Wagner’s Ring: Das Rheingold

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Fri 24 Jun 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Opera North
Richard Farnes conductor
Peter Mumford concert staging and lighting design
Dame Anne Evans artistic consultant

Michael Druiett Wotan
Nicholas Folwell Alberich
Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke Loge
Yvonne Howard Fricka
Andrea Baker Erda
James Creswell Fasolt
Gregory Frank Fafner
Giselle Allen Freia
Peter Wedd Froh
Derek Welton Donner
Richard Roberts Mime
Jeni Bern Woglinde
Jennifer Johnston Wellgunde
Sarah Castle Flosshilde

Nicholas Folwell replaces Joachim Seipp, Jeni Bern replaces Meeta Raval.

Wagner Das Rhinegold 150’

There will be no interval and the concert will end at approximately 10pm.

A collaboration of Opera North, The Sage Gateshead and Symphony Hall, Birmingham.
The Opera North Future Fund is a major supporter of Das Rheingold.

Opera North is now recognised as the most interesting UK opera company outside of London’ Financial Times

‘Whichever other Ring cycles you go to, Opera North’s will, I’m sure, offer rich musical and dramatic rewards’ The Spectator

‘Richard Farnes’s superb, impassioned conducting leaves you in no doubt that you are hearing a masterpiece, and his excellent orchestra respond magnificently to his inspirational baton, whetting the appetite for his Ring.’ Sunday Times

Das Rheingold is the first part of Wagner’s Ring, one of the world’s greatest musical epics: a brooding mythological tragedy of love, power and vengeance. There is no greater challenge for any opera company, and this new production by Opera North is their first. Artistic Consultant Dame Anne Evans mentors a cast that blends artists experienced in this repertoire with the best of new talent. Each of the four parts will be performed at Symphony Hall over the next four years. Join us for an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s greatest sagas.

‘Even more admirable is the quality of the performance. Farnes has done many fine things at Opera North, but his pacing of this 150-minute sweep of music, his care about balance (not a single vocal line is overwhelmed, even in this opulent acoustic) and the sumptuousness of the orchestral textures – all this constitutes a massive achievement’ The Times 5* review of Das Rheingold

‘All of the admirably committed Opera North cast are adept at conveying character by gesture and expression and the semi-staging works well for anyone not seeking an ‘interpretation’.’ What’s On Stage 4* review of Das Rheingold

Watch Richard Farnes discuss Wagner, tabloid sensations, the Ring cycle and Das Rheingold

Read Richard Farnes’s blog introduction to Das Rheingold

Read Michael Druiett’s blog on taking on the role of Wotan.

Sung in German with English surtitles.

RT @Opera_North Das Rheingold will be broadcast live on @bbcradio3 tonight [1st July]  from 7.20pm, listen in here http://bbc.in/kKPICn #ONRing

Blog Review by Intermezzo:


…     “Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s camp Loge assumed the comic position more usually occupied by Alberich and Mime (Richard Roberts, wonderfully whiny). Jeni Bern, Sarah Castle and especially Jennifer Johnston were as fine a trio of Rhinemaidens as you could expect to hear anywhere. Peter Wedd and Derek Welton provided a sharply-characterised Froh and Donner, but it was Giselle Allen’s lusciously-voiced Freia who impressed me most.”     …

Review by ? Birmingham Post:


…     “And under Richard Farnes the ON orchestra unfolds this tremendous score seamlessly, meticulous in detail (one example: 12 anvils and six harps – how often do you get that?), and contoured into one vast paragraph spanning two-and-a-half hours which fly by. Peter Mumford, who also designed the sensitive, point-making lighting, has given the opera a staging which gives worthwhile food for thought: the tiresome Froh and Donner are virtual lookalikes, as are the giants Fasolt and Fafner; Fricka, normally such a shrew, is here elegant and convincing in Yvonne Howard’s portrayal; Loge is appropriately camp, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke reflecting his ambivalent relationship with the gods; Andrea Baker a scary Erda; and Michael Druiett imposing as Wotan.

But the chief triumph of characterisation is what is normally the loathsome, contemptible dwarf Alberich.”        …

Review for Leeds performance by Anna Picard, Independent:


…     “Considering the heft of an enlarged orchestra, the delicacy was impressive: the tender oboe accompaniment to Yvonne Howard’s melancholy Fricka, the sly bassoon beneath Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s charismatic Loge, the bell-like blend of the Rhinemaidens (Jeni Bern, Jennifer Johnston, Sarah Castle).

With lighter voices, Wagner’s text crackles and bites. Giselle Allen’s Freia, Dervek Welton’s Donner, Peter Wedd’s Froh and Richard Roberts’s Mime carried easily, while Nicholas Folwell’s bull terrier of an Alberich bristled with fury and envy. As Fasolt and Fafner, James Creswell and Gregory Frank made Freia’s abduction explicitly brutal. But was Michael Druiett’s Wotan meant to be a stuffed shirt? Das Rheingold is the start of Wotan’s downfall: it will be interesting to see how he develops when Opera North tackles Die Walküre.”     …

Review for Leeds Performance by Tim Ashley, Guardian:


…     “We’re in for something special, if Rheingold is anything to go by. Despite a couple of flaws, this was one of the most enthralling Wagner performances of recent years.”     …

Review for Leeds performance, byGraham Rickson, ArtsDesk:


…     “Three large video screens are suspended above the orchestra platform and the singers do much more than just enter, stand up straight and deliver. You forget that you’re in Leeds on a Saturday night, so engaging is the effect, and only occasionally do you notice the presence of more than 100 grinning musicians sitting behind the cast, visibly delighted at just how well the whole thing works.”    [ …]

[…] Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Loge steals the evening; it’s his dubious advice which has led to Wotan’s problems, and Ablinger-Sperrhacke is compelling to watch, with his virtuoso display of shifty body language, fussy hand gestures and insincere facial expressions. The biggest cheers of the evening deservedly went to Nicholas Folwell’s Alberich, a charismatic pantomime villain inviting both sympathy and scorn, especially during his scenes with Richard Roberts’s wretched Mime, a perfect physical match for Folwell.”     …

Midsummer Mendelssohn

Thursday 23 June 2011 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Cornelius Meister conductor
Arabella Steinbacher violin

Mendelssohn: Overture Midsummer Night’s Dream 11′
Mendelssohn: Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream 5′
Mendelssohn: Intermezzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3′
Mendelssohn: Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream 5′
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto 27′
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 36′ Listen
requires Real Player

It takes some doing to improve on Shakespeare – but not even the Bard himself could top the magic that the young Felix Mendelssohn sprinkled all over his ravishing music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s some of the loveliest music ever inspired by poetry – and just wait until you hear the famous Wedding March played the way Mendelssohn intended, by a jubilant full orchestra. The same enchantment makes Mendelssohn’s ever-popular Violin Concerto sparkle and dance, so we’re lucky to have a true magician of the violin, the incomparable Arabella Steinbacher, as soloist. And then guest conductor Cornelius Meister sweeps away the cobwebs with a stirring blast of Beethoven’s Seventh. If ever a symphony had the freshness and power of a summer thunderstorm, it’s this one. Breathtaking. www.cbso.co.uk

Arabella Steinbacher’s encore – Ysaÿe – The Obsession Sonata

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:



…     “Arabella Steinbacher’s performance of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto was very different – with all the sparkle one could wish for.


Steinbacher emphasized the work’s lyricism and was most effective in the tender andante and quicksilver finale, after a slightly cool opening movement.


In her encore, the first movement of Ysaÿe’s Bach-inspired first sonata, she was dazzlingly dextrous.”

There Was A Child

Saturday 18 June 2011 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey conductor
Joan Rodgers soprano
Toby Spence tenor
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus
CBSO Children’s Chorus

Britten: Simple Symphony 16′
Whitacre: little man in a hurry 5′
Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad 14′
Dove: There Was a Child 50′

The land of lost content… For over a century, English literature has revelled in nostalgia for childhood; and where words lead, music follows. Jonathan Dove wrote There Was a Child as a tribute to a friend’s son who died tragically young. Filled with both joyous celebration and heartfelt emotion, it’s a big, warm-hearted modern masterpiece in the spirit of Britten and Vaughan Williams. And it follows in an evergreen English tradition, from the bittersweet songs that George Butterworth wrote five years before his death at the Somme, through Benjamin Britten’s feisty teenage symphony, right through to Eric Whitacre’s cheerful little gem.

Please note that Ailish Tynan has had to withdraw from this concert and will be replaced by Joan Rodgers CBE. www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


…      “The choral writing is totally effective, well-contoured and vibrant, the solo writing (soprano Joan Rodgers, tenor Toby Spence) equally so. Orchestral colours are expertly marshalled: Stravinsky, Britten and Adams are contributory influences, all adding to the approachability of the piece. This one is a winner.”     …

Birmingham Mahler Cycle: Sir Simon Rattle Conducts Das Lied von der Erde

Sunday 12 June 2011 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Jane Irwin mezzo-soprano
Michael Schade tenor

Messiaen: Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum 26′
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (sung in German with English surtitles) 59′

Twenty years to the day since Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO inaugurated Birmingham’s brand new Symphony Hall, the legend returns. Sir Simon, mezzo Magdalena Kožená and tenor Michael Schade bring down the curtain on Birmingham’s centenary Mahler Cycle with the symphony that Mahler refused to call his Ninth, the heart-rending Das Lied von der Erde. Less a meditation on death, more a rapturous love-letter to the joys of life, Mahler simply doesn’t get more personal – or more beautiful. The evening opens with a very different (but no less transcendent) meditation on mortality, by another composer who came to define Sir Simon’s years at Symphony Hall: the late Olivier Messiaen. Unmissable.

Please note that Magdalena Kožená has withdrawn from this performance due to illness. We are grateful to Jane Irwin, who replaces her at short notice.

 Sold out – Returns only

Review by Stephen Walsh, TheArtsDesk:


…     “The CBSO were on terrific form throughout, but nowhere more than in the lovely wind solos that track the mezzo-soprano, from the blue autumn mists of “Der Einsame im Herbst” to the eternal blue distance of “Der Abschied”. And Jane Irwin, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Magdalena Kožená, matched them in the sensitivity of her response to words and situation, though she had some difficulty filling out her sound in the low registers.”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:


…     “Words and phrases were coloured with great precision, and, like the orchestra’s solo woodwind, Irwin relished the freedom that Rattle’s expansive conducting allowed her. Even in the final Abschied, nothing sounded too slow or indulgent, just naturally paced, with little of the expressive moulding that can seem rather mannered in some of Rattle’s Berlin performances. Michael Schade also showed he is one of that select band of tenors who can tackle this work without being totally overwhelmed by the orchestra.”     …

Blog post review by Norman Lebrecht, ArtsJournal:


…     “But Jane Irwin is a singer of immense character and daring who dropped on occasion to pianissimo, drawing feather-light sounds from the orchestral soloists, outstanding among them the flute (Marie-Christine Zupancic), piccolo (Andrew Lane), bassoon (Gretha Tuls) and leader (Zoe Beyers).

 The Abschied achieved a stark cohesion. Rattle played down the agonies of parting with a practised flutter of bucolic beauty spots.”     …
Review by John Quinn, SeenAndHeard:
…     “This was a magnificent performance, which Rattle controlled superbly and with great authority. I thought his judgement of pacing was ideal and, amid all the frequent tumult, his control of silent pauses – and the way he ensured the softest passages in Messiaen’s score made their mark – was masterly.”     […]
[…] “Nowhere was this more apparent than in her account of ‘Der Abschied.’ This is a huge challenge for a singer but one to which Jane Irwin rose marvellously. She encompassed all aspects of the song successfully. I admired her sensitivity and sense of intimacy at such passages as ‘Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz’. Just as impressive was the radiant outpouring at ‘Die liebe Erde allüberall…’, a moment superbly prepared by Rattle, and Miss Irwin’s ardour at ‘O Schönheit! O ewigen Liebens…’ This was a memorable, dignified and moving performance.” […]
[…] “He drew from the CBSO playing of great distinction and there was a familiarity, engagement and empathy that made it seem as if he’d never been away. At the end of the work, Rattle drew out the last tendrils of music with the greatest possible refinement. When the last sound died away the silence was as long as I’ve ever heard in a concert hall, Rattle holding the moment and the audience reluctant to break the spell. The silence spoke volumes.I’ve been lucky enough to attend several very fine Mahler performances over the last year of so – not all of them in Birmingham – but this was in a different league.”      …
Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “Das Lied just stunned an overflowing audience into silence. There was a whole gamut of orchestral gesture here (one wouldn’t expect anything less from a composer who was probably the world’s greatest-ever conductor), all teased out by Rattle and the willing CBSO; horns, desolate flute and questing oboe line up for particular praise.”     …


Blog post review by Tam Pollard re same programme but at Aldeburgh Festival:


…     “Here was yet more evidence of just what an exception and world class ensemble the CBSO are: from the rich string textures, to quiet playing of the highest calibre, to fabulous solo performances, it was both an orchestral masterclass and an absolute treat to witness. ”     …

Ravel in Spain

Tuesday 7 June 2011 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Anna Stephany mezzo
Bonaventura Bottone tenor
Jeffrey Stewart tenor
Andrew Shore bass
Johannes Weisser baritone

Ravel: L’heure espagnole (sung in French with English surtitles) 45′
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole 15′
Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte 6′ Listen
requires Real Player
Ravel: Alborada del gracioso 7′
Ravel: Boléro 14′

The mule-driver, the clockmaker, his wife and her lover. Give them an hour, throw them together in a roomful of clocks, and… well, over to Maurice Ravel! L’heure espagnole is the result; a deliriously seductive French farce, drenched with Spanish passion and glittering with wit. Andris Nelsons has always loved it – and if you caught his concert performances of La Bohème, you’ll know that he just needs to raise his baton to transform Symphony Hall into a great opera house. But that’s just the first half of our all-Ravel, all-Spanish spectacular. “He’s mad!” declared one of Boléro’s first listeners – but these days, it’s the audience that goes crazy for those blazing colours and unstoppable rhythms. www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


…     “But the icing on these bonnes-bouches was Ravel’s Bolero, beginning with a tiny pianissimo from a snare-drummer, and building through layers of orchestral choreography. This is a piece-and-a-half, and Nelsons and his willing players did it the justice it deserves.”     …

Rating: * * * *

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:


…     “Throughout, one had the feeling of an intense emotional heat just under Ravel’s beautifully lacquered surfaces – especially at the ending of the last movement, when just for a moment the expressionist frenzy of La Valse could be glimpsed.

At moments like this, Ravel’s expressive world seemed as weighty as anyone’s; but it took a performance as urgent and engaged as this one to reveal it.”

Review by Geoff Read, SeenAndHeard:


…     “The final piece, Boléro, is not one of my favourite compositions. But it’s one thing to hear it on CD; hearing it ‘live’ in a good venue like the Birmingham Symphony Hall, presented the work in a new light. With so many opportunities for instrumental spotlighting it must be a popular piece among orchestral players. Ravel regarded it as his masterpiece ‘a piece for orchestra without music’, picking out the insistency of its simple theme and orchestrating it to an extent few composers have equalled. Nelsons and the CBSO were literally and figuratively up to speed with it. The maestro’s dynamic control that began at pp with snare drum, plucked cellos and violas, climaxing as loud as possible with the entire orchestra over thirty-six staves, was consummate. Whilst the whole orchestra warranted praise, some of the parts that grabbed me were: the solo flute of Marie-Christine Zupancic that announced the theme; the discordant strumming of Johnston and Séline Saout on harps; the heightening of tension from the syncopated high bassoon of Tuls; the colours produced by the E flat clarinet of Joanna Patton and the oboe d’amore of Katie Bennington; the jazzy style of Edward Jones on trombone; the entry of the violin sections ably led by Zoë Beyers and their double-stopping.”     …

Tragedy and Triumph

Wednesday 1 June 2011 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet piano

Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini 24′
Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 28′
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 44′

The horns blast out a savage fanfare; the trumpets scream in reply…and you know this isn’t going to be any ordinary symphony. It’s Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, the no-holds-barred emotional autobiography in which one of the most troubled – but inspired – composers of all time wrestles publicly with his personal demons in music of startling rawness and power. The reason? Well, maybe his tone-poem Francesca da Rimini offers a clue – a tale of forbidden love and desperate torment, set to some of even Tchaikovsky’s most passionate music.

Please note Mihaela Ursuleasa has withdrawn from this concert and we are grateful to Jean-Efflam Bavouzet who has kindly agreed to take her place at short notice. www.cbso.co.uk

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s encore – Ravel –

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


…     “This was an urgent, gripping reading, and so was Nelsons’ account of Tchaikovsky’s tremendous Fourth Symphony, brilliantly responsive to its structure, ebbing and flowing in emotional intensity, and a tribute all the time to the immense trust and love between conductor and orchestra.”     …