You Review: RPO in rehearsal, Elektra at Teatro Colón and Jennifer Lee

Nadia Koval, Ellen Burkin and Charlotte Perkins report

You Review: RPO in rehearsal, Elektra at Teatro Colón and Jennifer Lee


Strauss’s Elektra – Tuesday 4 November (Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires)

Teatro Colón has championed the music of Richard Strauss since the composer visited Buenos Aires in 1920 to conduct a series of sixteen concerts there. The second visit was in 1923 when Strauss conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in his operas Salome and Elektra. In 1949, Erich Kleiber directed another composition by Strauss, this time Die Frau ohne Schatten. Thus, the composer's 150th birthday was not the only reason to present Elektra at Teatro Colón this November.

Legend has it that before the premiere of Elektra in 1909, Strauss had to ask the orchestra to play louder because the voices of the singers exceeded its volume. But on this occasion maestro Roberto Paternostro achieved an excellent balance between the orchestra and singers.

Linda Watson (Elektra), who is one of the most talented Wagnerian sopranos nowadays, really showed off her vocal ability and potential. And the young German soprano Manuela Uhl stunned the public with an admirable display of vocal precision and musicality in the role of Chrysothemis. Iris Vermillion (Clytemnestra) also executed her role – that of a conflicted and guilty mother – very well, though sometimes her movements and grimaces felt slightly exaggerated. Both male roles were commanded well, with deep and powerful vocals from Hernán Iturralde as Orestes and Enrique Folger as Aegistus.

The set and lights were arranged by the director of Teatro Colón, Pedro Pablo Garcia Caffi who, perhaps after criticism for inviting companies such as La Fura dels Baus, decided to do it properly. The set itself comprised of impressive long conical columns and something resembling a cluster of rocks. These remained in place from beginning to end with only occasional changes in the lighting: the dramatic action was almost entirely down to the acting abilities of the singers.

Overall, this opera gave me a very good impression and I was at the point of tears after the final scene.

– Nadia Koval



Jennifer Lee – Wednesday 5 November (The Nicholas Boas Charitable Trust, London)

Pianist Jennifer Lee has recently gained her DMA degree in Musical Performance from Guildhall School of Music and City University. In this benefit concert for the Nicholas Boas Charitable Trust, she presented a varied feast of piano music, including by Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Liszt.

Mozart’s Sonata in F major K533/494 was her opening piece: an intelligent choice during which the audience visibly relaxed as Lee’s very safe hands soothed us with a witty and elegant performance.

Recently the conductor Baldur Brönnimann compiled a list of suggestions for new classical concert rules, one of which suggested that artists engage with their audiences with introductions to the music. Lee may have had this in mind as she shared her knowledge about Mozart’s sonata as well as other pieces in the programme. She explained why the piece had two catalogue numbers: to paraphrase, Mozart was merely engaging in a little 18th-century version of cut and paste. This glimpse into the very human habits of the composer allowed the audience to connect with him and his art, Lee proving to be an excellent conduit.

Later her knowledge proved to be inspiring and indispensable as she engaged with the audience before playing Judith Weir’s I’ve Turned the Page (a change in theme, tone and mood after every page turn); Unsuk Chin’s Piano Étude No.1 ‘in C’ (explaining and demonstrating how the composer uses the piano to imitate a gamelan orchestra); and Piano Étude No.5 ‘Toccata’  (er… maths, you need maths to work out the contrasting time signatures).

Bonfire Night fire, warmth and dramatic colour were to be found in the exquisite surroundings of 22 Mansfield Street W1 as Jennifer Lee spoiled her audience with a performance full of integrity, wit and verve.

– Ellen Durkin



30 minutes with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Friday 7 November (G Live, Guildford)

The orchestra is assembled on stage; by their chairs lie cases and handbags, water bottles and cleaning cloths, and everywhere, pencils. Jeans, cardigans and checked shirts – this is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in rehearsal.

It is an interesting juxtaposition: the glory of Beethoven played by one of Britain’s best orchestras combined with the casual setting – umbrellas and scarves sitting next to valuable antique instruments. It's fascinating to watch.

Conductor Eduardo Portal turns to talk to soloist Joaquín Achúcarro, a lone violinist improvises on the melody as chairs scrape and a trombonist wanders across the back of the stage. The piano soars in a cadenza while the violins confer with bows tapping against scores and pencils scribbling on paper. Portal brings the music to a halt – a nuance of dynamic, a need for resonance, for the sound to fill the entire space. The minutes spent on the exact length of one chord hammers home the talent and immense work ethic of the musicians on the stage – these things enable them to focus on precise detail.

And that is what this rehearsal is: precise; quick; sharp. There is total professionalism with a business-like edge, and yet the music is warm and mellow, and full of emotion and passion. These people will play with equal fervour tonight; but in this moment, in this cavernous room, it feels like it is all for you.

I leave in a quiet moment – the glare and bustle of the afternoon is a shock, the auditorium is already like a dream. Part of me wants to shake the people passing by and ask them: ‘Do you know what you’re missing, as you walk past this building where music is being made?’

– Charlotte Perkins



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