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Michael White’s classical news: London Song Festival; Don Giovanni; Proms; Proms at St Jude’s

01 July, 2021 — By Michael White

Don Giovanni. Photo: Mark Douet

THERE used to be a time when song recitals felt like an endangered species. People found them too intense, too difficult to follow – not least when the texts were in a foreign language. But that’s changed, I’m glad to say, thanks to a new breed of outstanding younger singers whose electrifying presentation is at least as good as rock stars (even without lights and mics), and to a growing universe of song-based festivals that offer them a platform.

The London Song Festival is actually one of the smaller fixtures – more modest than those at Oxford or Leeds – but it programmes interesting things. And to compensate for a season cut short last autumn by Covid, it’s running a mini-series this month at Hinde St Methodist Church, Marylebone: an intimate and comfortable venue, good for concerts.

For newcomers to song, a bonus here will be that everything has English texts – starting July 2, with a words and music exploration of the life of the composer Peter Warlock, which began auspiciously in the Savoy Hotel (where he somehow managed to be born) but ended badly with his head in a gas oven.

July 3 brings another exploratory programme (and another suicide) based around the life of Virginia Woolf and the female composers who were her contemporaries. Then on July 5 there’s music by three British composers whose songs are little known but worth hearing: Peter Wishart, Geoffrey Bush, and Malcolm Arnold whose centenary falls this year. Tickets MUST be booked in advance, online: londonsongfestival.org

• For obvious reasons the Royal Opera has been quiet of late, but this week it revives its old Kasper Holten staging of Don Giovanni: the one with the impressive if cumbersome set of a life-sized mansion, meant to suggest (as I recall) the teeming chambers of the Don’s mind. With reduced seating there’s been a run on tickets, despite eye-watering prices. But take note: from 16 Jul the show is available to watch online for £16. And with charismatic baritone Erwin Schrott in the title role (plus Gerald Finley as his side-kick Leporello) it’s more than worth it. Booking: roh.org.uk

• Talking of runs on tickets, general booking for the Proms opened this week; and though the season doesn’t start until July 30, the demand for the 1,000 seats available per night has been huge, with some concerts sold out already. So drop whatever you’re doing and go NOW to bbc.co.uk/proms or your only listening option will be radio!

Meanwhile, north London’s own Proms at St Jude’s finish their 2021 season this weekend in Hampstead Garden Suburb. It’s not been the same this year, with no socialising and reduced seating; but the concerts are still good, still raising money for North London Hospice and Toynbee Hall as ever. And they round off with an opera gala (based on Shakespeare settings) Saturday July 3, and the usual Last Night (featuring Thomas Gould in a Mozart violin concerto) on Sunday July 4. And while you’re there you can find out what’s happening with the restoration of St Jude’s spire: a tricky but fascinating piece of work in progress. Tickets: promsatstjudes.org.uk

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