If you've had a great travel experience, seen a fabulous opera production [or a not-so-great one] please share your opinions with us and your fellow opera fans.
We'll bring you reviews and previews from time to time. And we'd love to hear from you with your tales and experiences from around the world. Every month there will be a prize for the best contribution! Just click on 'Submit your review' and send us your feedback.
Dear Mr. Blair,
We feel sure you would welcome some feedback on our recent trip to Vienna (14th April - 17th April) organised by your company. All very positive. Hotel Kaiserin Elizabeth was delightful. Conveniently situated in the heart of the City Centre. The room was very comfortable and well appointed - and amazingly quiet given the location of the hotel. Thank you for your welcoming letter. The staff were extremely pleasant and helpful, giving us directions when necessary.
Our seats at the opera afforded us an excellent view of the stage. Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Anna Netrebko were their usual sublime selves (our main reason for the trip). Another reason being that we have always wanted to see Vienna and we were certainly not disappointed. We also attended an extremely enjoyable Strauss/Mozart concert in the ‘Kursalon Wein’ -- featured in a brochure at the hotel Reception desk where they organised tickets for us. Very Viennese! So, all in all a very successful and memorable trip.
Dear Mr. Blair,
I had a great trip.
My tickets to the Ring were excellent. I was close to the stage and had a clear view of the proceedings.
The room at the Hotel Residenz was clean, spacious and elegant. The bed was comfortable. The location was perfect, close to shops, restaurants and public transportation.
The drivers...were punctual and helpful.
All in all a wonderful holiday.
Thank you veruy much.
Had the conductor and composer Pierre Boulez had his way, the world’s opera houses would have been burnt down in the 1950s. Their crime, he notoriously argued, was to have become temples to the past: too much Mozart, too much Puccini. And, as far as Boulez was concerned, not nearly enough Pierre Boulez.
Fast forward to the present and Boulez has come to terms with old operas: he conducts several every year. Opera companies, however, finally seem to have taken his warning to heart. Without new works that capture the imagination, opera dies as a force for creativity.
Last week the Royal Opera unveiled Written on Skin, a riveting new drama by the composer George Benjamin, set to a text by the playwright Martin Crimp. To hear the cheers rain down was the closest I have got to imagining what a first night must have been like when Handel or Verdi unveiled their latest. Opera felt like it mattered again.
Written on Skin is not the only recent production to show that rumours of opera’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Thomas Adès’s romp about the promiscuous Duchess of Argyll, Powder her Face, established his reputation in 1995; the composer followed it up with his haunting adaptation of The Tempest. Two years ago Covent Garden mounted Anna Nicole, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s bawdy opera about the topless model Anna Nicole Smith, while the young American Nico Muhly explored the allure of the internet in Two Boys, performed by English National Opera.
Those composers have little in common, but they all know that opera must be theatrical. Too many of their 20th-century predecessors saw opera as a bourgeois affectation, too superficial for their aesthetic philosophy. They soon disappeared up their own French horns.
Their world is long gone. Even more encouragingly, the recent run of gripping new operas shows no sign of abating. Next month the Dutch composer Michel van der Aa and the author David Mitchell deliver Sunken Garden for ENO, the first opera to feature 3-D film. The ROH has announced plans for Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel. Welsh National Opera is turning to Peter Pan, reimagined through the radical vision of the British composer Richard Ayres.
Peter Pan is an old story, of course. So was that of Orpheus — Monteverdi’s 1607 masterpiece, the earliest surviving opera. It was an apt beginning for a new and vulnerable art form, because Orpheus’s journey to the underworld is really about music’s ability to win over all hardship.
New opera is out of its underworld. It is time to listen again.
I just wanted to say we had a fantastic holiday, the hotel was really decadent, we were treated beautifully the staff so attentive my seat at the Met was brilliantly positioned.
I couldn't fault anything. Many thanks for making this break really special.
It all went very well. Very good seats for both evenings. The new concert hall is excellent in every way. The Astoria was very pleasant. Anya was first-class. A particular highlight was being taken round the Hermitage by one of the curators. He was extremely civilized and great fun as well as being very knowledgeable.
All the arrangements were excellent. The visa worked perfectly! I had a v. good time. Many thanks.
No doubt about it: the man’s stamina is matched only by his ambition. Valery Gergiev’s marathon press conference at the Russian Embassy this week was even longer than his new recording of the Leningrad Symphony. It was 11am when we shuffled into this splendid Kensington edifice (almost as grand as the old British Embassy in Moscow) and 12.40pm when the maestro of the Mariinsky stopped talking. No wonder that the Russian Ambassador felt the need to crack open a few dozen bottles of prosecco afterwards.
In fairness, what Gergiev had to say was enthralling. His musical empire, the biggest in the world, is about to get even bigger. In May the Mariinsky will open a new opera and ballet theatre in St Petersburg, next to its 19th-century home and not far from the concert hall it opened six years ago. Unlike that glorious building, which rose from the ruins of a burnt-down costume store thanks to private money, the new theatre — Mariinsky II — is funded entirely by the Russian Government. And it hasn’t been done on the cheap. A massive glass and limestone concoction designed by the Canadian architect Jack Diamond to complement St Petersburg’s historic waterfronts, it will cost £450 million. Nice roubles if you can get them — and Gergiev has always had as prodigious a talent for fundraising as for conducting.
Mariinsky II will seat 2,000 and have fantastic facilities. But it won’t replace the old theatre — the very notion is an insult to Gergiev’s vision. No, he wants the two theatres and concert hall to operate together, with three shows a day and six on Sundays. This means one theatre can give tourists what they want — wall-to-wall Swan Lakes and Eugene Onegins — while the other offers adventurous repertoire and educational programmes.
“The Mariinsky isn’t The Lion King,” Gergiev says. “We are an artistic institution. We can’t run on commercial lines.” Even so, he claims that when both theatres are running the company will get £90 million a year in ticket sales: well over twice what the Royal Opera House takes at the box office. Oh yes, and Gergiev also casually mentions that in future the Mariinsky will boast no fewer than three full-time orchestras. “That’s so he can conduct on three continents on the same day without tiring out the players,” a cynic quips.
But it seems not. He says the days of his performers being relentlessly paraded round the world on endless tours are numbered — hard though that is to believe. Instead, he says, the company is stepping up the output of CDs and videos. Its film of The Nutcracker — the first 3-D version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet — is in British cinemas this Christmas, and the first instalment of a new Ring recording is out in the spring. After that? Well, Gergiev’s best friend in Hollywood, James Cameron, is involved in the Mariinsky’s future film plans. Not surprising: they are titanic.
Heaven knows what would happen to the Mariinsky if Gergiev fell under a St Petersburg bus. The very fact that the new theatre has its opening gala on May 2 — the maestro’s 60th birthday — says it all. He is the company. He shapes its destiny, does its deals, decides who gets to sing or dance what, where and when. His rule is as absolute as that of his nice friend Vladimir Putin. Boy, do the Russians like strong leaders.
His critics predict that one day it will all go wrong: that this non-sleeping workaholic will take on one crazy project too many and the whole edifice will crash down. But I see no sign of it. The Mariinsky towers over every other theatre on the planet. Gergiev may be diplomatic about its only Russian rival, the Bolshoi in Moscow. “A big eagle needs two wings,” he says, indicating the Russian emblem on the embassy’s wall. But he is far less reserved when he observes how many of “his” Mariinsky singers now fill principal roles at the New York Met, La Scala and Covent Garden. With every new show in a major opera house his influence grows.
It has probably struck you that he has exactly the qualifications to fill the vacancy at the top of our own Royal Opera House. He is superb at charming dollops of dough from politicians and oligarchs alike. He has shown how world-class standards can be achieved by nurturing homegrown talent. And he knows the future is digital.
Of course he wouldn’t want the London job; the Mariinsky is on a roll, while the rest of the arts world is staggering through a recession. And most of Britain’s musical establishment would be horrified if he got it.
Even so, he is the person against whom the next chief exec of Covent Garden must be measured. Driven, visionary, astoundingly well-connected, ferociously knowledgeable about every corner of the repertoire: the ultimate operator, the complete professional. By contrast, I hear of opera and ballet amateurs — such names as Alan Rusbridger, the Editor of The Guardian — being seriously put forward for the Covent Garden job. He is an old friend of mine, so I think I had best convey my thoughts on that privately.