Friday, 25 June 2010

Zaide/Sadler's Wells

Founded in 1997 the Classical Opera Company specialises in Mozart so it was only a matter of time before it turned its hand to Zaide, Mozart's unfinished opera from 1779. In a nutshell: Zaide is a favourite of a nasty sultan. She makes the mistake of falling in love with a slave. She runs off with him, gets caught and all hell breaks lose until sultan sees the error of his ways.

Composed when he was only 23, Mozart wrote about seventy minutes worth of music set to a German text (his father thought this would play well with Emperor Joseph II who wanted to start a German-language opera company in Vienna) before putting it aside when the commission for Idomeneo came in.

There have been various stabs at reviving the opera ever since but attempts at staging a complete version have been rare, until now thanks to COC's artistic director Ian Page. Cleverly picking other works by Mozart from around the time he wrote Zaide, Page has concocted a finished Zaide with a new English libretto by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts.

Were this a purely musical exercise then Page's experiment would have paid off. The problem though is the spoken dialogue that links the different arias - melodram, a sort of precursor to sung recitative - provided by Ben Power and the opera's director Melly Still. Totally melodramatic in the modern sense, not even the world's greatest actor would have done justice to this clunky sub-comic book text which comes dangerously close to undermining Page and Symmons Roberts' efforts.

It would have been much better - and fairer on the singers - if this role had been taken by a narrator as has been the convention in past. That way the production team would have been spared the audience's embarrassed titters and we could have all got home a lot quicker. The 19 bus is notoriously infrequent at that time of night.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Academy of Ancient Music/Wigmore Hall, Ray Gelato/Ronnie Scott's, Sweet Charity/Haymarket

England v Algeria and I'm off to the Wigmore Hall ('and you're not even gay', says a friend) for a concert of English music given by the AAM. My highlight was Purcell's 'Lord, what is man?' performed by the tenor James Gilchirst. Arms outstretched to the audience, he delivered it with the gentle persuasiveness of a preacher. I'm sure Purcell would have approved. I must admit, I don't think I've ever been so moved by Purcell such was Gilchrist's exemplary diction and phrasing. The absence of the basso continuo in 'Evening Hymn' that followed gave this well known work a freer jingly-jangly quality I'd never heard before, and all the more refreshing it was for it.

After the interval Gilchrist was joined by the French Horn player Michael Thompson for Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. Thompson was note-perfect, no mean feat in this fiendishly difficult work, but at times seemed overly cautious that he down played some of work's drama, particularly in the opening introduction. But I'm being ever so picky. If you were looking for a patriotic glow that night, this was the place to be.

Ronnie Scott's reassuringly retro interior suits the sound and style of London jazz man Ray Gelato and the Giants, a slick ensemble that wouldn't look out of place in a Scorsese film. Even Gelato's jokes have the tinge of a bygone era; 'have you heard Lionel Richie has converted to Islam? His new record is called Halal, is it meat you're looking for'...even the stoney faced stag party in front of me laughed at that one.

Sweet Charity. I want to learn the Frug..possibly the silliest and sexiest dance of them all. Great show.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Mike Flowers Pops/The London Leisure Centre

I write this with a head like a small hospital. That's what happens when you get a little too enthusiastic about the return of the Mike Flowers Pops. If you remember, Mike Flowers (AKA Mike Roberts) was the figurehead of a weird easy listening revival in the mid-nineties when it became OK to say you liked Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb. Flowers lead from the front with a cheesy cover version of Oasis's Wonderwall that almost reached the number 1 spot. In those days I used to catch him and the Pops in places like Madam Jo Jo's in Soho with a bunch of thirty somethings as we danced away to classics like 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose' and 'Up Up and Away' and bloody good fun it was too.

Both got a welcome airing at his return gig last night at the London Leisure Centre, a venue that is, according to its website,'situated in the heart of the historic city of London, UK, within a building that dates back to 1968'. Others know it as the St. Aloysius Social Club, a rather unassuming ballroom and bar in the basement of a Catholic Church in Camden.

Its faded decor lent itself nicely to the evening's retro feel which opened with a set from Rory More at the Lowrey organ. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of the Lowrey organ before last night. It's a kind of smoother version of the Hammond that was originally manufactured for the home entertainment market. This might explain why it never took off in the rock world although apparently Paul McCartney used it for the opening of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Betcha didn't know that. Mind you, as Rory More demonstrated last night, when linked to a Leslie cabinet the Lowrey can really pack a punch. His up-tempo version of Francis Lai's theme from Un Homme et Une Femme was very lush and sexy and on the basis of that alone I'd buy one straight away if I had the money and space.

Rory More's turn (we had a short interlude while he fixed the E on his Heritage Deluxe model) was followed by the Mike Flowers Pops who, like Mike Flower's wig, haven't lost any of their lustre. Boy, did us forty somethings love it.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Marcin Wasilewski Trio/LSO St Luke's

How nice it is to break my blog fast with news of a fabulous concert at LSO St. Luke's last night by the Marcin Wasilewski Trio. Formed in Poland in 1991, this likeable and understated jazz trio stroked the appreciative audience for a full 90 minutes with material mainly from the hand of pianist Wasilewski. His is a softer edged and more optimistic style compared to (as no doubt they are) the much lamented Swedish trio EST, with Wasilewski himself almost suspending himself in mid air during his gilded piano runs.Somehow the damp sunlit evening peering through the trees outside St Luke's seemed to sum up the occasion perfectly.