Magazine article The Spectator

Highs and Lows

Magazine article The Spectator

Highs and Lows

Article excerpt

In a wise editorial in the January number of Opera magazine, John Allison urges opera-lovers to remember that 'opera is only part of a much bigger musical literature. As a regular concert-goer, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that concerts are often more satisfying.' I would substitute 'impossible' for 'hard', but otherwise completely agree. If one goes to operatic performances as frequently as a fairly conscientious and curious critic is likely to in the UK, it's foolish to expect that more than about one evening in five will be pretty enjoyable, and more than one in 20 truly memorable -- and fatal to guess which will be which in advance.

I had plenty of enjoyable evenings at the opera in 2006, but about six great ones, though the first was early in the year: Opera North's Salome in Leeds (and just as good in Nottingham), a concert performance which thrilled me as I hadn't thought that work ever could. The two outstanding elements were the stupendous singing of Susan Bullock -- isn't it about time that Covent Garden recognised her Wagnerian credentials? -- and the conducting of Richard Farnes. He conducted Peter Grimes, in Phyllida Lloyd's brilliant production, too, and that was perhaps an even more rewarding experience, in fact marked an epoch in our understanding of that work, by presenting the central character with greater complexity than anyone before had.

Mozart productions were naturally numerous, with Così fan tutte, the opera of his which is now rated most highly, receiving a production at Glyndebourne which was at first received with odd frigidity by the majority of critics, but has already, and rightly, been dubbed 'classic'. The producer Nicholas Hytner has probed this work more deeply than any of his predecessors, and so has Ivan Fischer, the conductor.

With an ideal cast of young singers, and beautiful, simple sets, this is one of the occasions on which I've encountered operatic perfection. And it, like Grimes, was a valuable reminder that, however much and often I might have wished that every performance was a concert one, when a production is as penetrating as this, nothing can compare with a full staging; but also how rare such an event is, with some years going by without a single one.

The Royal Opera's Le Nozze di Figaro has a fussy production by the ubiquitous David McVicar, the first run of which was decent, the second much more impressive, thanks to the incomparable conducting of Colin Davis. …

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