Awe-inspiring music around the countryby Neil Norman / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Glyndebourne Festival, 11th to 28th August
Peter Hall’s 1981 production of Benjamin Britten’s opera was spellbinding. Clearly built to last, it has weathered the caprices of subsequent interpretations, including Christopher Alden’s despised “paedophile” version in 2011, to emerge as a landmark opera production. Sensitive to Britten’s gorgeous score that folds with ease mysterious musings into yearning romanticism and robust humour, Hall turned the forest into an Elizabethan fantasia, complete with “living” trees, luxuriantly spangled fairies and a flying Puck. Nor did he turn the raucous humour of the Rude Mechanicals into caricatures but invested their amateur efforts with heart and a spirit of generosity.
Britten wrote the opera in under a year—fast by his standards—for the opening of the 1960 Aldeburgh Festival and the newly refurbished Jubilee Hall. It was hailed as a major operatic achievement on its debut. Seasoned with musical references and satirical homages from Baroque to Donizetti and Schoenberg, it is that rare thing—an opera-lover’s opera that can also be enjoyed by neophytes. Hall’s richly entertaining and psychologically fertile production set the bar for Britten’s fabulous work. It has yet to be surpassed.
The Queen of Spades
Opera Holland Park, 2nd to 13th August
Opera Holland Park’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s magisterial opera The Queen of Spades promises to be a memorable evening. The inclusion of mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright as the Countess is a bonus for this stalwart company whose 2016 season has gone from strength to strength. And it is less likely to be festooned with the frivolous trappings of David Alden’s production for ENO last year.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 24th to 27th August
Written in three parts, this musically adventurous celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela received its UK premiere at the Wales Millennium Centre in 2012. Composers Peter Louis van Dijk & Mike Campbell and librettist Michael Williams forged a triptych that encompassed traditional Xhosa music, jazz tunes and contemporary opera in which three singers take Mandela’s role in different eras. This well-merited revival will later be performed at the Royal Festival Hall.