Lucia Di Lammermoor. A Story for Our Times


We review the English National Opera first night of this dramatic Donizetti masterpiece and say that – in the “MeToo” current world,  this is a production you have to see.

There are academic articles and opinions of the role of women and heroines and Prima Donnas in Opera, into which the creation of “Lucia” as an Opera, is designed to play a part.  This comment is not one of those. If you “get” that the fusion of music, and drama, is the key entry into deeper areas of  our soul – then the standout performance of Sarah Tynan as “Lucia” is one of the most phenomenal performances I have ever seen in all my years of watching opera.  This is a performance that you have to see, and you must say to your grandchildren that “you were there”.

How so?

Because Sarah’s interpretation rises above the protagonists around her, the wall of never decreasing orchestral and chorus support. It is a tour de force because right from the start, there was never any gentle introduction. There is angst even from the first scene. There was never going to be a happy ending.

This feeling of tragic helplessness, is enhanced by the oversized dimensions of the staging, with Lucia deliberately petite, vulnerable.

This “Lucia di Lamermoor” is drama supported by music. In many ways, the music never reaches the heights of melody of Mozart – or better insight into human nature of say Puccini, or Berlioz – and at times I just wished there was a melody that I could remember on the tube train back to my hotel. The music frequently pauses and moves into one aria after another, but it is not until the last Act does Lucia’s aria steal the show, so to say.

But this misses the point.

This production, particularly with Eleazar Rodriguez complementing Sarah with visible chemistry, is about drama and human emotion. It is riveting. At no point does the intensity ever stop, and at no time does audience appreciation ever waver. 

If you asked random people in the street, who would be their favourite composer – the name of Donizetti would hardly figure. And this is a pity. “Lucia” portrays humanity and the female situation, in a way that has hardly changed even now. I am going back to see this again – and so should you.

ENO; OPERA FOR ALL. It has always been thus…


We look with pleasure and amazement at the past 50 years of English National Opera  at their Gala Performance earlier this week.


I am fifteen years old. My cousin – who is at least five years older and a real Student – calls me. “Hey – I have two tickets for The Mastersingers. Wanna come?”


I don’t know what a Mastersinger is – and I say so. “It’s an Opera”, he says. I don’t know what one of those is either, but now is not the time for that discussion. “Sure” – I say: – “I’ll come straight from school”. The performance starts at 5pm apparently. It means catching the suburban bus, the local train into london, the tube to Islington. The place is somewhere called Sadlers Wells.


I hadn’t given much thought to this. Only when I got to the opera venue did I realise that The Mastersingers is some five hours long. It means hitching a ride back home through London. A local taxi picked me up somewhere in the street as I started walking. I’m sure there are laws about this sort of thing nowadays. I told my Mum the next morning I had a wonderful time.


I didn’t have a wonderful time. I had a change of life experience. I saw people singing and creating a life ambience – from nothing. I felt emotions I never knew existed. I discovered I could go to the pub on the corner and buy a shandy, no questions-asked. I could wear my jeans at somewhere posh. I could visualise a new musical dimension.


My cousin called me some 50 years later. “Did you get those tickets for the new production of The Mastersingers?.” This time, we are the ENO Coliseum, the grandeur, the sense of a journey as the orchestra starts to play – has not lost any of its ability to stir up excitement.


And that is the secret of ENO Opera for All. Once you walk through that door – there is no turning back.


The idea espoused by the current ENO Management that this is some new concept – is beautiful in its outreach, but it misses the point that ENO was always this. The only difference is not concept but one of scale.


The ENO Gala Performance brought together established Artists, but also showcased the upcoming Harewood Performers, who are every bit as exhilarating, – and finally focussing on the latest ENO prodigy who is still at School just finishing GCSEs. The future of ENO belongs to the new people, who are young enough to have completely new ideas and ambitions, better and newer communication skills.


Key at ENO is to be the Family. The Drop Off point at whatever stop you have reached on your opera journey. This is not a London based chic concept for SW1 – this is for pan -UK.


I sat next to two people at the Gala, who by total chance are the neighbours to my Music Professor when I was at Uni. We had never met before, but it was like a meeting of old friends, the strands of common ground, across different generations.


I took a moment of thought; if only my new neighbours in the Stalls had been there all those fifty years ago – perhaps they could have given me a ride home?
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A FANTASTIC BUZZ AT ENO’S LATEST “MARRIAGE OF FIGARO”!

We review the latest Figaro production at the London Coliseum

Mozart operas at ENO always have fantastic and clever beginnings. If the word “tangential “ applies to probably every ENO production and approach, then last night’s Figaro did not disappoint.

The imagery of a bumble bee trapped inside a harpsichord syncing into the rapid overture, sets the scene, and with a driving orchestra and some standout ensemble and solo performances, especially from Rhian Lois, making her role debut as Susanna, this was a performance that whilst taking just a little time to really get going – absolutely left its audience spellbound. I have always said that, for newcomers to opera, make sure you go to an ENO Mozart performance – then this production (and it was the second time I have seen it) – came alive. You got to go.

So why a difference? You could argue that Figaro of all operas, is the easiest to get along with. Nobody does a bad Figaro. And that misses the point, because yes indeed you can do a boring Figaro. The real trick is to engage with the audience, and this takes subtlety, exquisite direction, timing of humour and of music and dramatic art – all of which this performance has in spades. And it plays to mature opera-goers as well as newbies; my colleagues alongside me were humming along to the melodies, that everyone knows – but we all wanted to hear. The timing particularly of Lucy Crowe, debuting as the Countess, excelled in her “dove sono i bei momenti” aria.

What is there to love?

Sure, the visual complexity of the revolving stage creates the confusion and the rapid movement of players as the drama speeds along, compounds that – but the secret sauce of this production is the speed of the orchestra, that forces the pace.

This in turn forces the key protagonists, particularly in the close ensembles, to be rock solid in timing and harmony – and they belt out their parts. Each player has a point to make. nobody takes any prisoners in this performance but surprisingly, the performance is actually funny! I found myself LOL at the absurdity of it all, and how many times have I seen this opera?

Whilst every singer/performer absolutely does justice to their respective roles – the standout performance that is the glue that links the others – has to be Rhian Lois who has nothing to fear in commanding the big Coliseum stage. Rhian is a Harewood Artist and she reminds me of Mary Bevan in her role in Cosi Fan Tutte.

The ENO bars are closed by the time the performance finished, which is a pity. I took a glass of wine at the adjacent St Martins Hotel hidden gin bar. At times like this, you need to raise your glass.

ENO SCORE ANOTHER HIT!

We look in wonderment at one of ENO’s best productions yet of this classic modern masterpiece.

Alexander Soddy strides into the orchestra pit, waves and encourages his team, and then there is silence for a full five seconds. And then we are off! And its a strange, curious, beginning…

This is redolent of the performance of Wagner’s ”The Mastersingers” a few years earlier; the feeling somehow that this will be the epic performance – when everything goes right. That night, at the end of five hours, all the orchestra hugged each other at the finale. And so it was last night. From whatever opera or music background you come from, this is a performance you have to see.

The secret sauce of this production is the fluidity, sensibility, and sheer forcefulness and continuation of the orchestra – which allows the drama to experiment, to be funny, aggressive, romantic, and convey sincere emotion – without ever losing sight of the fact that essentially, this opera is a dream.

The whole stage is one giant bed. The production relies on the singers/actors/actresses hopping from bed to stage, from awake to asleep, from fantasy to reality. The melodic lines of the music never give away anything you can hum along to, no nice chord progressions and cadences; there is this sense of being suspended somewhere and indeed the third act is precisely that – the three beds suspended in mid air.

And then there is the humour which is less rather than more, – subtle at its best. My standout performance was Eleanor Dennis as Helena, very similar to Mary Bevan some years earlier, also a former Harewood Artist.

But this is to be picky; all of the singing, the characterisation, the direction, was spot on, an integrated whole. Sometimes, particularly at the end of the second act, the drama and clever direction took your breath away

The humour reached its peak at the finale. This was the nearest we got to traditional Shakespeare productions and slapstick humour. It reminded me of the last time I saw this, in Devon – just a couple of years ago.

The difference here – is that the music adds the extra dimension, at times searing, to force the drama.

And then Puck wraps it up… we are back to the original Shakespeare lines…

Was I dreaming? I have no idea. But I am still rubbing my eyes. I can’t believe it.

Friendship is a Wonderful Thing

We look at the English National Opera friendship programme, and ask; why did it take us so long to find this?

As concepts go, – friendship is a valued treasure. Apparently, we only have no more than five “real” friends, in our entire life. The people that put up with us, the people where we feel comfortable. It’s an overused term.

There was this girl I used to know, who wanted me to become her “friend” on Facebook. Why sure – I said – tell you what; “ “give me your number and we can have a chat”. “Oh no”, she said; “I only give my number to my friends”.

You could say that friendship, is hard to find. In that case, the ENO Friends Programme, ticks that box. It takes at least six clicks to even start the process of becoming a Member, and that’s assuming you actually know where to start.

But when you get there – it is the best value for money we have found in London. Nowhere else can you have a face to face chat with a West End star, listen to them talk about their work, and get a glass of wine, for no more than a few quid.

It’s an irony because Opera per se has an image of being elitist and rarefied – and yet here I am sitting in my jeans, with other people who are both elegantly dressed and equally laid-back, and we talk and share experience because we value the opportunity to share that experience. It is part of the ENO philosophy of reaching out across cultural boundaries, but it does so in a non-political way. If you value what it does, then you will take the trouble to find it.

The ENO Friends Programme in essence is a meeting of minds. Who needs Facebook anyway?