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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Carmen; Bachfest; Saint-Saëns; Doubles

18 February, 2021 — By Michael White

Milos Milivojevic

FOR many opera-goers, one of the more welcome misses of the past year will have been perverse productions by stage directors more interested in outrage than enlightenment. But that said, outrage can be kind of fun. And if the sight of favourite opera characters stripped naked, smeared with excrement or rolling in urinals is your idea of catharsis, you might want to watch the new Calixto Bieito production of Carmen, livestreaming from the Vienna State Opera at 5pm UK time this Sunday.

When Bieito – a notoriously provocative director – staged the same piece for ENO back in 2012, it was actually one of his less extreme shows; and how closely this Vienna staging will be likewise I don’t know. But if it gets you apoplectic, you can always switch off – such are the benefits of watching online. And you won’t be wasting money, because it’s free-access. As are a batch of other, tamer stagings from Vienna streaming this week, including Bellini’s La Sonnambula (with heart-throb tenor Juan Diego Florez) 6pm Feb 20th, and Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore (with heart-throb baritone Erwin Schrott) 6pm Feb 22. Details: wiener-staatsoper.at

There’s no surprise that the Bath Bachfest isn’t running as usual this month, but it’s making an online effort with concerts streaming from the Wiltshire Music Centre over the weekend. Highlights are the vocal group Cardinall’s Musick, 7pm, Feb 19, with Bach’s Singet dem Herrn and other baroque rep; and The English Concert, 7pm, Feb 20, playing two of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Expect impeccable performances. Booking at bathbachfest.org.uk

• Sometimes dismissed as the author of “bad music well written”, Saint-Saëns has long been famous for two things: his Carnival of the Animals and opera Samson and Delilah. But in recent years his piano concertos also have edged into standard repertoire. And the popular Concerto No.2 – notable for the way it gets faster as it goes along, movement by movement, until the finale takes off like a rocket – features in a new season of Piano Explored concerts available online from St John’s Smith Square. The pianist Howard Shelley introduces the music, then performs it with the London Mozart Players. On demand for £8: londonmozartplayers.com

Of all musicians, the ones I most pity are accordionists – because there’s no heavier instrument you’re expected to carry on your own back. It’s like a sack of bricks. And I speak from experience, having (briefly) carried one for a friend, the virtuoso player Milos Milivojevic. I always marvel that the dead weight doesn’t interfere with his technique – which is amazing and on show in the first of a new concert series filmed at Stratford-on-Avon’s Playhouse with guitarist Craig Ogden and the Orchestra of the Swan. Called Doubles, it features music by Piazzolla, Bach, and the Belize-born composer Errolyn Wallen (whose interesting qualities include the fact that she lives in a remote lighthouse on the far north coast of Scotland: an extreme measure to avoid noisy neighbours). Accessible on demand for £10 from orchestraoftheswan.org

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