Cyprus High Commission – St Martin’s Embassy & Cultural Institute Series – St Martin-in-the-Fields

Cyprus is a small country with a long history and incredibly rich culture.  The majority of Cyprus is still under Greek Cypriot control, although there is a large part of the island’s cultural heritage currently under Turkish occupation since July 1974.  Civilisation in Cyprus goes back 10,000 years and there are indeed still signs of pre-historic permanent settlements.  Cyprus has had a close relationship for more than two centuries with Greece, particularly its influences.  During the Byzantine period there was also a strong Roman influence. The island was owned and controlled by the Latin state of Jerusalem, the Venetians, the Ottomans and the British and it wasn’t until 1959 that Archbishop Makarios was elected the first President of the Republic of Cyprus.  As a result of the Turkish invasion in 1974, Lefkosia (formerly Nicosia) is currently the only divided capital in the world.  

Katya Kabanova – Janacek – Royal Opera House

Born in 1854, Leos Janacek was a Czech Composer whose music was inspired by Slavic folk music and contemporaries such as Dvorak.  Although his first opera, Jenufa (dedicated to the memory of his young daughter) was first performed in 1904 in the city of Brno, it wasn’t until a revised version of Jenufa was performed in Prague in 1916 that Janacek first received great acclaim - at the age of 62.  A year later he met a young married woman (38 years his junior), who inspired him for the remaining years of his life, until his death in 1928. 

Manon Lescaut - Jules Massenet - Stavros Niarchos Foundation - Athens Greece

At a time of real austerity the Stavros Niarchos Foundation have contributed over €500m to a brand new cultural centre, which includes a 1,400 seater Greek National Opera auditorium, as well as 210,000 square metres of national park.  The cultural centre was completed and donated to the Greek state in 2017 and now stands as a beacon to the metropolitan cultural heritage of Greece and a global architectural landmark. 

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Carmen – Bizet – Royal Opera House

Nine months ago I reported on the opening of Barry Kosky’s new take on Carmen.  It was unlike anything seen before at the ROH and at many times was visually stunning.  However, the problem is that despite some stunning scenes, including a 20 foot black dress train (both long and wide!) for Carmen in the final Act, the production overall lacks warmth in the heat of the Spanish sun and indeed it is cold in its interaction between principals.  The constant streaming across the stage steps by principals and chorus does not add to the village or factory atmosphere, as was required by Bizet.  However interesting the production appeared to be, it was in fact the collage of the scenes that provided the interest, rather than the visual impact throughout the evening.

Le Villi (or Les Willis or The Fairies) – Puccini – Royal Festival Hall

Giacomo Puccini’s first staged work was the one act opera ‘Les Willis’ based on a short story by Jean Baptiste-Karr.  The story tells the tale of the love between Anna and Roberto.  Roberto is enchanted away from Anna by another and Anna dies of a broken heart.  Her father calls upon the ‘Villi’ to take vengeance and the Fairies make Roberto dance until he dies of exhaustion.  This one act opera was written for a competition, but politics played and it did not get even an honourable mention.  However, Puccini’s work was heard by Ricordi, who immediately recognised its outstanding qualities and he published the work. 

War Requiem at the English National Opera

In 1958, Benjamin Britten was asked to write a work for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral – the old one had been bombed and destroyed in 1940 and hundreds of people had died.  Britten decided that this work would commemorate the dead of both World Wars and his text combines the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead, with fairly dour poems by Wilfred Owen.  After its premiere in 1962, Shostakovich regarded Britten’s War Requiem as ‘The greatest work of the 20th century’ and indeed it was universally hailed as a masterpiece. 

Werther – Jules Massenet – Israeli Opera

Jules Massenet took a novel from Goethe to compose a lyrical 4 act opera from a French libretto by Eduard Blau.  It was meant to have its premiere at the Paris Opera Comique in 1887, but due to a fire at the Opera House this did not happen and it did not take place until 1892 in a German language translation in Vienna.  The French language premiere followed that year in Geneva. 

Lucia di Lammermoor at the English National Opera

David Alden’s 2008 staging is brought back to the Coliseum for its second revival, with an outstanding cast, a compelling translation into English by Amanda Holden and clever moving sets by Charles Edwards.  This is a truly interesting performance of a subject – forced marriage, here of Lucia – which is relevant in some communities even today.  However, this is the Scottish Highlands and the dark and unattractive costumes, designed by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, are a testament to Highland imagery. 

Verdi's Requiem at the Royal Opera House

In a remarkable career spanning six decades, Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901, composed nearly 30 operas, at least half of which are at the core of today’s repertoire.  His Requiem, premiered in 1874, stands as a unique testimony to his artistic and human vision and is a setting of the text for the Roman Catholic mass for the dead as it existed until its revision in 1970. 

Porgy & Bess at the English National Opera

Porgy & Bess, the folk opera composed by George Gershwin with the libretto by the original author, DuBose Heyward and Lyricist, Ira Gershwin, was first performed in Boston in 1935.  The libretto tells the story of Porgy, a black disabled street beggar living in the Charleston slums, attempting to rescue his love, Bess, from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and her drug dealer, Sporting Life. 

Götterdämmerung at the Royal Opera House

Götterdämmerung, the last of the four operas making up Wagner’s Ring Cycle, held our breath throughout the six and a half hours of operatic intensity. Keith Warner’s production comes to its sizzling end as the ring and the gold is once more returned to its home with the rhinemaidens, beautifully, and finally fleshily, played by Lauren Fagan, Christina Bock and Angela Simkin.

Die Walkure at the Royal Opera House

Die Walkure is the second part of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and is based on Norse mythology, where a Valkyrie is a female figure who decides in battle which soldier shall live or die.  It received its premiere in Munich in 1870 and was first presented as part of the complete Ring Cycle in 1876 in Bayreuth.