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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Norma; Agrippina; St John Passion; National Youth Choir

06 May, 2021 — By Michael White

Kate Lindsey and Joyce DiDonato in the Met’s Agrippina. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

NOBODY in search of role models for good parenting would look to opera, which has some of the worst examples going. So there’s a touch of the tongue-in-cheek about this week’s free opera-streamings from the New York Met which are announced as specially chosen for Mother’s Day (as it happens to be in America this Sunday).

Any time May 7 you can watch Bellini’s Norma (plotline: vengeful mother threatens to kill her children to spite their father). Saturday has Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (mother murdered by deranged partner, leaving orphaned child). Sunday is Madam Butterfly (mother disembowels herself in front of child). And Monday brings Handel’s Agrippina (monstrous mother schemes to have psychotic son put on the throne).

Collective viewing only recommended for the strong of stomach, but the casts are enviable (with a lot of Joyce DiDonato). The Butterfly is the ravishing Anthony Minghella show that played at ENO in happier days. And if it all leaves you wondering where were social services? This is a question opera often begs. metopera.org

This Sunday, May 9, is a strong day for online concerts, with an interesting-looking St John Passion at 4pm from the superb Birmingham-based choir Ex Cathedra – whose performance sets this great work in the liturgical context of Bach’s time, enlarged with additional choral and organ music as its original audience would have expected, and provision for you to sing along with the chorales at home. Booking: excathedra.co.uk

Then at 8pm there’s a livestream from the Barbican of Mahler’s epic orchestral song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde, with the LSO under Simon Rattle and soloists Magdalena Kozena (aka Mrs Rattle) and Andrew Staples. Das Lied is effectively Mahler’s 9th Symphony, but the composer was wary of the persistent myth that after writing your 9th comes death, so he declined to give it a number. That said, the piece is nonetheless about the whirlwind brevity of life, firing with all cylinders until extinguished and fiercely exciting. Just the thing for the LSO to get its teeth into, though Covid restrictions make this a reduced orchestration. Booking: Barbican.org.uk

With time to kill, a lot of jazz performers have been in the studio, recording. And one that’s caught my ear is young guitarist Tom Ollendorff whose A Song for You issues this weekend on the Fresh Sounds label. Playing his own work with his own trio, he has something to say. His improvisation is compelling. And he’s clearly going places.

• Finally, if you’re aged 18-22 (I recall it, just) and enjoy singing, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain has online events this weekend to explain what the choir does and why you might like to join. The auditions process for 2021 starts this month. And though there are fees, there are also bursaries to cover them for anyone in need. So don’t hold back, it’s great experience. And who knows, there may even come a time when you’re allowed to sing collectively again in public. Details: nycgb.org.uk

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