Reviews - Music

Eugene Onegin; La traviata Conducted by Robin Ticciati

The Royal Opera House's new Eugene Onegin, conducted by Robin Ticciati, directed by Kasper Holten and designed by Mia Stensgaard, looks magnificent. Tchaikovsky's masterpiece, for many the nearest to perfection any opera gets, does not lend itself to updating. It is steeped in the Russia of Pushkin, whose 1833 verse novel is the basis for this libretto. In his first production for Covent Garden, Holten, director of opera for the ROH since 2011, places the action faithfully in that period, with an equal nod towards the 1870s when the opera was composed. Simon Keenlyside in the title role brings virility to the unpleasant, usually buttoned-up hero. You can see
why the teenaged Tatyana might fall for him, even if he is on the mature side. This Onegin delights in being louche, playful, arms folded, casual rather than stiff. He sings with flexibility, expression and, most of the time, a golden tone, suggesting more capacity for emotion than is usually evident: even brutes have their decent qualities. Onegin's own love awakening, years too late, uses the melody associated with the impetuous young Tatyana whom he had spurned at the start, and this will provoke a certain amount of fury. Whereas you can permanently deface a picture in a gallery, the same is not true of music. Directors may abuse, rape or even dismember an opera but, miraculously, the score itself retains an unassailable virginity.

Playing with passion for a patron

Luminaries of the contemporary classical-music world, from New York and points beyond, gathered at Merkin Concert Hall recently to remember one of their own. Ralph Kaminsky, who died in January 2012 at 85, was not a performer, composer or arts executive but a music lover with a passion for discovery and a benefactor whose quiet generosity bolstered his community. Performing in Ralph Kaminsky’s honour were representatives from five of the most prominent new-music ensembles in New York: Alarm Will Sound, Either/Or, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the JACK Quartet and the Talea Ensemble. The sizable audience included family
members, composers, record-label executives and others who had benefited from Kaminsky’s interests. Born in western Canada, Ralph Kaminsky began his career in academia; went on to hold positions in the fields of urban planning and economic diplomacy; and ultimately spent 23 years as a professor and administrator at New York University. In retirement he devoted considerable time and resources to his passion for modern music. And with his wife, Hester Diamond, he held private salons devoted to listening and discussion. After Charles Hack, another of the concert’s organizers, welcomed the audience and announced a new fund for contemporary music named in Kaminsky’s honour, testimony came solely in the form of the music Kaminsky loved and supported.

Ben Montague

It will not be too much of a leap to believe that this Kentish singer’s second crack at a music career may lead to rich rewards. You can be forgiven for asking, who is Ben Montague? But had things been different for the Kentish singer back in 2010, few would have to pose the question. Back then, singles Haunted, Broken and Can’t Hold Me Down enjoyed solid rotation on the radio waves, but neither record labels nor publishers ever came calling. Music didn’t prove a viable career, so Montague returned to work as a barman. Until, that is, a chance hearing of Haunted at a petrol station inspired him to try his luck once more. But this time around things are looking rosier.
Montague headed to Rockfield Studios with Dave Eringa (the man behind albums for Kylie and the Manics, among many others) to record this album, his third. And the investment has paid off: this is a cohesive, enjoyable set of songs. If Montague’s sound is somewhat predictable, one can’t fault its design. He operates in the centre of a Venn diagram, with boyband-style arena-friendly wares on one side and Script-recalling pop-rock crossover material on the other.

































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