Investec Opera Holland Park to perform one-off Verdi Requiem for Grenfell Tower survivors

Investec Opera Holland Park will stage a one-off performance of Verdi’s Requiem on Tuesday 1 August 2017. All proceeds from the event will go to those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, with funds distributed by Rugby Portobello Trust.

Tickets are on sale from today, priced at £35, £25 and £20. They can be purchased online or by telephone and donations can also be made online.

All tickets are sold out, but Opera Holland Park are inviting those who would to hear the performance to turn up at Holland Park and listen from outside the venue.

Performers include Anne Sophie Duprels (soprano), Yvonne Howard (mezzo-soprano), Neal Cooper (tenor) and Barnaby Rea (bass), plus the Opera Holland Park Chorus, the City of London Sinfonia and conductors Sian Edwards and Peter Robinson.

Several of OHP’s staff are residents of North Kensington. One current member of staff, and Grenfell resident, is currently missing.

Find out more about the Verdi Requiem memorial concert and to book tickets or donate: www.operahollandpark.com.

BBC Proms 2016 / 74: Marin Alsop conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi’s Requiem

There’s an unnerving exercise in Professor Steve Peter’s ‘Chimp Paradox’ which helps uncover what your core, unshakeable, belief is.

It goes something like this. Imagine yourself on your deathbed. In the last 60 seconds of your life your grandchildren ask you for one last piece of advice. In the 60 seconds you have left to live, what would you tell them?

Go on, try it.*

The Real Last Night of the Proms** featured the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Marin Alsop, a grand setting of life’s most ultimate ending.

The evening felt as though we were tying-up loose ends too. A season coming to an end prompts inevitable evaluation and reflection. After that, there’s a need to empty the desk, tidy the classroom, switch off the lights, and close the door. Departures shouldn’t be rushed.

I had began the process on the train on my way to the Prom. An exchange between Radio 3 presenter Suzy Klein and Proms Unplucked podcast presenter Vikki Stone on the station’s drive-time programme still rang in my ears.

Suzy Klein: Your twice-weekly podcast throughout the Proms has seen you hang around backstage talking to all sorts of people behind the scenes hasn’t it Vikki?

Vikki Stone: Yes it has. It’s been great.  We didn’t really have a plan. I think that served us very well.

SK: I like the idea of there being a crack team of two people roaming backstage at the Proms asking ‘Hi, can we talk to you?’ – people who are quite busy.

VS: Yes, busy and quite important.

SK: What’s been your highlight?

VS: Well, we’ve been really lucky. I think one of the highlights was talking to Simon Rattle about Boulez. I didn’t know much about Boulez personally and he gave me this really fantastic idiot’s guide to Boulez. He’d just finished his rehearsal, we just stood on the stage – it wasn’t an official interview, we just had a conversation, it was really nice.

SK You just got a masterclass from one of the greatest living conductors on one of the greatest composers?

VS: Yeah, just hanging about.

SK: Who needs to bother going to University to learn about music? You could just hang around and ask really great people for stuff. Maybe that’s the way to just go through life. So, we’ve actually got a clip from the latest instalment of you with David Pickard, is that right?

VS: Yes, so we’ve interviewed David a few times and I suggested for the last episode that – he has on his Twitter profile that he will play piano duet – so we thought …

SK: We should explain that David does have a proper grown up job too – running the Proms.

VS: Yes. So we thought we’d catch up with him to find out how his first Proms has gone. You’re not going to hear all of the piano duet because I was sight-reading and I was just a bit sweary …

The exchange is, of course, benign. It’s just patter, filler, and self-promotion – it’s what I do, just not on the radio. It was the talk of the podcast, the piano duet with the Director of the Proms, and the being backstage ‘just catching people’ which sounded familiar.

No one has ownership of ideas, not really. But when you start remembering that you’d done strangely similar things like that in the past (with a different Proms Director), pitched ideas for podcasts (about six or seven years ago), and produced podcasts with the same spirit of serendipity in mind, an unwelcome feeling starts to crawl all over you. It’s a feeling which can be summed up in an exclamation: That could have been me doing that.

This is all very presumptuous on my part and breathtakingly self-absorbed. I share it because of the way it triggered my thinking right at the end of the season. A seemingly innocent exchange between two presenters on a radio station reminds me of the stuff I’d done years ago, the reasons I’d done them (to get into broadcasting), and a telling reminder that for the most part I’d failed to achieve my ambitions.

The journey to the Royal Albert Hall trundled on slowly; at Waterloo East, heavy congestion at Charing Cross meant the train didn’t move for 15 minutes. Thoughts whirled around. Disappointment, embarrassment, and perhaps a little bit of annoyance too.

“Keep your eye on the prize,” said a pal who had succumbed to a text conversation on the matter with me. If only I actually knew what the prize was then I would at least be able to recognise when I’d won it. If you’re not clear on what you’re hunting then those inevitable moments of evaluation and reflection will always trigger sadness and regret.

Ambition is what fuels all of this. When it’s not realised it stares you in the face accusingly.

But when is ambition realised and at what point in our lives do we get to say: I’m happy, that’s done with, let’s move on?  In the event of the ambition never being realised, what do we do then?  What happens if the ambition is never satisfied? Am I danger of being that person who harps on about the past because of his out of control ambition? Am I in fact that person already?  And if I am, what the hell do I do to stop it? Can it even be stopped?

When I arrived at the Albert Hall I sat down in my seat and immediately recognised the man sat beside from a website I’d written for earlier in the summer. It was the first time we’d met in person. I struck up a conversation. In a few minutes the conversation had taken me out of myself and, importantly, done what Verbier has achieved for two consecutive years: it had shown me a world which exists beyond the BBC, beyond perceived career paths and ambitions.

As the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment walked on to stage, I was reminded of a world I felt more at home in – a place where those who write about classical music reside. That’s somewhere I’d like to spend more time.

On the whole Verdi’s setting is grandiose and bombastic, but in those moments where we hear a stripped back score and simplicity reigns, the music gives us something we can better connect with. Conductor Marin Alsop had at her disposal the quite remarkable BBC Proms Youth Choir, clearly adept at great articulation and stunning pianissimos. The opening Requiem aeternam was a stunning demonstration.  Similarly, the quieter duets and quartets, especially those underpinned with a meandering bassoon line reached places I never thought were possible with Verdi.

A lot of that is down to Marin Alsop. Her detailed conducting style is underpinned with great stamina and warmth, and the results could clearly be heard in this performance. The self-imposed break half-way through before the Offertory saw the atmosphere drop (it’s even more marked in the radio broadcast). As a result, the ensemble had to work harder during the Domine Jesu Christe and the Sanctus to regain what we’d experienced before. But come the transcendent  Agnus Dei the magic had returned.

This was a fitting conclusion to the season, one which the audience repeatedly demanded soloists and conductor return to the stage to receive enthusiastic applause for.

*My response is: if you’re faced with two options and you don’t know which one to take, choose the one which instinctively feels the hardest – the outcome will be more rewarding.

**The actual Last Night isn’t representative of the rest of the season. The event invariably attracts an entirely different crowd to the Albert Hall. Consequently, an unofficial tradition has established itself around the penultimate night, now regarded as the season’s ‘Proper’ Last Night.

OHP 2012: Verdi – Falstaff

Two operas in one week. Have I uncovered a latent love of the art-form? No, but I might have discovered a new interest, one altogether more three-dimensional than my usual fall-back of symphonies and the like. I’m rather excited by the prospect of getting to grips with a new art-form. Thanks Opera Holland Park.

Opera Holland Park

OHP’s penultimate production for this season was an ambitious and challenging one, as far as I could see from seat D37. Verdi’s Falstaff makes all sorts of demands on a director the likes of Zanetto and Gianni Schiichi doesn’t, not least how to choreograph the cast and considerable chorus. There were moments when the forces required seemed to overwhelm everyone on stage. That might have been first-night anxieties. I hope so. Because this was an engaging piece of entertainment. Heartfelt. Passionate.

The set appealed most to my senses. Simple, ingenious and practical. It succeeded in containing the action (for the most part). My only concern was those moments when the cast had to go running off stage. It’s some considerable distance, whether you’re leaving a scene or returning to stage to help prepare for the next. And sometimes I noticed those moments keenly.

Don’t let that put you off. There is an urgency in the production. Falstaff’s (Olafur Sigurdarson) energy and commitment is breathtaking (and worthy of the cheer the audience mustered during the curtain call). And while he filed a wholly satisfying performance, it was – for me – Alice’s (Linda Richardson) post-war ditzyness and Fenton’s (Benjamin Hulett) almost-Clark Kent-like fallability (and uncanny resemblance to Perry Benson from You Rang M’Lord) whose performances warranted more appreciation than the audience gave.

You’ll know when opera transports you: when you take your eyes off the subtitles and find your mouth has dropped to the floor as you watch what’s going on in stage. Alice and Fenton both had their moments as they sang their arias in Act 3. Magical stuff. Excellent work.

These are the lasting moments from another unexpectedly enjoyable night. Opera Holland Park has a secret weapon: a relaxed intimate atmosphere which lets libretti, music and performers shine through. I suspect I’m a convert. And I can’t wait for next year’s season to get underway.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin picks over a scab

One wonders why conductor Leonard Slatkin agreed to his recent interview with the Detroit Free Press.

In it, he provides the backstory – was it a slamming of soprano Angela Georghiu or just a defence? – on the performance he conducted of Verdi’s La Traviata, one which prompted criticism from a variety of critics including from the New York Times.

In case you’ve no time (or inclination), let me fill you in. There was a bit of a clash of personalities between Slatkin and his leading lady Georghiu. Things didn’t go well at the first performance. Slatkin abandoned the run of shows soon after that.

That was in April, however. The NYT review prompted a defence from Slatkin which interested parties on the internet picked up on, picked over and spat out. Now it seems we’re revisiting the episode once again. God only knows why.

Has Slatkin forgotten the golden rule of performing? That the best way to deal with a bad performance is to forget it? Every performer says the same. Quite a few bloggers are inclined to agree as well. Just forget it. Commit it to history. Never go back there again. After all, you won’t be judged on a blip, you’ll be judged on a string of them.

If you must revisit it in order to offer yet another defence of what happened then do it on your personal blog – that’s how they work. If you engage the services of a journalist (or indeed say yes to a journalist who might have an agenda of digging it up), you’re sure to make matters worse. The mud you thought you’d washed off a few weeks ago still sticks.

But there’s a simpler point to be made, one which resonates for the task of dragging in new audiences into the opera house and one which might help temper the egos of divas and conductors alike.

Audiences pay good money (over the odds, some might argue) to sit and watch a performance on stage. They’ll probably know already that opera is a challenge to put on given that there are so many more variables in the thing, but that challenge is nothing to the resistance those new members of the audience will have fought off to get into the auditorium in the first place.

One of the barriers for new audiences is no doubt the convention and the finery. Part of the perceived elitism of the opera is the notion of the opera diva and the ego of the conductor. These elements feed into a perception of live opera as an entertainment experience being far removed from the day to day experience of the mainstream audience member.

These are the elements which make opera seem impenetrable. Conductors are paid to do a certain job – an uneviable one in some respects – so too the singers and chorus members, directors, set designers and lighting boys and girls.

I question whether audiences are really that interested in hearing what led to a less than satisfactory performance of one classic opera, especially those who attended. And I question the value analysing the backstory has for the image of opera.

In the past, the mystique of the opera experience may have been enhanced by what might be regarded as backstage gossip between a conductor going in one direction and the diva. It may have fulfilled our romantic expectations inherent in opera house glamour.

Not any more.

They’re performers. So they should perform. And if they can’t perform together then there needs to be a change of personnel.