Personal likes and interests


Gasparo Luigi Pacifico Spontini (1774-1851) – May 2018

During the course of writing my biography on Spontini published in 2013, I found a number of his works, especially those written during his early Italian (1793-1802) were presumed lost. However, 5 Spontini scores have been rediscovered in the library of the Castle d’Ursel, Hingene in the Antwerp province of Belgium, deposited by descendants of Spontini’s wife Marie-Célèste Érard.

La Fuga in Maschera was found in 2007 and it was first performed of recent times (and filmed) in Iesi’s Teatro GB Pergolesi in 2012, over two centuries after its premiere run in Naples in 1800. It has since been staged in a production (available on DVD) which allows the complicated action to unfold in easy and amusing steps. It is well sung and acted within unfussy settings. Like both I Puntigli delle Donne (The Stubbornness of Women) and Teseo Riconusciuto (Theseus recognised)(both available on CD), it shows Spontini at the beginning of his career and demonstrates his ability kept the the whole opera moving along. There are longer arias befitting the characterisation laid out by the librettist, but he is adept at keeping the stage picture paced well.

The next series of  4 autograph manuscripts found consists of  three operas:
Il quadro parlante – The Talking Picture – (melodramma buffo, 1800, Palermo)
Il geloso e l’audace – The Jealous and the Bold – (drama giocoso, 1801, Rome)
Le metamorfosi di Pasquale ossia Tutto è illusione nel mondo – The Changing States of Pasquale or Everything is Illusion in the World – (farsa giocosa, 1802, Venice)

This latter, the last he wrote in and for  the contemporary Italian, prior to leaving for  Paris, has been given 5 performances at the Malibran Theatre, Venice from 19 – 25 January 2018. The on-line review said there was too much recitative and the solos are standard, fare  but overture and the ensembles came in for praise.

Finally L’eccelsa gara (cantata, 1806, Paris). The cantata L’eccelsa gara – The Supreme Competition – offers further information about Spontini’s close contacts with Napoleon and Josephine. Spontini composed the work with a text by Luigi Balocchi later Rossini’s librettist to celebrate Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.

Should  the other three  newly discovered works be  eventually mounted or played in the future,  it will interesting to compare them with those known  already. This will apply particularly to the last above -a  non-operatic but more oratorio-like concert portrayal of mythological characters.

In addition, I am busy preparing a translation into English from French, Italian and German texts as a for the 4-disc set of the complete songs of Spontini.

Harry Parr Davies (1914-1955) – June 2018

Since my biography of Harry published in December 2015, I have discovered

  1. He wrote another musical he wrote,  – a spectacular called Ranch in the Rockies broadcast on BBC TV in 1951 which included ballet music.
  2. About the same time he was approached  to write the music for a musical based on Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
  3. At least 5 more songs.
  4. Much more about the long Canada/USA tour of 1940-1 he made with Gracie.
  5. More details of this concert ‘life’ with Life Guards’ Band.

Altogether I have added more than 15000 words to the original manuscript and am completing  for a second edition by the end of the year.

Jonas Kaufmann ~ Film of Berlin concert – August 2018

Kaufmann has a wonderfully full and varied sound of voice, striking good looks and acting ability. The Berlin concert was a disappointment. It was basically a series of items cut from a number of concerts. He concentrated on Italian popular songs, which failed to show him as his best.(Earlier was entrance by his Otello film.) He sang the songs with either a gentle sound or was stentorian. Such music needs caressing, – Benjamino Gigli was supreme at this kind of song, making it attractive, but artistic.- Kauffman looked too serious, only occasionally smiling. Anita

Elgar An Extraordinary Life – 2007 by J P E Harper-Scott – October 2018

This is a distinctly odd book. i find the review of Elgar’s work, detailed and satisfactory, However due to the author’s decision to go down a route of post-modern deconstructionism in the mode of David Bret’s brittle biographical analyses, rather  the artistic achievements of so many of his subjects, ( e.g. Doris Day, and many other popular musical figures). he persistently thinks or worse still hints that he he has found hidden sexual motives in their work and relationships.

Harper-Scott uses a similar formula in looking at Elgar so persistentlywhich I find  utterly distasteful  and inherently alien to what his known of Elgar’s private ife. How did this slip past the editorial body. I am afraid to publish such a book does little credit to  Associate Board of the Royal Schools  of Music  and is not an appropriate handbook for potential students. I have binned it.

Handel’s Radamisto – 23 October at Gala Theatre – English Touring Opera

This is a typical adventurous enterprise by the company.( I thought their Il Tabarro / GianniSchicchi and Pia de’Tolomei  previously given very enjoyable) To be honest, I do find the operatic conventions of Handel’s time frustrating. while individually the da capo arias can be interesting, passionate or beautiful. as a dramatic experience for me it always doesn’t work. EnglishTouring  Opera did a lot  to make it convincing as an exposition of intrigue at the Armenian court. It was well sung and acted. The main flaw was the hero Radamisto – a castrato role- here sung  by a counter tenor  with a voice of sweetness. Sadly the role  needed stentorian power to convince – (DVD of Giulio Cesare with Sarah Connolly shows how this can work). The sound was too gentle for the role.  I look forward to their Macbeth and Idomoneo in 2019 -sadly didn’t make it.

Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte – 5 July 2019 at Sage Gateshead.

THis was a production which updated the setting to Charleston/Art Deco period. Musically it was good , the orchestra well conducted and convincing  in volume and expression  throughout. The best Mozart singing stylist was the tenor, and the other men were good too. Despina was easily the best of the women having a silky top and such a variety of tone quality. The Fiordiligi and Dorabella sounded good when singing to gather, but were shrill in the upper part of the stave. As Dorabella ‘s music doesn’t go far above the stave, it was alright. Fiordiligi on the other hand was not really up to either of her arias and screeched the top  notes, when these should be floated, this was especially so in ‘Come Scoglio’.  I found the exposition of it all in  Act 1!  a bit tedious – possibly Da Ponte takes too longs over this,; and Mozart’s response was not so sharp here as in Act 1. Altogether this was an enjoyable night .in the situation.

2020  BBC Proms

I’ve always enjoyed the Proms. I thought this year was a short but refreshing way of presenting.

Sir Simon Rattle’ sconducting of Vaughan Williams Symphony no.5 was outstandingly beautiful. The smaller emsemble of LSO produced such clarity, yet wonderfully graded sound. What a consoling work it is, peace in our time in 1943, despite the inroads of the Luftwaffe on our beloved land.

Next the Vivaldi/ Handel/ Avison concerts Nicola Benedetti produced continuing ravishing tone  in the vivaldi concertos (how wonderful that members of the orchestra teemed up with her. Being a Geordoie by birth I was pleased to hear the Avison Concerto. he has a sound ‘flavour’ of his own different to Boyce and Arne.

The presntation of the Beethoven 7th was very off putting. It is as Wagner put it’the apotheosis of the dance’. To have pull to shreds by way of introduction, made it feel like a  bad music lesson. If it were BBC Record Review, and comparisons were made about different recorded version played that is acceptable. I swtiched off before this inept enterprise was completed. I will  try it complete on ‘Sounds’.

Of  the BBC commisions I heard Solus  was acceptable.

The last night was better without the slightly inane crowds. Again there was wonderful clarity because there was a small ensemble. Golde Schultz has the loveliest voice,knows and illustrates what she was singing about in both Mozart,  Strauss and Rodgers. Hurrah for Nicola Benedetti in the ’The Lark’ .

The Henry Wood celebration of English sea songs was again enhanced by the orchestra and chorus. (The young lady conducting the orchestra ia like Golde a star in the making).  I did not lke the concoction of ‘Jerusalem’ I could have  dealt with a theme and variations on it as in Beethoven Rachmaninov Dohnanyi or Britten. Parry has said all that was necessary to illustrate the words , Elgar orchestral version is totally sympathetic to the original.  The concluding “God Save the Queen’ by Britten was totally aappropriate