Local Culture: A Whanganui Opera Homecoming featuring Bianca Andrew and David Kelly

Bianca Andrew.jpgThe more time I spend exploring the cultural offerings of Whanganui the more I realise just how much is out there and just how proud our community is of what we have to offer. That pride was in evidence a couple of weeks ago at a fundraising concert for Bianca Andrew, an alumna of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama who originally hails from Wellington and was, during her undergraduate studies in New Zealand, a well-loved part of Whanganui’s annual Opera Week.

Continue reading “Local Culture: A Whanganui Opera Homecoming featuring Bianca Andrew and David Kelly”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes posterThe accusation that opera is utterly unrealistic is hard to apply to Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) 1945 work ‘Peter Grimes’. Loosely based on a narrative poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) it’s a tale of small-town gossip and prejudice and its devastating effect on the life of the social outcast Peter Grimes. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ (1816)

the-barber-of-seville-video-coverThis was another opera that I really did watch in my pyjamas, one Sunday night before a recent public holiday, because I get really wild on the weekends. It’s basically the story of Rosina, the teenaged ward of Bartolo, a doctor prone to fits of rage who is effectively keeping Rosina under house arrest until she’s of an age that he can marry her for her dowry. And, probably, the sex.

Possibly on the basis that almost anything is likely to be a more attractive option than marrying Bartolo, Rosina falls for the poor student Lindoro, who is really the young Count Almaviva, who has disguised himself in order to test Rosina’s love by concealing his wealth. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ (1816)”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Verdi’s ‘Aida’ (1871)

A wet and windy Saturday morning provided the perfect excuse to curl up in front of an opera, and this time I decided to go with one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the great anti-Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), Aida.

Triumphal March with acrobats. Because acrobats are cool.

Commissioned for the new opera house in Cairo in 1870, Aida was first performed in 1871. Set in Ancient Egypt against the background of ongoing military conflict between Egypt and the rival kingdom of Ethiopia, the story centres on the tragic romance between a captured Ethiopian princess, Aida, and the captain of the Egyptian guard, Radames. To be on the safe side I will at this point state that slavery, and specifically the enslavement of Black (Ethiopian) Africans, is central to the plot, and anyone who finds this distressing should probably avoid this opera and the rest of this post, which will include a plot summary. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Verdi’s ‘Aida’ (1871)”

Composer Profile: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Richard Wagner, 1871

Quite possibly there has never been another composer in the history of classical music as controversial as Richard Wagner. He had a habit of running up debts, running out on debts, and running around with other men’s wives. And that’s before we even begin to talk about his music. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’

Wagner TandI posterI’ll be honest: I did not enjoy Tristan and Isolde. I tried. I really, really did. But I just didn’t like it. By the time it finally reached its conclusion, after four hours which felt like much, much longer, all I could think was ‘for pity’s sake, this would have been over a lot sooner if Brangane had just let you drink the effing poison to begin with.’

Having said that, the little I’ve read about Wagner and his operas, including Tristan and Isolde, has been more than enough to instil in me an appreciation of his work and what he was trying to accomplish. This is Art, with a capital ‘A’. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Dido and Aeneas

I really did watch this opera in my pyjamas, when I had to take a day off work sick a couple of weeks ago. The version I watched was a 1995 production by the BBC, which you can view here. Being a BBC production it was basically filmed as a musical movie rather than recorded from the stage, and with all the resources of the BBC at their disposal the set and costume designers appear to have delighted in mashing up the styles of ancient Carthage and Restoration England, with a healthy dose of pyromania just for kicks. The end result may not be exactly what Purcell had in mind (at least, I’m guessing he probably didn’t intend for his opera to include nudity and prostitutes), but it was certainly visually interesting.

Dido and Aeneas BBC 1

Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Dido and Aeneas”

Opera in my Pyjamas: The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro 1993 pic 3
CD cover for the music of the 1993 production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Having finally upgraded my internet to a whole 40GB a month, I have more data than I know what to do with. So, what does an admittedly slightly odd person do with so much data? Why not Google a list of the world’s most famous operas and see what YouTube can produce?

Of course, watching an opera on my computer screen is nothing like watching it live on stage, but there are a few advantages. Like being able to watch it in my pyjamas. And not having to pay a small fortune for a ticket. And being able to watch the world’s greatest operas not one day, when they reach my little corner of the world, but here and now from the comfort of my own living room. With sub-titles. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: The Marriage of Figaro”

Composer Profile: George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Handel by Balthasar Denner c1726
Portrait of Handel by Balthasar Denner, c.1726

Born in the same year as J. S. Bach and outliving him by nine years, Handel, who was something of a bon vivant, was in many ways the opposite of his somewhat ascetic countryman.

Relatively little is known of Handel’s personal life: he was born in Halle, Germany, and his father, a barber-surgeon of advanced years and considerable reputation, was determined that he should study law. The young Handel was thus forbidden from pursuing his passion for music, but continued to do so on the sly. He did begin studying law at the University of Halle in 1702 but also obtained a position as organist in the local reformed church (previously the cathedral). It seems he never looked back: in 1703 he joined the orchestra in Hamburg, and his first two operas were produced in 1705. Continue reading “Composer Profile: George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)”

Spot the Difference: Opera and Musical

Opera Week was my first experience of opera (apart from one I went to in high school, which may or may not have been Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, and about which I can honestly remember absolutely nothing), but I’ve loved musicals since I was a teenager and have been fortunate enough to attend a number of them over the years. Opera and Musicals are two different things, but I started asking myself ‘where does that difference lie?’ Continue reading “Spot the Difference: Opera and Musical”