Michael White’s classical news: London Handel Festival, Satyagraha, Jenufa, Jakub Josef Orlinski
08 October, 2021 — By Michael White
Toby Spence with the English National Opera chorus in Satyagraha at the London Coliseum. Photo: Donald Cooper
BACK in the 18th century when England actively encouraged the remarkable and talented of mainland Europe to resettle here, one of the giants who did so was George Frideric Handel – who ended up living in Brook Street, W1 (in a house you can normally visit, though it’s closed for restoration) and worshipped every Sunday at St George’s, Hanover Square. His parish church.
Nearly three centuries on, St George’s honours his memory each year with a London Handel Festival that attracts all sorts of stars from the baroque-performance world. And though the 2021 season is smaller than usual, it is running next week with its usual mix of the familiar and arcane.
October 12 has the wonderful Lucy Crowe singing Handel’s not so well-known set of German Arias. October 13 platforms The English Concert for a performance of the oratorio Samson. And October 15 has a programme of arias written for the celebrated Handelian tenor known as Ballino, who managed to make a name for himself in times when male stars of the opera stage were usually castrati – singers imported from Italy who, at a wickedly early age, had made the ultimate sacrifice for their art.
Ballino, as you might say, kept his balls but still got famous. And his repertoire gets sung next Friday by latterday Spanish tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado, whose own history is that he started life as a pop singer, came to London, retrained at the Guildhall School, and now sings baroque opera. He appears at St George’s with a new venture called Opera Settencento under the baton of Leo Duarte – one of the most prominent oboists on the baroque circuit, now turned conductor. Full details at www.london-handel-festival.com
A long, long way from Handel – culturally, geographically, and in every other sense you could think of – is Philip Glass’s Satyagraha which returns to the London Coliseum to open English National Opera’s somewhat delayed post-pandemic season. It’s an opera based around Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of peaceful resistance, and written in Glass’s minimalist manner of mind-numbing repetitions that sweep some listeners into hypnotic ecstasy and drive others to despair. But this Phelim McDermott production, which has played ENO several times before, is attractive and delivers enough visual diversions to keep you awake. Runs October 14 through to the end of the month. www.eno.org
Meanwhile, don’t forget the Royal Opera’s Jenůfa which continues to October 12, and streams on the ROH website October 15. Claus Guth’s semi-abstract, universalist staging hovers on the edge of cliché with its bare white space and rows of hard chairs; but it packs a punch. And the performances are stunning, with Asmik Grigorian unforgettably effective in the title role, and Karita Mattila supplying in all-round, magisterial presence what she sometimes lacks in voice. www.roh.org.uk
A standout presence in the universe of countertenor singing these days is the glamorous Jakub Josef Orlinski who begins a residence at Wigmore Hall this Friday. His programme includes Purcell, Handel and that butt of schoolboy jokes, composer Johann Joseph Fux (who actually wrote good music). wigmore-hall.org.uk
And devotees of Schubert’s deathless string quartet known as Death and the Maiden will be pleased to collect the two different accounts of it playing this week – by the Norwegian Engegard Quartet at Conway Hall October 10 (conwayhall.org.uk), and by the celebrated Brodsky Quartet at Kings Place October 14 (kingsplace.co.uk). It’s music you can never have too much of.