Dmitri Hvorostovsky: a celebration

March 18, 2018

This evening I had the great honour to attend the London memorial for Dmitri Hvorostovsky, organised by the Royal Opera House. It was a wonderful celebration of his life and work. All the singers, musicians, and Covent Garden staff performed for free, which on its own was a great testament to how much he was loved and adored in London.

Bill Bailey introduced the concert. He is a neighbour and family friend of the Hvorostovsky family and his humour and warmth helped make the evening more of a celebration. Performers included the amazing Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov, Sumi Jo, and many others.

There were two films with Dmitri himself – one from the very beginning of his career in Cardiff, and the other from Il Trovatore. It was incredible to hear his voice in the Royal Opera House again, surrounded by his family, friends, colleagues and fans.

Hvorostovsky was born in Siberia, worked all over the world and in the end made his home in London. As I was listening to his voice, which was so powerful, glorious and clear, I was struck once again by how much culture, friendship and love connect us. We feel it in our hearts and we know it through music.

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On the Royal Opera’s Carmen – Goryachova saves the day

February 6, 2018

First of all, congratulations to Anna Goryachova on her debut in Covent Garden. It’s always a pleasure to see Russian stars here and she really did shine. A truly beautiful woman with a strong fantastic voice and acting skills to match. I would go as far as to say that she is the next Netrebko in the making. I can’t wait to see her again in the Queen of Spades next year..

Now to the production. What happened? What happened to the set? 3 hours of just the same grey stairs really did not impress. And then Carmen wore a gorilla suit? That seriously happened.

Although overall I did enjoy the opening night. For those still deciding whether to go here is my guidance:

  • Is this going to be your first opera?

If yes, don’t go. There are better ways to start, for example, you can’t go wrong with the Italians.

  • Have you seen Carmen before many times?

If yes and you loved it as it is, think carefully before going. This production has changed it quite significantly and it may be too painful to adjust.

If yes and you are bored of all the previous productions (and how many Carmens have there been!) – go. If you are open-minded enough and are looking for new interpretations, the Royal Opera House certainly obliges.

  • Do you just enjoy beautiful singing and a nice evening out in Covent Garden?

Go, the cast is so fantastic and made the evening special despite a novel production. Goryachova, of course, but also Francesco Meli (who we saw before in Il Travatore) and Kostas Smoriginas – truly superb and worth seeing.

I still do feel bad about people who are now going to think that Carmen is just this – grey stairs, no colours, gorilla suits.. I promise there is more to it, usually. However, this opera stands or falls on the actress playing Carmen and here, without a doubt, it stands tall.

 

Top 10 cultural highlights of 2017

January 2, 2018

2017 was an eventful year for culture. My new year resolution last year was to go to more different theatres. Well, it was certainly achieved! In 3 countries and 10 different venues I saw operas, ballet, plays, a panto, a carol concert, a jazz concert and a rock concert played on cellos. This year was particularly memorable because we went to La Scala and Bolshoi theatre for the first time – both absolutely incredible.

10. Christmas Carols with readings by Rupert Graves from Sherlock and others (Temple Church)

9. Sleeping Beauty (The Chipping Norton Theatre)

8. Chris Potter (Blue Note, Milan)

7. Apocolyptica (South Bank Centre) / Hypnotic Brass Ensamble (Electric Brixton)

6. Three Sisters (Piccadilly Theatre)

5. Il Trovatore (The Royal Open House)

4. Queen Anne (Haymarket Theatre)

3. Silfida ballet (Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow)

2. Don Giovanni (La Scala, Milan)

  1. Cavalleria rusticana / Pagliacci (The Royal Opera House).

What a year! Next year I hope to see more plays. Also as this is going to be my last year as a ‘young friend’ of the Royal Opera House I think I will spend more time there again. I will start quite soon by seeing Carmen on opening night. Anna Goryachova, a Russian mezzo-soprano, will make her debut that very evening so I look forward to supporting her.

In 2017 the world’s culture has also suffered a terrible, terrible loss – Dmitry Hvorostovsky left us. My whole family and I have adored him, certainly all of my life. Not only was he the best opera singer, he sang lots of traditional Russian and Soviet songs and has filled the lives of many people across the world with happiness. I was so fortunate to have seen him in Un Ballo in Maschera in Covent Garden in 2015 and I will cherish that memory forever. He died age 55 which reminds us again that we need to live now and enjoy life now.

I wish you all a healthy, interesting and joyful New Year!

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Congratulations to Vitaliy Bilvy..

January 28, 2017

.. on his superb debut at the Royal Opera House as a particularly evil baddie – Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. I hope that he will return to Covent Garden many many times and I will get to listen to his marvellous voice again.

While I am on Il Trovatore, how amazing was Anita Rachvelishvili as Azucena? Very. Mind you, she did have the juiciest bits and got to reveal the most interesting plot twists. Without giving too much away, I would recommend thinking carefully before murdering someone and seeing Il Travatore – still 4 performances left.

My cultural education in 2016 (quick review)

December 31, 2016

Here is a list of my top 10 cultural experiences of 2016:

 

  1. Onegin – Royal Opera House

 

  1. Running Wild – Regents Park Open Air Theatre

 

  1. Christmas Carols – Royal Albert Hall

 

Bernard Cribbins read out of .. well, a Christmas Carol..

 

  1. Tosca – Royal Opera House

 

  1. Stravinsky at the Proms – Royal Albert Hall

 

  1. Anastasia – Royal Opera House

 

This ballet was yet another proof that Natalia Osipova is the greatest dancer of our age.

 

  1. Les Mis – Queen’s Theatre

 

  1. Boris Godunov – Royal Opera House

 

I wasn’t previously a fan of Bryn Terfel but after this opera, this very much changed!

 

  1. Jesus Christ Superstar – Regents Park Open Air Theatre

 

Tyrone Huntley was fantastic as Judas! This production returns next year and I will definitely be seeing it again.

 

  1. No Man’s Land – Wyndham’s Theatre

 

It was such a joy to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on stage together. This play was very dark but at the same time full of warmth and humour – definitely the best experience this year!

2016 has been another fantastic year to enjoy culture in London. I hope that 2017 is even better (and I hope to write more reviews!)

roh3

 

On fundraising with a heart full of love.

February 19, 2016

Alice: ‘I work for a charity’

Bob: ‘Aww’

Alice: ‘ .. as a fundraiser’

Bob: ‘Ah. *avoids eye contact*’

 Any fundraiser knows that conversation well.

Why do people want charities to do well but feel so uncomfortable around fundraisers? How can that be changed? Are all the headings below from Les Mis? Let’s find out.

‘There was a time when love was blind’

.. but now people are getting more educated about charities and increasingly care about how their money is being spent. We are learning that simply being for or against something (poverty, systems, abuse) doesn’t do it anymore. Many want to support those with solutions, or those actively looking for positive solutions, charities that are not just doing something but doing that something well. There are still charities that need to adjust to the new age of transparency and accountability and this very much includes fundraisers.

‘I don’t want your money, sir.’

OK, so no one is expecting fundraisers to say quite that, but no one wants them to get cash by harassing pensioners. Where is the line?

I think the starting point is to encourage a culture where all involved are respectful of the fact that people’s money is theirs, not the fundraiser’s. Just because a cause may be just, that doesn’t give anyone any kind of ethical claim over other people’s money.

‘Look down and show some mercy if you can!’

I strongly disagree with guilting or shaming people into giving. People may choose not to donate at all and it is their choice. Working for a charity doesn’t make one holier-than-thou and does not give an excuse to judge others.

‘Who cares about your lonely soul, we strive towards a larger goal’

Just no. If people decide to donate, it’s their prerogative to choose which cause is worthy of their money. Fundraisers can make their case, maybe try to persuade, but must never assume that they know ‘what really matters’ better than an individual. Giving is personal, and thoughtful giving is based on values that will not be easily influenced by the latest fundraising trend. If you can match people’s values and demonstrate a significant impact, your cause may become their cause.

‘Crying at all is not allowed’

I think that giving money to charity is a wonderful thing. It’s a privilege to be able to shape the kind of society that you want to live in. Fundraisers have an important role to present people with options to make the world a better place. Good fundraisers have a chance to make giving enjoyable, making donors feel empowered and valued.

‘There’s a new world for the winning!’

There is a new world to be won! There are so many opportunities for winning support by ethical fundraising now. Being respectful, ethical and appreciative will lead to increasing support. Because people want fundraisers to be nice (and it’s nice to be nice) and don’t like being tricked. Getting back (or going forward?) to these basic values gives us an opportunity to say ‘I am a fundraiser’ with pride.

My cultural education in 2015 (quick review)

December 31, 2015
  1. ‘Un Ballo in Maschero’ (ROH)

An enjoyable opera, made more enjoyable by seeing Dmitri Hvorostovskiy for the first time. It got poor reviews, which were not deserved in my opinion. The material itself is on the boring side but it was beautifully performed.

2. ‘Andrew Chenier’ (ROH)

The best discovery of this year. Jonas Kaufmann was beyond words – amazing! It was one of those rare experiences when you know that you are sitting (or standing in my case) during something very very special. Read more here

3. ‘Letters live’ (Masons Hall)

I saw Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Kylie Minogue. Praise here

4. ‘Eugene Onegin’ ballet (Royal Ballet)

Natalia Osipova was absolutely divine in this beautiful production.

5. ‘Madama Butterfly’ (ROH)

The stakes were high as this is one of my favourite operas of all time, however it did not disappoint at all! Kristina Opalais was great and I actually cried. Patrick’s first guest review

6. ‘Fleurs’ opera recital (Conway Hall)

It was a fine way to spend an evening without any cost and I heard a couple of my favourite poems performed in a new way. However, I am not sure if I would pay money to see it again.

7. ‘La Boheme’ (ROH)

Not the best production of Boheme but as Anna Netrebko was Mimi it was magical nevertheless! More details

8. ‘Raven Girl’ (Royal Ballet)

I am far from being an expert on modern ballet but this one was very gothic and interesting

9. ‘Sylvia’ ballet (Mariinskiy)

The highlight of our trip to St Petersburg. Very confident and forceful ballet. Almost rough, rather than elegant – a very interesting viewing, full of dramatic explosions and thunder-like notes. I didn’t write a review but here are some words from my diary describing the ballet – strong, raw, powerful, perfect, magical, a privilege to witness. Vladimir Shklyarov.

10. ‘Eugene Onegin’ opera (ROH)

While Hvorostovskiy was as brilliant as one can predict, the production was not as good as it could have been.

Overall, 2015 was a great year for my cultural education. Maybe I became more spoilt in my preferences – but it’s only because I had so many great experiences, my standards are incredibly high! I am glad to finish the year even more in love with London and the cultural opportunities it provides. Happy New Year!

Mariiniski

On the Raven Girl (Royal Ballet)

October 6, 2015

Today I went to see the double bill of Raven girl and Connectone at the Royal Opera House.

I never wrote a ballet review before (although I’ve seen many) because I am not sure how to do that. However, this ballet took many risks so on this rare occasion I shall too.

Firstly, let me tell you about the Raven Girl. It narrated a story in a brave different way, making the experience challenging and thought-provoking. It was lovely to see a new story being told, so there were no pre-existing impressions, leaving the mind to wander and give full power to one’s imagination. It was amazing to see a ballet that dark. It was beautiful,  gothic, scary – simply wonderful. The visual effects were incredible – on par with Tim Burton movies – creating a brilliantly nightmarish atmosphere. A scene with a doctor attaching metallic wings to the Raven Girl was truly terrifying – I never felt this way seeing ballet before. Ballet fans know that if you have Sarah Lamb, Edward Watson and Olivia Cowley on stage, magic happens, and this time was no different.

The second ballet – Connectone was also beautiful but less impressive. I didn’t get the neuroscience theme and it felt a little forced. However, I got to see my favourite ballet dancer – Stephen McRae again so I was very happy anyway.

What made an evening even more unforgettable was sitting next to and chatting with Kenneth Tindall, former Principal of the Northern Ballet and choreographer. He was very friendly and it was fascinating to discuss ballet with such a knowledgable person.

To conclude: go see the Raven Girl. Tickets start from 2 pounds (yes, 2 pounds) – you will not be disappointed.

10 years in the UK

August 25, 2015

Exactly 10 years ago today I arrived in Heathrow to have an adventure in the UK. I was 16, already in love with England and with a place at Oxford & Cherwell college.

Many things happened since and my adventure is still going. Here are 10 things that I experienced on the journey to get to know the UK better.

1. Education

Studying here is the main reason why I moved and I am still studying! After finishing my college, and an undergraduate degree in law, I am only a month away from finishing my Masters Degree. I love studying in this country because you don’t just have to memorise things for the sake of passing exams but get to really evaluate the issues. Critical thinking is essential to getting good grades and that is the very essence of why the English university system is one of the best in the world.

2. Politics

I could write a lot here but I will mention a few highlights. I was involved in local, national and European elections and by-elections and had a chance to see how the English political system works. What I found most interesting is how easy it is to be involved, how competing interests are managed and how realistic it is for grassroots campaigners to influence real change. I had cake with the former Deputy Prime Minister, had a drink with the Monster Raving Loony Party, helped win a few elections and shared the disappointment of losing many more. I made great friends in politics and their enthusiasm made me not only appreciate how amazing England is but also how many people there are who are striving to make it even better. Oh, and I sat in the House of Lords!

3. Parties

Many parties have been had in the last 10 years. From drinking and playing chess in one of the Oxford colleges, to dancing all night with a bunch of goths, to intense debates about the meaning of life that last for 16 hours… I met many amazing people in England, some of them, I am certain, are my friends for life but more about them later. In general, I found that English people are interested in life, loyal and have drinking capacities that are no less than of those from my Motherland.

4. Culture

I have had unforgettable cultural experiences in England, many of which I shared on this blog. The highlights are seeing a Shakespeare play in Stratford with David Tennant in the main role, meeting opera stars at the after-show party in Glyndeborne, seeing Benedict Cumberbatch live and many many trips to the Royal Opera House. I also met Emma Watson from Harry Potter, went to a Doctor Who convention dressed as the TARDIS (definitely the finest television in all time and space) and saw the New College choir in one of the oldest English churches. As a Russian girl, culture is very important to my life and England proved to be more than capable of satisfying my soul.

5. Work places

Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been very interested in how places work. In the past 10 years I worked in pubs, charities and even a military organisation. That gave me a unique perspective of how different areas of English life work from the inside. Now I work for an amazing charity called LawWorks, which supports access to justice.

6. Legal world

After years and years of studying English Law, I am still in awe of its traditions, practices and complications.  I am very lucky to work in the heart of legal London with amazing lawyers who give up their time to help those who can’t afford legal advice and are not eligible for legal aid. I’ve only been there for a couple of months but I am struck by just how generous and passionate so many lawyers are. This kind of generosity is fundamental to British culture. Oh, and I sat in the Supreme Court!

7. Diversity

I am still amazed by how many different accents there are in the UK. Not only from foreigners, such as myself, but local people too. I spent time in Hastings, Oxford, Northampton, London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh and different bits of the Countryside, including the West Country, Pembrokeshire, Oxfordshire and the Lake District. Each place has its unique identity – it is truly fascinating. Apart from one time when a drunken football fan was shouting ‘dirty Russian’ at me, I always felt very welcome here. I am eternally grateful to all who welcomed me in this country and made me feel that my foreign origin is an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. There has been a lot of negative press about immigration recently but in my experience I found that British people are truly hospitable and inclusive.

8. The Queen

We were invited to to the Royal Garden Party in the Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen. She looked lovely. Most people I know here don’t approve of the monarchy but I absolutely love living in a Kingdom.

9. Friends

There have also been challenges in living in the UK but a problem is not really a problem if you have family and friends to help you through it. I am incredibly lucky. Firstly, my own family sacrificed lots to afford to bring me here and always believed that I can succeed and achieve anything that I want. Secondly, there are so many friends and families of friends who always supported me and allowed me to share lots of wonderful moments in their lives. The key families are the Abbass-Saal family, who were my host family for many summers in Hastings while I was still at school; the Fine family, who not only let me live with them for a while but also supported me in the most crucial moments, without them I would not be able to stay here. Also, the Power family for many parties in Oxford and free holidays in Wales, and the Heaton family for many challenging and fascinating discussions (and also many parties in Oxford). I’ve never been alone or lonely in 10 years thanks to all my lovely friends. There are too many of them to mention in this blog but they know who they are.

10. Marriage

The last but the most important thing that happened to me while I’ve been here is finding my soul mate, a fellow Hobbit, Patrick. Considering my obsession with the UK and ginger people, it came as no surprise to anyone that my husband is British. We got engaged after a few months of knowing each other and now we’ve been married for over 4 years. My parents-in-law are celebrated academics, my sisters and brothers in law are all incredible lovely people and I am privileged to be a part of the Murray family. Oh, and their great great grandfather wrote the Oxford English Dictionary. #justsaying

On reflection, 10 years ago I made the right decision and I hope to have many more adventures in the UK. While Russia will always be my Motherland, I can honestly say that England feels like home.

Here is us celebrating in the Shard!

On La Bohème with Anna Netrebko (2015)

May 24, 2015

Dreams come true. Last night I saw Anna Netrebko – the best opera singer in the world, the legend and pride of Russia, and she was as fantastic as one expects.

I was very lucky to see her as Mimi in the opening night of La Bohème at the Royal Opera House. First night celebrations went really well, I’ve never seen such an atmosphere in the ROH!

Not that it was all perfect. It is difficult to sing high praise to a production that for some inexplicable reason added so much crude ‘humour’ into the opera. La Bohème has fantastic humour in its text already and it’s enough. Also, when Musetta sings Quango m’en vo’ solutta, one of the most recognised songs from the opera, why would you put her somewhere upstairs at the very edge of the stage, where no one could see or hear her? I have to admit my bias, I am extremely spoiled with a perfect Musetta – Susanna Philips, who in the Met production was so divine,  it has proven to be impossible (so far)  to be nearly as good as her. Still, they should have made their Musetta presence felt, it is not in her Act 1 nature to hide!

It is always lovely to discover singers who you would want to see again. This week’s it is Joseph Calleja (Rodolfo), Lucas Meachem (Marcello) and Marco Vinco (Colline).

However, most importantly, Anna Netrebko was there. It made everything amazing and the whole experience magical. I am overwhelmed with joy and can’t really comprehend that less than 24 hours ago it really happened.

There are plenty more performances left, lots of tickets available if you queue in the morning, don’t miss this opportunity! What I am trying to say is: I recommend it very much!

Here is a clip of Anna Netrebko: