The Proms may never be the same again after the extraordinary heights achieved by the concert performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle on almost consecutive nights last week as the composer intended.
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History rarely supplies plots for full-evening ballets, and with good reason. Dance tends to be strong on feeling, weak on facts. As George Balanchine once drolly observed, ballet has no way of saying “this is my mother-in-law”.
Daniel Harding will conduct a BBC Prom due to have been given by Sir Colin Davis who died last month aged 85.
In 2011, Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra played two BBC Proms in one night. The first was a meticulously disciplined programme of Liszt and Mahler, the second a jamboree of party pieces and encores, selected by raffle from a list of some 200 works. Encores are the great disinhibitors of classical music and they have served Fischer and his orchestra well. Now 30 years old, the BFO can melt the cognoscenti with musical kitsch, compete with the finest in core symphonic repertoire, and deliver Beethoven with the transparency of period instruments. Whether this should all be attempted in one performance is another matter.
The cadenza in a classical concerto is a curious thing. Originally devised as a way of letting the soloist show off, it became a commentary on the work it adorned, as well as a holiday from it: the soloist could take you on a switchback journey before bringing you safely home. These days, with so many other opportunities for display, its bravura function has faded, so soloists often use it instead as a slot to puff their own wares – as Kennedy does when he injects jazz and Gypsy music into his Brahms.
All the nice girls love a sailor. But so do the mad girls and the bad girls. Exquisitely bored by the monotonous hum and click of sewing machines and knitting needles in a snowbound fishing village, Senta annihilates herself for love of the cursed hero of The Flying Dutchman. Enraged by rejection, and pressed on all sides by the complex politics of an uneasy military alliance, the sorceress Medea slaughters her children and poisons her rival to wring hot tears from the cold eyes of unfaithful Jason.
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The most powerful weapon in the opera designer’s armoury is lighting, which allows musical atmosphere to be changed by the flick of a switch: Ravel’s ‘L’enfant et les sortileges’ was never more resonant than when lit by David Hockney’s glowing reds, greens, and mauves.