Monday, December 13, 2010

German, then French

Kyle & Franciose dans la cuisine

I know you are all waiting to hear how Tannhäuser’ at Covent Garden was – in a word, VERY GOOD INDEED. OK, so three words, but every one of them needed. The cast had the biggest voices I’ve ever been privileged to hear in an opera house, which of course is needed for a big house with a big orchestra playing full-on dense Wagnerian orchestration.  Speaking of the orchestra, the conductor was Semyon Bychkov, the director Tim Albery.

Johan Botha
Our Tannhäuser was Johan Botha, a huge (in every way) Heldentenor of the Wagnerian variety. Here's an interview with Botha. Not as lithe and handsome as Jonas Kaufmann perhaps (in fact, not lithe at all) but a voice to die for. Singing four+ hours of full-on music – Tannhäuser is on stage more or less throughout – with your voice filling a huge opera house and soaring above a massive orchestra in full flight: it’s like the Olympics of opera singing. He showed a little strain towards the end, but was moving, valiant and spectacular. The gossip in the Stalls was that Covent Garden had not shown ‘Tannhäuser’ in twenty years because of the difficulty of finding a tenor prepared to take on the role in this house.

Our Venus, seductive in black sequins-and-velvet drapery was Michaela Schuster, and the ‘saintly’ Elizabeth was Eva-Maria Westbroek. As to the plot, and how these two damsels come into it, I have already posted some comments about Wagner and this opera in particular, so won’t repeat myself. But I did tlak to a confused opera-goer sitting next to me, so seat-side chat was along the lines of ‘but why did they call him a hypocrite when he’s the only one actually authentic?’ And ‘but why does Elizabeth try to save him when she claims to be so chaste...oh, I see...she actually prefers the unbridled sensuality option? Of course she does!’ And ‘Wagner was an atheist? Really?’ Ah, layers upon layers.

As it was opening night, the ladies were presented with bouquets at the curtain call, and the designers, director etc etc also took their bows. Which brings me to the set design (by Michael Levine) – which opened with a wonderfully clever thing with a copy of the very proscenium arch which we were facing, and a copy of the very red velvet curtain we had just seen rise – representing (for me anyway) Schopenhauer’s belief that we can be saved from the tedious suffering of life through immersion in great music. Possibly not all opera fans present had been reading their Schopenhauer, as this reviewer didn’t seem to ‘get’ the set idea at all, or even the whole premise of the opera.

The choreographer must also have kudos - Jasmin Vardimon – for a quite exceptional opening ballet in the Venusberg scene: ridiculously athletic and long, the dancers should get extra money! The dancing fitted the music wonderfully, evoking the orgy scene without anyone actually taking all their clothes off. I like my operatic orgies a little subtle (unlike that ‘Rigoletto’ a few weeks ago).

                     ROH's promotional image for the production (not actually part of the set)
I won’t attempt a proper review of the whole thing, since this blog does not aspire to serious review status, but here’s a glowing ‘five stars’ from The Independent. Let me just finish by saying that I agree with both reviews to which I’ve linked here, that our Wolfram last night practically stole the show – he’s the character who pines with unrequited love for Elizabeth (the unrequited lover always gets the sympathy), sung so expressively amidst the cacophony of big sound by Christian Gerhaher.

I came across this on-line comment which is scathing about the casting - I wonder what the reaction will be now that opening night has come and gone.

And from Big German Opera to Delicious French Supper....

The opera-going contingent repaired home to Kyle & Andrew’s house, admittedly quite late (which is more of a Spanish trait, but hey) to a delicious supper cooked for us by their house-guest Madame Francoise – thank you Madame Francoise!

Pre-supper champagne

Cook and Assistant Cook hard at work

Not only did we enjoy wonderful food, but also a lovely bottle of 2003 pinot - style red wine from Madame’s cave (cellar). It seems that a previous tenant, named Christophe, had left a supply of this wine in the cave some time ago, and has not claimed it. Every three months, Madame cooks a nice dinner for friends and drinks one of the bottles. She then returns the empty bottle to the rack, with a note recording the menu, who was present, etc. We toasted Christophe.

I could tell that Madame was going to be one of those very interesting people one is privileged to meet now and then, when she told the story of how she once dressed up as the Queen of England, complete with bodyguards and bouquets, and toured the shops and patisseries of her locality in Paris. The ‘real’ Queen had recently passed through, so the advent of her ‘French sister’ caused some consternation, when she regally extended her wrist and said ‘so pleased to meet you’ (presumably in Madame’s beautifully accented English).

Merci beaucoup, Madame. Le souper était délicieux!

tarte aux pommes

Clever cheese cutter and a cheese called 'Monk's Head"

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