Christopher Purves sings Handel

Christopher Purves sings Handel
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Milton Court, 7 January 2018

Distinguished bass/baritone singer Christopher Purves has long been a mainstay of the opera and concert stage. His broad repertoire perhaps evidenced by the fact that my last three reviews of him were in operas by Mozart, George Benjamin, and Georga Enescu. On this occasion, he was the focus of the evening. But this wasn’t one of the usual, and rather predictable, ‘star singer and backing orchestra’ events. Purves and Arcangelo shared the honours in a well-planned partnership of vocal and orchestral music. Purves remained on stage throughout, sitting at the side during Arcangelo’s moments. His jovial introductions to the pieces were relaxed and approachable, not least his opening comment that we were about to hear music for some “complete and utter bastards as well as a couple of real sweeties”. Although many of the protagonists in the programme were clearly in the former category, there were enough of the latter to bring some relief to the bluff and bluster of many of Handel’s music for bass.

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George Benjamin: Written on Skin

George Benjamin: Written on Skin
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 13 January 2017

Since it premiered in 2012, Written on Skin, George Benjamin’s first full-length opera (to a text by Martin Creed), has been hailed as one of the masterpieces of the contemporary opera world, bringing such accolades as “the work of a genius 0326 WRITTEN ON SKIN PRODUCTION IMAGE c ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.jpgunleashed”. This 90 minute work was composed over two years of concentration and virtual isolation, while Benjamin eschewed all other composition, teaching, and conducting work. It was commissioned by the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, along with the Royal Opera House and opera houses in Amsterdam, Toulouse, and Florence. A request to base the opera on something related to the Occitan area of Provence led to a mediaeval tale about a troubadour employed by a local lord who has a love affair with the lord’s wife. When he finds out, the lord kills the troubadour, cooks his heart and feeds it to his wife. When she finds out what she has eaten, she swears to never eat or drink again to keep her lover’s taste in her mouth. She avoids the lord’s anger and his sword by leaping from a window to her death. Continue reading

ENO: Don Giovanni

ENO: Don Giovanni
English National Opera
Coliseum. 4 October 2016

It would take a brave barrister to defend a serial rapist with the argument that “his gigantic passion beautifies and develops its object, who flushes in enhanced beauty by its reflection”. But that was one of the many attempts by 19th century commentators to interpret Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the light of their yearnings for the romantic hero, in this case from, the Swedish philosopher, Søren Keirkegaard in his discussion of aesthetic and ethics in the pseudonymous Either/Or. He goes on to refer to the Don as “the very incarnation of sensuous passion and desire” and a “simple, exuberant, uncomplicated, unreflective man”. Nowadays we are more likely to be reminded of The Archers’ Rob Titchener, Donald Trump, and the likes of Jimmy Savile and that ilk. In that vein, it is usually overlooked that the full title of the opera is Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni – The Libertine (or Rake) Punished, namely Don Giovanni.  Continue reading