November 2009 Preview

Highlights of the coming month in the Classical and Opera world

3 November 2009

Tsarina's Slippers I'm truly excited this month by the arrival of a real rarity at Covent Garden. Tchaikovsky's Cherevichki - here being performed under the title The Tsarina's Slippers - is coming to the Royal Opera House for the first time, in a new production by Francesca Zambello.

An almost entirely Russian cast will be performing the piece, including a couple of marvellous veterans - Sergei Leiferkus as His Highness and Larissa Diadkova as the witch Solokha - and various younger singers, under Alexander Polianichko.

The story is as Christmassy as you could hope. Vakula the blacksmith flies to St Petersburg on the Devil's back to request a pair of slippers worn by the Tsarina in order to win the hand of his beloved. Christmas carols are incorporated into Tchaikovsky's score, and the final act is set on Christmas morning. The opera has been all-too-rarely revived since its premiere, and there are only a couple of recordings, so this is a great opportunity to see something both unusual and seasonal.

Opera fans will also probably be curious to hear Angela Gheorghiu's postponed Royal Festival Hall concert, which now takes place on 10 November. This will be the great soprano's first appearance in London since the announcement of her divorce from Roberto Alagna, and she'll be performing a range of popular arias and duets.

The Chelsea Opera Group provides another rarity this month in the form of Gluck's Alceste. One of the seminal works of the eighteenth century, Alceste has fallen into decline in the last century, yet it remains a potent work of music theatre. Cecile van de Sant and Peter Bronder will play the leads in this one-off performance at Cadogan Hall on 28 November.

Also of interest is a production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte by Sally Burgess. The legendary British mezzo has recently turned to direction, and on 17 November her take on the Mozart-Da Ponte classic can be heard at the London Oratory School.

Fans of the bel canto might head for the Guildhall School of Music this month, since Donizetti's rarely-performed L'assedio di Calais will be given an outing from 5-11 November. David Angus will conduct Alessandro Talevi's production.

Johnny MercerFinally, a couple of concerts to mark the centenary of one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century, Johnny Mercer (pictured right). The BBC Concert Orchestra will be participating in two outstanding events that ought not to be missed: first, this week sees two semi-staged performances on Thursday and Friday of The Good Companions, which has lyrics by Mercer and music by Andre Previn (whose eightieth birthday is also being commemorated). The cast includes Liz Robertson and will be conducted by John Wilson (who headed the BBC's popular MGM Prom in the summer, and who has rediscovered the performance materials for the first time since the show's premiere). The performances take place at the Watford Colosseum and are priced at £15 and £12. Then the following week, Friday Night is Music Night will be led by Larry Blank at the Mermaid Theatre and will consist of a centenary concert, including many of Mercer's greatest songs such as 'Dream' and 'Something's Got To Give'. Tickets for this one are free from the BBC Concert Orchestra's website - not to be missed.

By Dominic McHugh, Editor

Photo Credits: Chad Ehlers/Getty


Agnes Kory, Co-Founder

Lupu I am very much looking forward to the English National Opera's double bill of Bartok's opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring (November 6, 10, 12, 14, 20 and 25). The Coliseum's large stage is ideal for ballet but I wonder if the Fabolous Beast dance theatre company will present anything similar to the classical productions (of the Rite) which we are used to, for example, at Royal Ballet performances. Bartok's Bluebeard is open to more varieties of stage interpretation than possibly any other opera. Indeed, currently the piece is not part of a double (or triple) bill at the Budapest Opera House but it is performed twice during the same evening in two different interpretations. Sadly I won't see that Budapest double dose but I will be at the ENO's production, fingers crossed for all.

Handel's Semele at the Royal Academy of Music (Monday 16, Wednesday 18, Friday 20 and Monday 23 November 2009 at 7pm) is likely to be informative, entertaining and moving. Sir Charles Mackerras, possibly the most distinguished Handelian of our time, will conduct three performances while Laurence Cummings will be in charge on 20 November. For this production, Sir Charles will be using the OUP edition which he co-edited and last used when he conducted

Semele at Covent Garden in 1996. The combination of the octogerian Sir Charles and young singers/musicians of the future is inspired and inspiring. I will attend and report.   

Time allowing, I am hoping to get to young Israeli pianist Ishay Shaer's recital for the Mill Hill Music club on Sunday 29 November. A winner of several international and national competitions, Shaer's debut CD was released in January 2009 and was broadcast in its entirety in the Israeli national radio. We will follow Shaer's progress with interest. 

Photo: Sir Charles Mackerras.


Stephen Graham, Concerts Editor

Kings Place Another month of festivals in London and beyond. Following Brighton's Colour out of Space, which takes place over Haloween weekend, contemporary music fans should set their sights on Kings Place, which has a packed month of exciting events scheduled. Australia's Elision Ensemble visit once again (after a thrilling concert at the same venue last year - see review) on 2 November, as part of the excellent Out Hear series of concerts, which run throughout the month. LIFEM, The London Festival of Exploratory Music, will run from 4 to 7 November, and feature such acts as Jenni Roditi, Andrew Poppy, and Tanya Tagaq.

Elsewhere, the Warehouse in Waterloo, in collaboration with Sound and Music, continue their 'The Cutting Edge' series of Thursday concerts with shows from Philip Thomas (5 November) and Jane Chapman (12 November), amongst others. The ICA have 'Calling out of Context', a season of new works and performances that will take place from 14 to 22 November, and features such artists as Gravetemple, Mira Calix, John Tilbury, and Aaron Dilloway. The Royal Opera are presenting three short ballets throughout the month, which include a new work by Wayne McGregor with music by Kaija Saariaho. The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is scheduled to run from 20 to 29 November, and features amongst a compelling line-up, a celebration of Louis Andriessen, a 'homeage' to Anthony Braxton, performances from Ictus and Elision ensembles, and a retrospective on 40 years of Musica Elettronica Viva, with Frederic Rzewski and Alvin Curran performing. As always, it will be hard to keep up!

Photo: Kings Place.


Hugo Shirley, Deputy Editor

Pletnev November sees the start of two very different cycles at the South Bank Centre. Nikolai Lugansky is the soloist and Mikhail Pletnev the conductor as the Philharmonia kick off a mini-series of Rachmaninoff with concerts on 5 November (Piano Concerto No.1; Symphony No.2) and 8 November (Piano Concerto No.3, with Sibelius Symphony No.2). Contrast is provided in Queen Elizabeth Hall, with the start of the Takács Quartet’s Beethoven cycle (10 and 11 November); the rest of the cycle is distributed broadly across the season. Meanwhile, pianophiles will no doubt also want to witness Canadian virtuoso Louis Lortie put through his paces in all of Chopin’s 27 Études (QEH, 23 November).

The usual packed autumn programme at Wigmore Hall also contains several events to whet the appetite, not least distinguished Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair tackling Schubert’s Winterreise (with Andreas Haefliger, 29 November) and a rarity from Soile Isokoski, performing Hindemith’s Rilke cycle, Das Marienleben (10 November, with Marita Viitasalo). Over at the Barbican Mahlerians will no doubt be keen to hear Daniel Harding’s take on the Sixth and Tenth Symphonies with the LSO, on 12 and 20 November respectively; Christian Tetzlaff provides contrasting couplings with concertos by Jörg Widmann and Mendelssohn.

Photo: Mikhail Pletnev.


Marina Romani, North American Editor

Botha This month, my musical highlights for the Bay Area certainly include the San Francisco Opera's Otello, opening on the 8th and running until 2 December. Dramatic tenor Johan Botha will play the title role, making his San Francisco debut. Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassileva, recent winner of the Italian Association of Music Critics' Abbiati Prize, will be Desdemona. Marco Vratogna will be Jago and Renée Tatum will take on the role of Emilia. Music Director Nicola Luisotti will conduct.

It's no secret that the East Coast offers many great venues for exciting concerts. Among the most interesting events, on 19 November Bernard Haitink, together with flutist Sir James Galway and the Boston Symphony Orchestra will present a programme featuring Debussy's Nocturnes for orchestra, Ibert's Flute Concerto and Brahms' Symphony No.2.

In addition, one of my highlights is certainly Il barbiere di Siviglia at the New York Met featuring Joyce DiDonato: both critics and audience acknowledge that she is one of the best Rosinas nowadays. Together with DiDonato, the cast includes Barry Banks as Count Almaviva and Franco Vassallo as Figaro. Maurizio Benini will conduct. This Barbiere is running until 7 November. But if you can't catch a performance during this run, there's no need to worry: the same production will return to the Met from 26 February with a different and equally outstanding cast, featuring Diana Damrau and Lawrence Brownlee. It's too tempting to catch both versions of this Barbiere!

November is also an important month for the musicological world: the American Musicalogical Society 's Annual Meeting takes place from 12 to 15 November in Philadelphia. The most notable music scholars will be discussing many issues in the field of musicology, ethnomusicology and music performance. Among the participants there are Mary Ann Smart (UC Berkeley) with a paper on Italian Music and Italian politics; Emanuele Senici (University of Rome La Sapienza) on live opera on screen; Emily I. Dolan (University of Pennsilvania) on Haydn's legacy; Bonnie J. Blackburn (Oxford Universiy) on women singers in the fifteenth century.

Photo: Johan Botha as Otello. Credits: Ken Howard.


Mike Reynolds

Bevan In theory, four nights in Berlin should give you the chance to see any four out of a permutation of twelve operas – that is, when all three houses are in full swing. But during my November stay in Germany’s capital, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, my choice is limited effectively to Lohengrin at the Staatsoper or Die rote Zora at the Komische Oper. It is always good to see the art form being developed, and the latter might therefore be the more interesting – written by a former cellist with the Gustav Mahler Youth orchestra, the Austrian Elisabeth Naske, and premiered in Lucerne in 2008, the three act opera chronicles the adventures of a gang of children in Croatia, living on their wits and pursued by the authorities. It is based on a best-selling children’s book of the 1940s (the scenario sounds like a gangster version of Emil and the Detectives) written by Kurt Klaber under the pseudonym of Kurt Held. The premiere is on 1 November.

At Snape Maltings, ETO brings two of the operas from its 2009 Handelfest: Ariodante on 13 November and Flavio on 14 November. Two other offerings in the series, Tolomeo and Teseo received four star reviews on the site, so my anticipation is keen.

As it is for 27 November, when Handel’s The Messiah is premiered at English National Opera in a new production by Deborah Warner. The cast looks promising, with John Mark Ainsley, Catherine Wyn Rogers and Sophie Bevan and the conductor is Laurence Cummings. The first staged Messiah I ever saw was at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin in the 1990s, in a production by Achim Freyer, and his extraordinary conjunction of music and image has stayed with me ever since – for example, a desperate man, alone onstage, tearing up blackened cross after blackened cross in a huge cemetery, searching for something, as the Halleluiah Chorus is intoned majestically all around him! I do not expect Freyer’s bizarre visual imagination to be replicated by Warner, but I am fascinated by what she intends to do to dramatise this work on the opera stage.

 Photo: Sophie Bevan.



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