Wednesday 27 February 2013

Medea at the London Coliseum

On the evening of Wednesday 20th February 2013 I attended the English National Opera's performance of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Medea at the London Coliseum. This continues ENO's pioneering exploration of French baroque operatic masterpieces with this being the first ever UK/London staging of Charpentier's dramatic full scale opera.

The exemplary cast included internationally acclaimed British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly in the title role, US tenor Jeffrey Francis making his ENO debut as Jason, internationally acclaimed bass Brindley Sherratt returning to ENO to sing the role of Creon and exceptional baritone Roderick Williams as Orontes. David McVicar directed this reworking of Medea which updates the opera to the close of the Second World War. The Opera is set in a baroque palace which is being used as a war room and meeting place for allied officers.

Banished, betrayed, besieged on all sides, the barbarian sorceress Medea exacts a terrible vengeance upon her faithless lover and all those he holds most dear. David McVicar reworked one of the most disturbing of all the Greek myths, that of a mother who murders her own children. Charpentier’s thrillingly orchestrated score boasts a harmonic daring and psychological complexity unparallelled in its day.

This was an amazing evening to be at the London Coliseum as Sarah Connolly put on a wonderful performance as Medea on a brilliant but scary night on St. Martin's Lane. The musical theatre choreography with prancing sailors and chorus girls made for some light relief and laughter during the Opera. I always enjoy my visits to the London Coliseum as it is very interesting to see how the ENO are going to rework the Opera's they perform. This was a great success for the ENO and made this a night to remember for me at the Opera in London.

Monday 25 February 2013

St. Martin-in-the Fields Choral Evensong

On Wednesday 20th February 2013 I was in Central London to attend an Opera at the London Coliseum in the evening. After an visit to The National Gallery during the afternoon I attended the Choral Evensong at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a landmark church in the heart of London. It is a hospitable, vibrant and forward thinking community with worship at its heart. Located on the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square, St. Martin-in-the-Fields is steeped in beautiful Georgian architecture which has been imitated across the world.

It was a wonderful experience to visit such a splendid building as well as attending the Choral Evensong which featured the Choral Scholars of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. From London's first free lending library to the first religious broadcast, St. Martin's has broken new ground in defining what it means to be a church.

Friday 22 February 2013

Yamato Drummers at Norwich Theatre Royal

On Sunday 17th February 2013 I attended the Yamato Drummers of Japan performance at Norwich Theatre Royal. These master performers take the ancient art of taiko drumming and bring it bang up to date.

Yamato's nine performers display their breathtaking expertise on over 20 drums, varying from huge barrel-like Odaikos to hand-held instruments. Combined with exquisite bronze cymbals, vocals and bamboo flutes, Yamato create a kaleidoscope of awe-inspiring sound.

Taiko drumming is a physical, as well as musical spectacle where the drums can measure up to six feet across, requiring powerful stamina to play. The Yamato Drummers put on powerful performance at Norwich Theatre Royal which thrilled the large audience. There were moments of comedy as they interacted with the crowd who responded with great enthusiasm. It was definitely a loud evening as we enjoyed the expertise and athleticism of the nine performers as well as the amazing musical sounds they produced.

Monday 18 February 2013

Britten and Friends at St. Peter Mancroft Church

On Saturday 16th February 2013 I attended the Keswick Hall Choir's Britten and Friends concert at St. Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich which was part of the Familiar Fields events to celebrate Benjamin Britten's life and music in Norfolk and Suffolk in his Centenary Year. The choir were conducted by Christopher Duarte in a programme of choral and organ music written between 1930-1950 by Benjamin Britten, Lennox Berkeley, Aaron Copland and Francis Poulenc. David Dunnett performed on Organ and Piano.

The programme consisted of Festival Te Deum op.32 - Britten, A Festival Anthem op.21 no.2 - Berkeley, Salve Regina - Poulenc, Chorale after an old French Carol - Britten, Five Flower Songs op.47 - Britten, Old American Songs, first set - Copland, Prelude to They Walk Alone - Britten, Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria - Britten and A.M.D.G. - Britten. This programme was designed to reflect some friendships Benjamin Britten formed and cemented from 1930 to 1950.

This was a wonderful concert to attend with the Keswick Hall Choir putting on a performance of the highest quality to help celebrate Benjamin Britten's Centenary Year. I particularly enjoyed Britten's Five Flower Songs which included the Ballad of Green Broom which plays out a humorous story. There's none like the Boy that sold Broom, Green Broom. Another song I very much enjoyed was Copland's I Bought me a Cat. I fed my cat under yonder tree. My cat says fiddle eye fee.

The Keswick Hall Choir received a well deserved and loud round of applause at the end of the concert to show how much everyone in attended at St. Peter Mancroft Church had enjoyed their performance. This was definitely a night to remember, with the songs and music of Benjamin Britten and his friends filling this historic Norwich City Centre venue with lots of joy.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Kris Thomsett Organ Recital at Norwich Cathedral

On Thursday 14th February 2013 I attended the Big Screen Lunchtime Organ Recital at Norwich Cathedral which featured the Cathedral's Organ Scholar Kris Thomsett performing a varied programme of organ classics. Once again there was a large audience in attendance to enjoy the wonderful and beautiful music being performed.

The programme consisted of Prelude and Fugue in C BWV 545 - Bach, Touch her lips and part (from Henry V) - Walton, Meditation - Durufle, Chaconne in E minor BuxWV 160 - Buxtehude, Adagio from Symphonie III Op 28 - Vierne, Marche des Rois Mages - Dubois and Final from Symphonie I Op 14 - Vierne.

There were a lot of tranquil pieces in today's programme which made for a relaxing time at Norwich Cathedral. This is especially welcome during a lunchtime break from work. Kris Thomsett once again put on a great performance which was very well appreciated by the enthusiastic audience.

Monday 11 February 2013

Mahler brilliance at St. Andrew's Hall!

On Saturday 9th February 2013 I attended the Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra's concert at St. Andrew's Hall which featured a jolly piece from Brahms and a splendid Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in the first half while after the interval it was the brilliance of Mahler which completed the evening. The Orchestra were conducted by Matthew Andrews with David Greed as soloist for the Mendelssohn piece.

The programme consisted of Academic Festival Overture - Brahms, Violin Concerto in E minor - Mendelssohn and Symphony No.1 The Titan - Mahler. This was a collection of music that guaranteed a very enjoyable night for the large audience in attendance.

The concert started with Brahms' Academic Festival Overture which the composer said was a work full of laughter. Its  musical references to the famous college song Gaudeamus Igitur guarantees a fun time for the audience. The piece was composed in 1880 as a response to Breslau University awarding Brahms an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy as the most famous living German composer of serious music.

Mendelssohn wrote his Violin Concerto for his good friend Ferdinand David, concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra where Mendelssohn was principal conductor in 1844. It was an instant success and remains one of the great benchmarks of the genre, with its soaring melodies and virtuoso cadenzas.

Mahler's First Symphony was also written in Leipzig and is sometimes know as 'The Titan'. It is written for a huge orchestra with vivid birdsong in the winds and thrilling horn calls evoking the natural splendours of alpine Austria, memories, it's claimed, from Mahler's childhood. It was mainly composed between late 1887 and March 1888, though it incorporates music Mahler had composed for previous works.

This was a wonderful evening of classical music at St. Andrew's Hall as we were thrilled by the playing of Opera North leader David Greed on Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto while the Norwich Philharmonic gave a truly brilliant performance of Mahler's Titan Symphony with the audience showing their appreciation at the end of the concert. With the fun of Brahms' Academic Festival Overture as well this was definitely a night to remember.

Friday 8 February 2013

Sweeney Todd at Norwich Theatre Royal

On the evening of Wednesday 6th February 2013 I attended the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society's performance of Sweeney Todd at Norwich Theatre Royal. Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical thriller came to the Theatre Royal in a double first. It was the first large-scale production of the musical at the Theatre Royal and Ray Jeffery’s award winning production was the first Sondheim musical to be produced by the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society.

Often regarded as Sondheim’s masterpiece of musical theatre, this musical thriller, first produced on Broadway in 1979, tells the story of Benjamin Barker, alias Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years' transportation on trumped-up charges. He seeks vengeance against his accusers, teams up with a piemaker, Mrs. Lovett, and opens a barbershop above her pie shop. The one thing different about Todd’s barbershop, however, is that no one who walks in for a shave is ever seen again.

Our suspense was held throughout as the 23 piece live orchestra played the magnificent score while on stage the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society brought us Sondheim's comic turns and love songs which made this a night to remember. The show moved and thrilled us as The Demon Barber of Fleet Street who first appeared as a Victorian penny dreadful comic story ensured we will be thinking twice before going to the barber's in the near future.

Monday 4 February 2013

Playhouse Creatures at The Maddermarket Theatre

On Saturday 2nd February 2013 I attended the matinee performance from the Norwich Players of Playhouse Creatures by April De Angelis at The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. The play was written in 1993 but is set in the time of the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne of England. The cast consisted of Mrs Betterton - Becky Sweet, Doll Common - Dot Binns, Mrs Marshall - Libby Waite, Mrs Farley - Emily Deere and Nell Gwyn - Rebecca Wass.

It is 1660 and Charles II permits actresses to perform on stage for the first time. These became known as the ‘playhouse creatures’ and the play brings these characters to life, characters who are slightly ageing but well-connected or conformist young ladies. All is well until a brash youngster, Nell Gwyn comes along, determined to improve her life from orange-seller to actress even though ‘actress’ to most gentlemen of the time was close to being a ‘whore’. Were they coming to appreciate the dramatic talent or for other less salubrious intentions? The play was a juicy and hilarious historical drama with strong language and themes of an adult nature.

Four of the five women women are echoes of real people, the fifth is an echo of a character from the time before, when women were off the stage, when Shakespeare reigned and Ben Jonson created a female character unparallelled in realism. Doll Common knew what it was to live, to take and to love. She described how Betterton’s theatre was formerly a bear pit, and how as a child she watched her father rip the claws from an aggressive female dancing bear. This makes you understand the analogy with Restoration playhouses – that the actresses were ’creatures’ who would be tamed if they stepped out of line.

This was a brilliant performance from the Norwich Players as they brought April De Angelis' story to life as we were transported back to the time of Charles II. The play was gritty as well as having moments of humour. Well done to all the cast and the Director Lucinda Bray for this amazing production at The Maddermarket Theatre.