“In Swedish soprano Malin Bystrom, we come as near to perfection as we ever will: a petulant, imperious teenager becoming drugged with lust,” wrote Michael Church in his five-star Independent review for the third revival of David McVicar’s gory and provocative production of Richard Strauss’s SALOME at the Royal Opera House. “Her voice rides easily over the hundred-piece orchestra and the porcelain purity of her tone contrasts ever more starkly with her blood-bolstered presence. Wonderful.”
After six appearances since her Covent Garden debut in 2002, Malin returned for the ROH’s 2017/1018 Autumn season, playing Helene in LES VEPRES SICILIENNES in November and the biblical femme fatale SALOME in January.
Malin signed my sketch for me after I left it at the stage door.
Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai made his international debut as MacDuff in Verdi’s MACBETH at the Hamburg State Opera in January 2009 and later that year first appeared at the Royal Opera House, playing Rodolfo in LA BOHEME. He returned to Covent Garden last month as Lieutenant Pinkerton opposite Ana Maria Martinez in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, where he signed my drawing.
Argentina tenor Marcelo Puente is so good at being bad, he gets booed at the curtain call. Making his Covent Garden debut as Pinkerton, one of Opera’s great villains in the latest revival of Puccini’s MADAMA BUTTERFLY at the Royal Opera House, the 38 year old has fulfilled a fourteen-year dream to perform at the iconic venue. Taking a break from his opera scholarship in Düsseldorf in the summer of 2003 he came to London and took a job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant near the ROH. They found out he was a singer so he performed between waiting tables and everyday passed the Opera House dreaming one day he would be on the famous stage. He actually gave up medical school and changed his career direction after hearing a recording of Pavarotti.
The reviews have been excellent. Tim Ashley, in the Guardian also mentioned opera audiences habit of booing reprehensible on stage characters and commented, when Marcelo takes his curtain call they greet him with “the kind of noise usually accorded a pantomime villain, despite giving one of the most complete and convincing portrayals of the role to be heard for some time.” He went on to say that, “Some might argue that the response validates his characterisation, though whether it’s a fitting acknowledgement for such a superb achievement seems to me debatable.”
Known as one of the great singing actresses of our time, American opera star Patricia Racette returned to Covent Garden replacing Martina Serafin in the role of Georgette in Il TABARRO in February 2016. Associated with the world’s leading orchestras in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, NewYork and London, Patricia has excelled in Puccini and Verdi operas. Her well-known roles include Violetta in LA TRAVIATA, both Mimi and Musetta in LA BOHEME, Cio-Cio San in MADAMA BUTTERFLY and Desdemona in OTELLO. I left this montage sketch of Patricia at the Royal Opera House last February and when it didn’t come back after a month I thought it was a goner…but it returned this week it arrived back almost a year later, signed and dedicated.
Two of America’s young and up-and-coming opera singers, soprano Corinne Winters and mezzo-soprano Angela Brower both made their Covent Garden debut last month as the leads in the new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘fiancé-swapping’ Italian ‘buffa’ (comic) opera COSI FAN TUTTE, currently running at the Royal Opera House. It’s full title ‘Cosi fan tutte Ossia La Sculoa deli amanti’ literally means ‘Thus Do They (women) All’, but is usually translated ‘Women Are Like That’ or ‘The School of Lovers’.
The Libretto (that’s the words) was written by Lorenzo Du Ponte and was first performed at Vienna’s Burgtheater in January 1790. Fiancées and sisters Fiordiligi (Corinne) and Dorabella (Angela) discover that their lovers are leaving to “go to war’ and two handsome strangers in disguise arrive on a mission of seduction. My mission was a less lofty aspiration-sigduction, and Corinne and Angela were happy to oblige, signing my sketch
This is the second sketch I drew of Bulgarian opera soprano Sonya Yoncheva. The first one she signed at the Royal Opera House last summer when she performed Violetta in LA TRAVIATA. It was dedicated to me and signed with her shortened ‘Sonya’ sig. This one I mailed to her agent in Switzerland prior to that and it came back last week with a full autograph in silver sharpie no less.
Sonya is returning to Covent Garden this month to replace Anna Netrebko in the title role of Bellini’s masterpiece NORMA. It’s the second time she has replaced the Russian opera star, after stepping into the role of Marguerite in FAUST in 2014. Sonya will also extend her London season playing Antonia in LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN in November.
The cult cabaret trio, The Tiger Lillies performed their latest stage piece, LULU – A MURDER BALLAD at the Royal Opera House this month. With their trademark demon / clown face paint; composer, singer and accordionist Martyn Jacques, bass player Adrian Stout and percussionist Jonas Gollard presented the ‘brilliantly twisted’ song cycle distillation of Frank Wedekind’s dangerous, unpredictable and tragic heroine, Lulu played by Laura Caldow. Described as part grand guignol, part seedy vaudeville and part grunge cabaret the trio are part of a centuries-long tradition of art that challenges social and cultural conventions.
In his four-star review for The Stage, Neil Norman wrote, “Martyn Jacques’ trio are jaunty, post-punk night crawlers, renegade musicians who cleave to the after-dark melodrama of sex,death and the macabre”.
I left this sketch of Martyn and Laura at the ROH last week and they kindly signed and returned it for me.
“One hell of a way to make a Royal Opera debut” is how Tom Service headlined his Guardian article as Russian soprano Ekaterina Bakanova became the talk of the opera world on 4 July.
She stepped in to sing Violetta in the last show of this season’s La traviata at Covent Garden with only hours’ notice and “gave the performance of her life”.
The evening’s scheduled Violetta, Sonya Yoncheva woke up unwell and by lunchtime was forced to cancel her appearance. It just so happened, Ekaterina was rehearsing that morning at the ROH for her role as Musetta for her Covent Garden debut in Puccini’s La Boheme on 9 July. With only five hours’ notice, she was asked to stand in for Sonya.
She agreed. Apparently she had a ticket for that evening’s performance, so she got to see the show form a much closer vantage point (hopefully they gave her a refund!) She had played the role before, but this was a whole new production and in one of the world’s biggest opera houses.
Ekaterina received a deserved standing ovation performing without a slip. “She had the audience spellbound from pretty well her first notes and her scintillating vocal power… embodied the desperation, dramatic extremity and existential plight of Violetta more completely than any other performance I have seen”, wrote Tom Service.
What better reason to draw a sketch… as if I needed one. This is a quick portrait of Ekaterina and a drawing of her as Musetta in the Torino production of La Boheme in 2013. I left it with the great staff at the ROH stage door and Ekaterina returned it straight away, signed and dedicated.
According to VOGUE magazine, Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva is “Opera’s brightest star” after two remarkable performances at the Metropolitan in New York last winter. Both appearances were not originally scheduled, but fate intervened, propelling her onto one of the world’s most famous stages as a late replacement for both the role of Mimi in LA BOHEME, only five weeks after giving birth to her son and a month later, playing Violetta in Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA.
“Her dizzingly swift and serendipitous ascent to Opera’s Most Buzzed About Soprano” is how VOGUE described her performances.
This was nothing new for Sonya. I first became aware of her prowess last April when she once again replaced the original singer-in this case none other than Anna Netrebko-in the role of Marguerite in Gounod’s FAUST at the Royal Opera House to rave reviews.
She returned to Covent Garden last month for a few performances as Violetta in LA TRAVIATA and signed this portrait study for me.
Several of the world’s greatest opera stars returned to the Royal Opera House to bid farewell to the final staging of John Copley’s La Bohème, notably Russian soprano Anna Netrebko as Mimi and Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja as her lover Rodolfo. Puccini’s weepie has had 26 revivals and well over 200 sold out performances.
It’s one of the most popular classics and the Royal Opera’s best loved staging, regularly revived since its opening night in 1974 and now for the last time. Anna and Joseph’s final performance was televised as part of ROH’s Live Cinema season to selected locations across the UK, on 10 June. I actually saw part of it on the big screen at Trafalgar Square – the affecting duet in Act 3 between Anna and Joseph.
The Telegraph’s Rupert Christiansen wrote in his four star review “star casting gives a fitting farewell to John Copley’s 40 year production”.
“Calleja is passionate, lyrical, beautifully impassive. Netrebko sounds glorious and acts with detailed naturalism that can be startlingly effective,” wrote Tim Ashley in The Guardian.
I left a drawing at the ROH stage door for Anna to sign on her final night and it came back, written in gold ink… nice touch.