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Scottish Opera scores a hit with their new Don Pasquale

27 January 2014, Glasgow, UK

Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale
Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale(Photo: K K Dundas)

Review by Neil Jones

If Scottish Opera’s new production of Donizetti’s opera buffa was a cup of Italian coffee it would be a very frothy cappuccino. Smooth, exceptionally tasty and without a hint of bitterness, created lovingly by a trio of top class baristas.

The baristas in question were director Renaud Doucet, designer André Barbe and lighting designer Guy Simard. Opening the visual feast of this production during the overture they produced a largely black and white cartoon-like book projected on the front curtain, complete with turning pages that told a new backstory of Pasquale as a cat-loving but feline allergic hotel owner, desperately searching for a cure with the help of his doctor friend.

The main course though was Don Pasquale’s abode, a small, old-fashioned – bordering on seedy – pensione in the 1960’s, complete with a handful of equally dubious and decrepit staff. Barbe’s set design was a masterpiece, akin to looking at the set through a fish-eye lens, the central section more or less normal but the edges curving dramatically and vertiginously towards the vertical.

Initially, the top of the building was hidden by a screen of drying sheets, pillow cases and towels, which were dramatically whipped away just before Ernesto’s arrival in Act I to reveal a rooftop restaurant.

If visually this production was entertaining, it was matched musically and vocally by an orchestra and cast at the top of their game. Scottish Opera’s former music director, Francesco Corti, returned to conduct the Scottish Opera Orchestra, rowing them along with such sparkling energy that there was a danger that they could have overwhelmed the singers had not those singers been well capable of holding their own.

Making his company debut was Alfonso Antoniozzi as Don Pasquale, delightfully unkempt in vest, scruffy trousers and braces – an Italian parody of Alf Garnet – with a splendid voice that belied his wonderful ‘dirty old man’ characterization.

Also debuting for the company was Aldo Di Toro as Ernesto, at his best in the sadder arias ‘Sogno soave e casto’ and ‘Cercherò lontana terra’ with a lovely clear voice, as beautiful as it was technically adept.

Equally delightful was Nicholas Lester as Doctor Malatesta, perhaps too young to be credible as Pasquale’s ‘friend’, whilst Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson was both vocally and visually gutsy as Norina, making her a strong, delightfully duplicitous character.

Andrew McTaggart completed the solo singing cast as the Notary whilst the afore-mentioned pensione staff included Sandra Haxton as a fag addicted maid, watching the action with a knowing and cynical eye!

With brilliant solo performances and excellent ensemble singing, this was a hugely entertaining and memorable take on this most consistently performed of Donizetti’s operas.


English National Opera names new music director

25 January 2014, London, UK

Mark Wigglesworth
Mark Wigglesworth(Photo: Sim Canetty-Clark)

In September 2015 English National Opera will bid farewell to their current music director Edward Gardner and welcome Mark Wigglesworth as his successor.

Wigglesworth comes to ENO with a wealth of operatic experience, including a year as music director of La Monnaie in Brussels. He is widely respected as an interpreter of Mozart, Wagner, Britten and Shostakovich, though some critics have been quick to point out his lack of experience when it comes to leading companies over a long period of time.

Gardner, by contrast, has been with ENO for nearly eight years, yet he had only held the post of music director at Glyndebourne on Tour for two years when he moved to the Coliseum. During his tenure, the ENO Orchestra has gone from strength to strength and Gardner is on his way to being ranked alongside Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Mark Elder, under whom the company also thrived.

After praising Gardner’s ‘phenomenal’ leadership, ENO artistic director John Berry described the 49-year-old Wigglesworth as ‘one of the most outstanding conductors of his generation’. He added: ‘I know Mark will make his presence felt and will support our mission to make ENO one of the most theatrically dynamic and musically exciting opera houses in the world.’


Win 10 song recital discs from Harmonia Mundi

20 January 2014



This wide-ranging selection of recital discs offers a panorama of 19th- and 20th-century European song traditions performed by some of today’s finest interpreters. Highlights include two volumes from Matthias Goerne’s Schubert Edition (Die schöne Müllerin and Schwanengesang), a live recital from Ravinia Festival by the celebrated mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Schumann’s Dichterliebe with Mark Padmore. French, English, Spanish and Moravian songs complete the collection – see full details below.

To enter, simply drop us an email with the subject ‘GOERNE’ to competitions@rhinegold.co.uk, or send a postcard to Rhinegold Competitions, 20 Rugby Street, London WC1N 3QZ. Please include your full name, address and a contact telephone number. (Deadline for entries: 28 February 2014.)

  • Britten 'Before life & after'
    Mark Padmore - tenor
    Roger Vignoles - piano
    HMU907443
  • Canciones españolas
    Bernarda Fink - mezzo-soprano
    Anthony Spiri - piano
    HMC902133
  • Dvořák Zigeunerlieder, Songs & Duets
    Genia Kühmeier - soprano
    Bernarda Fink - mezzo-soprano
    Christoph Berner - piano
    HMC902081
  • Eisler Ernste Gesänge
    Matthias Goerne - baritone
    Ensemble Resonanz
    HMC902134
  • Recital at Ravinia
    Lorraine Hunt Lieberson - mezzo-soprano
    Drew Minter - countertenor
    Peter Serkin - piano
    HMU907500
  • Schubert Die Winterreise
    Werner Güra - tenor
    Christoph Berner - piano
    HMC902066
  • Schubert Schwanengesang
    Matthias Goerne - baritone
    Christoph Eschenbach - piano
    HMC902139/40
  • Schumann Dichterliebe op.48, Liederkreis op.24
    Mark Padmore - tenor
    Kristian Bezuidenhout - fortepiano
    HMU907521
  • Victor Hugo en Musique
    Konstantin Wolff - bass-baritone
    Trung Sam - piano
    HMC901997


Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies aged 80

20 January 2014, Bologna, Italy

Claudio Abbado
Claudio Abbado(Photo: Felix Broede / Deutsche Grammophon)

The Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, former music director of the Teatro alla Scala, has died in Bologna at the age of 80, following a long illness.

Abbado held several positions at La Scala between 1968 and 1986, rising to become artistic director in 1976. He also held the post of music director at the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991, and went on to succeed Herbert von Karajan at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1989 – then regarded the top job in the classical music world.

A message on La Scala website mourned Abbado’s passing while celebrating his legacy: ‘Claudio Abbado has left us. But he will remain at La Scala for ever. This is his theatre: the place that will retain, concretely and tangibly, the mark of the conductor without boundaries, the musician without preconceptions, the man of the theatre who was ready to take risks and the human being whose mind reached out to the world.’ Daniel Barenboim, who led a concert in Abbado’s memory at La Scala, said that the world had lost ‘one of the greatest musicians of the past 50 years’.

Above all, the many tributes that have flooded websites and publications since Abbado’s death have highlighted the maestro’s humanity, gentle mastery and genuineness as hallmarks of his personal style. These qualities also came through in his music-making, where he approached even the biggest orchestral scores like chamber music, coaxing results out of his players through his ability to listen rather than behaving like a podium tyrant.

Abbado was born in Milan to a musical family – both parents taught music – and decided to become a conductor at the age of seven after hearing Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes. He went on to study at Milan’s Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory and with Hans Swarowsky at the Vienna Music Academy.

The maestro first came to public attention when he won the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood in 1958, although on his own admission he was astonished to come first. He made his debut at La Scala, Milan, two years later; however, the real turning point in his career came when Karajan invited him to perform Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival in 1965. This symphony was to become a cornerstone of Abbado’s concert repertoire in the decades that followed.

Aside from his years in Milan, Vienna and Berlin, Abbado was also a principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1987, and in 2003 founded the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. His commitment to working with younger musicians led him to establish the European Union Youth Orchestra (later to become the Chamber Orchestra of Europe) as well as the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Orchestra Mozart.

Abbado leaves behind him an extensive recording legacy with Deutsche Grammophon, his label for 46 years. In July 2013, DG released a 41-CD Abbado edition covering the core works of the symphonic repertoire, and in February 2014 will release a new recording of Mozart’s Piano Concertos K466 and 467 with Martha Argerich.

Claudio Abbado, conductor, born 26 June 1933; died 20 January 2014


 

Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson tackles her first bel canto role

20 January 2014

Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson
Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson(Photo: Mark Whitehouse)

The British soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson has a passion for playing opera's baddies. She discusses her forthcoming debut as Donizetti's feisty heroine Norina in a new Scottish Opera production of Don Pasquale.

You studied Land Economy as an undergraduate - quite an unusual choice for a musician! Did you always hope to become a singer, or was there a watershed moment that prompted you to switch career paths?

I have always loved singing, particularly out the window as a child to scare people, but growing up it never really occurred to me that it could become a career!  At 18 I didn't really know anything about the business, and I didn't think studying singing would be helpful for me at that time. I really enjoyed doing my Land Economy degree, and I also got involved in the Cambridge University Operatic Society. This really opened my eyes and made me start to think about training properly. I ended up getting a job with HSBC when I graduated, but after getting offered a place at the Royal Academy of Music I decided to have a go at that instead!

Who or what have been the most important influences on you during your years of training to be a singer?

My singing teacher, Lillian Watson, and my coach, Audrey Hyland, influenced me the most during my four years at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM). They closely mentored my repertoire and performance every week, gave me the confidence to put it all into action on stage and encouraged me to perform in various concerts, auditions and competitions. Lillian steered me towards Garsington Opera, which gave me my first professional role as Papagena; as you can imagine I was thrilled!

The overall training I received at the RAM was really holistic and I was given some fantastic opportunities. The most significant for me were the Song Circle concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall headed by Richard Stokes, the Kohn Foundation Bach Cantata Series conducted by Iain Ledingham, and the RAM’s opera productions under Jane Glover, directed by John Ramster. My time there enabled me to become a professional singer and I feel lucky to have such a supportive foundation. It was really daunting leaving in 2012 as I had been in education since I was four!

Aside from the RAM I participated in a Samling course, where the teachings of Sir Thomas Allen, Roger Vignoles and Patricia MacMahon had a huge impact on me. It was an intense and thought-provoking opportunity, and I came away with a lot of new ideas. I went on to sing Papagena at Scottish Opera with Sir Thomas Allen directing, which was of course a wonderful experience.

You've been the recipient of quite a few awards. How significant has this support been in helping you to develop as an artist?

Extremely significant! Once leaving college you still need a support network, but everything costs money: lessons, coaching, scores, travel, audition and competition costs, recordings, publicity material … the list goes on! To fund all of this on top of the general costs of life can often be impossible. I'm particularly grateful for the Leonard Ingrams Award from Garsington Opera, which I am using for language training and European audition costs, and the John Scott award from Scottish Opera which has enabled me to continue my singing lessons.

Turning to Scottish Opera's new Don Pasquale, what aspects of the role of Norina are you most looking forward to?

Firstly, I absolutely love the music! I’m really excited about singing my first bel canto role, and have enjoyed exploring the lovely legato passages with the florid coloratura over the past few months. Norina essentially shows three ‘characters’ during the opera: her true self, the sweet girl from the convent and the hellish madam. I love her gutsy, intelligent nature, and am having great fun in rehearsals at the moment exploring all these aspects of her character with director Renaud Doucet.  My teacher Lillian Watson has performed Norina several times, and she has given me some brilliant insight into the role. I also feel really privileged to be working with some amazing colleagues.

Norina is quite a feisty, cunning character who always manages to get her own way. Is she someone you admire, or do you think her treatment of Don Pasquale in any way reprehensible?

Although she’s acting primarily in the interests of herself and Ernesto, I think Norina cares about Don Pasquale and never actually means him any harm. She does get a bit carried away in her quest during Act III and she realises that she has gone too far, but I think that is a feature of her fiery and passionate temperament. I do admire her determination and ingenuity, and since the events take place over a short space of time Don Pasquale is not subject to the charade for too long. It’s all for his own good!

What other kinds of roles do you enjoy playing, and why?

Baddies! My favourite so far has been the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute. Although there is always vulnerability to be found, I love the physical and vocal strength that comes with this role. The same goes for Zhou in Sir Peter Maxwell Davies Kommilitonen!, which we premiered at the RAM. You can be a bit crazy and quirky on stage, and I find that letting go in this way makes the music much easier, and more fun, to sing!  

What are the challenges that you face, personally, as you make your way as an opera singer? Do you have a 'life philosophy' that motivates you?

I need to be on the ball, ready to audition and with music prepared most of the time, because opportunities often surface at very short notice. With all the travelling that a career as a singer demands I think it’s really important to stay healthy and rested. My husband, the Icelandic bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson, is much better at this than me, so he keeps me on the right track! Remaining determined through the stiff competition is also essential, as is having a life and devoting time to family and friends.

  • Scottish Opera’s Don Pasquale will receive four performances in Glasgow between 24 January and 1 February. The production will also tour to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre from 18 to 22 February. www.scottishopera.org.uk



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