Richard jones

Hit every auditory G-spot simultaneously: CBSO/Hough/Gardner concert reviewed

Rejoice: live music is back. Or at least, live music with a live audience, which, as Sir Simon Rattle admitted, addressing the masked and socially distanced crowd immediately before the LSO’s first full-scale public performance for 14 months, is kind of the whole point. Yes, he said, they’d streamed online concerts from the Barbican, but the silence of emptiness is a very different proposition from the silence of a hall containing 1,000 human beings. He’s right, of course. Those 14 months have tested to destruction the notion that digital platforms can offer the same sort of emotional nourishment. Once again, then — rejoice! And nobody mention the Indian variant. For

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

It was bucketing it down in Venice, yet the beach was heaving. Families, lovebirds, warring kids, a yappy mutt, all strewn across a sandy expanse, basking on beach towels. Balls were bounced, crosswords filled, timelines scrolled. Out of this idleness, songs would bubble up, light billowy airs — speaking now to suncream mundanities, now to geological anxieties — whisked up to our ears as if on a cooling breeze. We were in the Lithuanian Pavilion inside a dilapidated former military storehouse in a corner of north Venice, being given a god’s-eye view on an extraordinary new opera, Sun & Sea (Marina), by a Lithuanian trio: composer Lina Lapelyte, director Rugile

Janacek’s rare gem

Janacek’s upsetting opera Katya Kabanova, which hasn’t been seen in the UK for some time, turned up in two different productions over the weekend, with a third to follow in Scotland. The Opera North production by Tim Albery dates from 2007, when it was conducted by Richard Farnes with the clarity and passion which characterises all his work. This revival had Sian Edwards making her Opera North debut, and all told it had a slightly muted quality. The paradoxical jagged lyricism of Janacek’s orchestral writing only struck home intermittently, and there were stretches which could almost have been by Smetana, against whom Janacek partly defined himself. Albery’s production and Hildegard

Laughing matters

‘Comedy for music by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Music by Richard Strauss.’ That’s what the creators of Der Rosenkavalier wrote on the score, but don’t expect to see it reprinted in any programme books. Their careful wording doesn’t fit modern assumptions about Der Rosenkavalier, and not merely because it gives the librettist first place. There’s that troublesome word ‘comedy’, too. Advertising blurbs tell us (I know, I’ve written a couple) that Rosenkavalier is a bittersweet meditation on love, transience and loss. Yet its creators meant it to be funny. ‘Don’t forget that the audience should also laugh!’ wrote Strauss to Hofmannsthal. ‘Laugh, not just smile or grin!’ Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production

Russian ragout

There is famously no door into the late-night diner of Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’. Its three silent patrons are trapped behind the plate-glass window — specimens of urban disaffection and isolation. In Richard Jones’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk it’s the windows that are so disquietingly absent. John Macfarlane’s designs propel the action of Shostakovich’s final opera through an endless enfilade of rooms. There are doors aplenty, and thresholds — of morality, sexuality and social status — are gleefully broached and breached, but each ultimately leads only to another domestic hell. If Hopper’s characters are goldfish in a glass bowl, then Jones’s are rats in a cage, and with the rat poison

Lost in space | 11 January 2018

The Twilight Zone, an American TV show from the early 1960s, reinvented the ghost story for the age of space exploration. Director Richard Jones has collaborated with Anne Washburn to turn several TV episodes into a single play. Eight episodes in all. Way too many. The structure is designed to bamboozle us from the start. Some of the storylines have been broken up and are placed episodically throughout the piece, while others are preserved as units and delivered whole. Even the most keen-eyed viewer gets flummoxed by this mystery. Among the storylines that baffled me were: a cop quizzes some stranded bus passengers to find out which is an alien;

Unclear Handeling

ENO has revived Richard Jones’s production of Handel’s Rodelinda. It was warmly greeted on its first outing in 2014, though Jones was, as he remains, inveterately controversial. The opera itself seems to command universal admiration among Handelians, and widespread approval among those of us who have never quite managed to call ourselves that. The most unequivocally positive response I’ve had to it was at Glyndebourne in 1998, where it was produced as if it were an early black-and-white film, and superbly conducted by William Christie. Viewing the DVD has confirmed my warm feelings about it. My chillier feelings about ENO’s in many ways excellent account are prompted, first, by Jones’s

DIY Bohème

The Royal Opera’s one production that, it has always confidently been claimed, need never be replaced has been replaced. John Copley, vintage 1974, has given way to Richard Jones, in a production full of his trademark quirkinesses and mischief, though he is respectful enough of Bohème to keep his irony out of sight for the last two acts. Stewart Laing is the designer, with a separate movement director (I thought that’s what directors did) in Sarah Fahie. Snow falls continuously before the curtain rises, but the set of Act One inevitably strikes you as a gauntlet thrown down to Copley. Flat 7b, which is the abode of the bohemians, is

Fatal distraction

I don’t think that I have left a theatre many times feeling as depressed and irritated as after the Royal Opera’s Die Meistersinger, in the new production by Kasper Holten. The run of the Royal Opera’s recent productions of Wagner — appalling Tristans, a dire succession of Parsifals, mediocre Rings — hadn’t prepared me for so deep an abyss of irrelevant idiocy as this. I thought I had reached the stage where, having seen so many fearful operatic productions of works I love, I was able to enjoy myself purely on account of the music, almost inured to what I was seeing. On this occasion, the musical level was uneven

Original sin | 17 March 2016

The Royal Opera has bitten the bullet so far as Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov goes, and opted to stage the original 1869 version, with no modifications or additions from his revised 1874 edition, which used to be called ‘definitive’ but which seems to be under a cloud nowadays. Rimsky-Korsakov’s version has been pushed right to the back of the doghouse, so that it might soon be revived for its historical interest. Before I launch into my praise of the new production, which is an unqualified triumph, I would like to register some reservations about the work itself, in any of its versions. It’s routinely said that the hero of the opera

What’s love got to do with it?

The setting for Il tabarro, the first drama in Puccini’s 1918 triptych of one-act operas, is not the Paris of tourists and honeymooners, nor even the Paris of impoverished poets and painters. On a bend in the Seine a Dutch barge is moored at a soot-blackened wharf. A tableau of stevedores and seamstresses unfreezes. Sirens blast through the oily haze of muted violins. A tart touts for trade. There is no romance here: no first love, no new love, no true love. Just ordinary sadness and ordinary yearning: a marriage bruised beyond repair, a dead child kept alive in his father’s memory, and a futile and fatal affair. The first

Glyndebourne caters to the lower-middle classes not past-it toffs

What is Glyndebourne? A middle-aged Bullingdon. That’s a common view: a luxury bun fight for past-it toffs who glug champagne, wolf down salmon rolls and pass out decorously on the lawn. But the reality is that it caters to those of my class (lower-middle) who want to boost their pedigree with an eye-catching essay in sophistication. The Sussex opera house was founded in 1934 by John Christie, a passionate and eccentric millionaire who believed the public should suffer for his art. He hated the idea of suburban businessmen ‘catching a show’ for two hours in the West End before falling asleep on the train home. He wanted his audiences to

Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO, review: ‘a triumph’

ENO’s new production of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is a triumph about which only the most niggling of reservations can be set. Every aspect — orchestral, vocal, production — works in harmony to effect one of the richest, most intensely absorbing, energising and delightful afternoons and evenings I have ever spent in the theatre. It is above all a team effort, and since individuality and teamwork are very much what Mastersingers is about, that made it still more satisfying. However, two people must be singled out: Richard Jones for the finest of all the productions of his I’ve seen. This one comes from Cardiff, where it was unveiled almost

ENO’s The Girl of the Golden West is irresistibly seductive

Puccini’s La fanciulla del West is, one suspects, one of those works that modern audiences struggle to keep a straight face through. The hero, for a start, decides to call himself Dick Johnson. The piece’s Wild West trappings, long since staled into Hollywood cliché, still seem a strange fit for the operatic stage (it was performed here as The Girl of the Golden West, with Kelley Rourke’s translation delivered in a variety of American accents). The redemptive, into-the-sunset conclusion takes for granted a belief that capitalism in its most primitive, brutal form could leave a group of hardened Gold Rush miners capable of forgiveness. That it might have done, ENO’s

Is Anna Nicole’s absurd life worth our while? Not as much as Otello’s

Otello ENO, in rep until 17 October Anna Nicole Royal Opera, in rep until 24 September So how did London’s two big opera companies launch their new seasons last week? Not perhaps in the way you might expect. Decked with pink balloons and the acrid smell of popcorn, the Royal Opera House waved the garish contemporary flag with Mark-Anthony Turnage and Richard Thomas’s Anna Nicole of 2011, revived before a youthful opening-night crowd attracted by specially subsidised tickets. It was left to the friskier English National Opera to offer a new production of sober mien and an audience containing some people who dressed up. Standard repertoire, too: the opera was Verdi’s Otello — filled

ENO’s Rodelinda: near-perfect singing, perfectly gimmicky direction

I wasn’t going to write about Handel’s Rodelinda, wasn’t even intending to go, but thanks to the kindness of the press office at ENO I did, and it was so marvellous that I can’t resist expressing my delight. Not that it was ideal — no production of Rodelinda is, or, I’m beginning to suspect, can be. The musical side of things, actually, was close to perfect, but Richard Jones seemed to be in several minds about what kind of work it is, and indulged in an orgy of director’s gimmicks, gleefully abetted by the set designer Jeremy Herbert. Set in fascist Milan, the show was redolent of Glyndebourne’s 1998 production,

ENO’s Rodelinda: the best and worst of opera

Boy, the crap that opera’s allowed to get away with. The mime, the mugging, the movement, the ideas. Richard Jones’s new production of Rodelinda at the English National Opera seemed to be channelling that heady mix of bullshit and banality that that signer had nailed so well at the Mandela funeral. Theatre wouldn’t have got away with it. Daytime telly wouldn’t have got away with it. Even the Chuckle Brothers, I reckon, might have thought twice about some of these routines. But apparently it’s absolutely fine to stuff Handel’s Rodelinda with tripe. Especially as the music’s just about to hit the heights. Thus were several sung glories ruined by mindless, barely acted