Archive for the ‘Covent Garden’ Category

Powerful new Elektra at Covent Garden

November 10, 2008
I went along to the opening night of Covent Garden’s new revival of Elektra with an open mind, expecting to be challenged, perhaps disappointed. After all, Salome, Elektra’s precursor and the last Richard Strauss opera I saw in London, had been a disappointment.

No need to worry. This was a powerful performance, with a forceful score, stirringly played by the ever reliable house band under Mark Elder, and a finely chiselled libretto by Viennese Wunderkind Hugo von Hoffmansthal which had me gasping in delight more than once.

Elektra, the lead soprano role, is unusually demanding, both vocally and emotionally – the troubled heroine (?) is on stage for the entire 110-minute performance. Susan Bullock was equal to the task, engaging you throughout with her singing and acting.

Anne Schwanewilms, playing Chrysothemis, her rather less bloodthirsty sister, was a revelation. I’ve rarely heard such a convincing big soprano voice. Her’s is enormous. But a delight, too.

Elektra’s a modern opera, so you don’t get much melody, and no pretty arias and duets a la Puccini or Mozart. But no matter – its strength lies in the power of the writing and the subtle portrayal of character under stress.

This new Elektra is richly stimulating, demanding yet rewarding.

And recommended.

Gerry Smith

Delightful London revival of Don Giovanni

September 15, 2008
The new London run of Don Giovanni, the third revival of this production since the Millennium, is an unalloyed delight.

Singing and acting by the principals was outstanding. Simon Keenlyside – magisterial, dominant, Joyce DiDonato – rich, powerful, and Ramon Vargas – subtle, delicate, in particular, delivered world-class performances. It’s rare to see such talents together on the same stage. The lesser principals were formidable, too.

You can’t go far wrong with a good production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni – the score is relentless, engaging, the sections of musical genius seemingly queuing to follow each other, with hardly a let-up, for three hours. Da Ponte’s libretto, by turns comic and tragic, drives the action, remorselessly.

The Royal Opera House band, purposefully conducted by Charles Mackerras, brought out the glory and the subtlety of this great work.

Chorus, direction, staging, lighting, sets, dancing – all were exhilarating.

Friday’s Don Giovanni was one of the musical highlights of my life: music for grown-ups doesn’t come much better than this.

Great art: bravo Mozza, bravo Covent Garden!

Gerry Smith

Lovely gigs in 2008

April 4, 2008

After a couple of years in which my gigging became a bit narrowly focussed and predictable – mainly opera, with a bit of jazz, world and rock – 2008 is promising to be rather more richly eclectic. 

Having already seen three compelling gigs – Morrissey at the Roundhouse, Dorothea Roschmann singing Lieder at Vienna’s Musikverein, and Salome at Covent Garden, I’m keenly anticipating lots more varied shows, including several key musicians for grown-ups who’ve been on my must-see list for years:


April: Bjork     


May: Roberto Alagna; John McLaughlin


June: Don Carlo; Ariadne; Pentangle


July: Leonard Cohen; Marriage of Figaro


Dec: Cecilia Bartoli


Having re-found the taste for eclectic gigs, I’m eagerly looking for others – top live music for grown-ups is one of the greatest thrills of all.

   Gerry Smith