereo!

Anyway, from there, we progressed out from Leeds in a north-westerly direction in search of pub lunchy goodness, and ended up at the Red Lion in Burley on Wharfedale, whose Sunday carvery I can thoroughly recommend! Succulent honey-roast ham, soft, plump Yorkshire puddings, delicious gravy and very generous portions - we ate around 12:30, and even now at ten to eight I'm only just starting to think I ought to make myself some dinner.

Yes, definitely nice to have a weekend together - especially since it was (coincidentally) Mothering Sunday today. And I'm looking forward to early April, when I'll be spending about ten days with both parents in Brum - besides also attending the St. Matthew Passion and a conference.

Between now and then, I have the luxury of term having finished on Friday to enjoy - but a helluvalot of other things to catch up on!

strange_complex: (Handel)
Hee-hee-hee! I have been having a pretty crappy weekend, feeling very below par and not up to anything much of any description. I even had to bail out on [livejournal.com profile] smileygoth's leaving drinks last night, much to my sorrow. :-( But watching Handel's Last Chance this evening has cheered me up no end.

It's a hokey, schmaltzy, historically-dubious and unrealistically-plotted attempt at educational children's television, that I'm sure would cause any self-respecting pre-teen to cringe painfully. The setting is the first performance of Handel's Messiah in Dublin, for which the names of all the actual soloists - several of them imported over from England for the purpose - are perfectly well-documented. But never mind them! Instead, the plot revolves around a spirited ten-year-old rapscallion by the name of Jamie O'Flaherty, whose life intersects with Handel's in a series of unlikely episodes, while all the time Handel fumes and curses at the deplorable quality of the local choirs he's been asked to work with. Then, one fateful day, Handel chances to hear young Jamie singing to himself as he scrubs a step.1 Guess what happens next - go on, guess!

The whole story might have been more plausible if the boy they'd got to provide young Jamie's voice had genuinely been a good singer, instead of merely a competent one. But then again, when you put that beside the random mix of English, Irish and North American accents (apparently determined by who could be bothered to attempt plausibility and who couldn't), the modern French horns which appear in Handel's orchestra, the fact that the climactic opening performance of the Messiah seemed to end with the Hallelujah chorus, the complete inability of the actor playing Handel to even fake playing the harpsichord, the failure of the director to hide this, and the terrible scripting,2 such details quickly ceased to matter.

Could I not have guessed from the title alone how second-rate this was going to be, you ask? Why did I watch it, or even acquire it in the first place, knowing that this was what I would be getting?

Well, the answer of course, is that I love low-budget TV. Chuckling over all of the above has been one of the high points of my weekend. And it was so charmingly well-meaning, I couldn't help but love it. Besides, it had its moments - chiefly nice locations (mainly in Bratislava) and a delightfully curmudgeonly old Handel, who at one point announced, "I'm a mean old ogre, and what is more, I enjoy being a mean old ogre!" And - albeit with a slight change of setting - they got in the anecdote about the singer who incurred Handel's wrath for his poor sight-reading. When Handel exploded with rage and demanded, "You shcauntrel, tit you not dell me dat you could sing at soite?", he replied, "Yes, sir, and so I can: but not at first sight." Can't beat that.

Other things I have watched while feeling pants include an episode of Angel (early season four, which I now see honks just as bad as the stuff later in that series with Jasmine), half of Three Coins in the Fountain on Film 4, (but not really enough to justify claiming I've 'seen' it properly and add it to the list for this year), and an excellent production of Handel's Giustino on DVD. (I actually acquired Handel's Last Chance as a cheap'n'cheerful last-minute addition to an online order which was really about buying this and two other Handel opera DVDs).

I've also slept a lot, listened to Handel's Rinaldo on CD, and got in some good reading - a bit more of my current book, Angus Heriot's The Castrati in Opera (which I'll post about in its own right when I've finished), and this extremely interesting article on the marriage of a castrato named Bartolomeo de Sorlisi to a Protestant girl named Dorothea Lichtwer in 17th-century Germany. I'm quite surprised Sorlisi's story isn't better-known, as the article shows very well how unusually well-documented it is, and how much light it casts on the status and condition of the castrati. But in fact, he doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page. Let's hope that now a detailed English-language article has been published about him, someone will soon put that right - he certainly deserves it.

So, it's been a quiet one, but full of nice things nonetheless. Now, I am going to bed - and let's hope I've recovered my energies enough to face what's bound to be a pretty busy week.


1. You would have thought Handel might have been particularly astonished in this scene not so much by the boy's voice, but by the fact that he was actually singing an aria from the Messiah, despite the fact that it hasn't had a single public performance yet. But apparently not.

2. At one point, Handel advised Jamie, "That is the voice to which you must listen to most closely". I could have forgiven it if he'd been played with a heavy German accent and a tenuous grasp on the English language. But he wasn't at all. Except when the actor let his accent slip, he spoke in perfect Queen's English.

strange_complex: (Handel)
Given that I have complete and up-to-date copies of my book on:
  • My hard-drive
  • A CD
  • My Yahoo email account
  • The Warwick University server
... it would be overkill to put it on the shiny new data-stick my Dad gave me and email it to my work and Excite email accounts as well. Right? Right???

In other news, the materials for the course I'm going to be doing with [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23 next term on The Operas of Handel arrived today. I'm very excited! It tells us what operas we'll be covering each week, and there's a recommended reading list as well.

This means that I can now see that, thanks to superhuman CD-copying efforts over the past couple of months, I have indeed successfully acquired copies of most of the major works we'll be studying. In fact, over a 10-week course, there's only 3 weeks for which I don't have at least some of the appropriate listening material. So that's good - I can listen to the relevant operas in preparation, and read the right bits of the books, and turn up with a big, swotty 'I did my homework' grin on my face. :)

And homework is right, because we also have to do worksheets each week, to 'consolidate' what we've learned in class. We can even do an essay if we want! (Although I'm not sure I'll actually go that far - I may have finished my book by then, but I have a paper queuing up to be written, too.)

But yay! I am going to be a student again! How amusing.
strange_complex: (Default)
There's a back-log of LJ-posts-I-wanted-to-make-but-didn't-have-the-time brewing in my head, so I've decided to just roll them all into one and get them out of the way! Here goes:

1. Gluck: Friday 22nd Oct. )

2. Kate Rusby: Sunday 24th Oct. )

3. Quantum Leap and Hercules. )

Aaaaah, I feel better now!
strange_complex: (Default)
For non-locals: Belfast is about to begin celebrating its yearly Arts Festival, which I'm told is second only in scale to the Edinburgh Festival in the UK.

For locals: below are the events I have already bought tickets to. Some I am attending with a very nice young lady named Cath; some I am thus far going to alone. So if anyone likes the sound of any of them and wants to accompany me (I'm sure Cath would be happy to meet you too), they'd be very welcome. All tickets can be bought on the festival website, unless otherwise noted.

Friday 22nd October: Gluck's baroque opera, Iphigenie en Tauride, performed by the Welsh National Opera at the Grand Opera House. Kick-off 7:30pm. I'm also going to the free pre-show talk at 6:15 in Grosvenor House, Glengall Street. Tickets direct from the Grand Opera House (02890 241 919).

Sunday 24th October: Kate Rusby at the Lyric Theatre, 7:30pm. Apparently, she sings 'folk music for people who don't like folk music', and is both talented and innovative. (I'm mainly going to this one because Cath wants to). Tickets theoretically available on the web-site, but it kept messing itself up when I tried to order them, so in the end I phoned the Lyric Theatre instead (02890 385 685).

Saturday 30th October: John Carpenter's The Thing at the Queen's Film Theatre, 10:30 pm (late showing).

Sunday 31st October (Halloweeeeeen!): The Nightmare Before Christmas at the QFT, 3pm. Theatre of Blood at the QFT, 7pm. Ed Wood at the QFT, 9pm.

Wednesday 3rd November: A play entitled Alladeen at BBC Blackstaff. Surreal multi-media performance about Indian call centres, wish fulfilment and popular culture, it sez 'ere (festival brochure...). Kick-off, 7:30pm.

Saturday 6th November: 'Songs of the Spirit' at the Clonard Monastery (no, really), 7:30pm. Haunting choral music by candlelight, including Tavener, Rachmaninov, Brucker and some unattributed spirituals.

Crumbs! I have managed to spread those out fairly evenly... but still, I hope I actually have time to fit in going to them between all my lectures. :S

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