LSO/Pappano; Through the Looking Screen; Early Opera Company/Wigmore Hall - review

16/01/2012 15:20 GMT | Updated 13/03/2012 09:12 GMT

A night of Knights: The newly titled Sir Antonio Pappano took to the podium and led the London Symphony Orchestra to conduct a programme of English composers; Ades, Walton and Elgar.

Ades' Dances from his 2003 opera 'Powder her Face' explored the LSO's versatility. Pappano wonderful accented every phrase he could with his full-bodied gestures guiding the well responsive orchestra through syncopated rhythms and heavy jazz.

Admittedly, this critic doesn't tend to hear much of William Walton's music though tonight I rather pleasantly discovered Walton's Viola Concerto. The Viola concerto is dark with luscious deep purple-coloured melodic lines this, of course, perfect for the timbre of the Viola. Our violist: Antoine Tamestit; his opening phrases were gooey, melt-in-your-mouth and the concerto continued in the same way with a rather bolshie second movement which saw Pappano lead with tremendous 'ompft', though I felt as though the balance was wrong, the percussion and brass, however marvellous, were over-powering where the strings were too weak.

Balance, however, was restored for Elgar's Symphony Number 1 in A flat major - some would call it a smash. Elgar composes a lush green playing field of melody that is light but Pappano turned the grass luminous with vivid expressions and massively fine, articulated phrasing that ensured the best results possible. Pappano had woken us all up with his full-fat interpretation of this work yet on his fourth encore he told us all to go to bed but instead I took a trip to the pub.

Though I vowed to never going to a pub to hear an opera after horrific experiences at OperaUpClose but I changed my mind to hear Anne Chmelewsky's new comic opera 'Through the Looking Screen'. I questioned first it's generic definition of 'opera', in fact, it was more of an operetta; this term by no means demoralises the work, on the contrary - I would even go as far as to say that this was Gilbert and Sullivan re born. The 50-minute opera, performed in the back of the Wilmington Arms in Farringdon, took the focus of a certain social networking epidemic though in a slightly more humourous fashion - already we can relate.

More so, we are all flies on the virtual wall of Annabelle, a Facebook addict stalking various men and defining her own popularity 'on-la-la-la-line', unfortunately she is delusional enough to insist on its reality - she spends the opera stalking one particular man, her one true love; Sebastian, though, as with any opera, she is faced with a tragic conclusion. This one-woman show features the refined mezzo voice of Clare Presland, whose dramatic interpretation and vocal premise remained flawless throughout. Her natural charm, comedic skill and a somewhat misguided Internet lifestyle made for a LOL (laugh-out-loud) characterisation.

Due to the simplistic nature of Chmelewsky's score Elizabeth Challenger's pianism isn't worth mentioning though she made for an attentive and accurate accompanist. The accompaniment was basic and simple, though, both vocal and piano parts contained a decent melody, yes melody - an element often forgotten in some contemporary operas, this was a huge relief and therefore made for easy listening and also accessibility for those newbie opera-goers - we were in a pub after all. A witty comic libretto and sublime characterisation - I simply loved it.

Early Opera beckoned with a performance of Charpentier's Actéon at Wigmore Hall. Possibly one of Charpentier's most performed works though the exact date of this operas composition is unknown. The Early Opera Company directed by Christian Curnyn were on top form bringing some much-needed thrust to the somewhat light score. The ensemble of singers were, too impressive; the expressionistic Ed Lyon portrayed a soft and measured Actéon with gentle embellishment and a straight-laced tone that saw his simply glide through the score with apparent ease - the same can be said of his colleague Claire Booth, whose delightful vibrato brightly coloured her few phrases. Hilary Summers gave a terrific performance from the balcony projecting a dark but glorious tone in the role of Junon. This was an entirely charming performance of Chapentier's forty-minute opera in miniature.