From Audible to SoundCloud, Spotify to Youtube, BBC Sounds to OperaVision, the team share their favourite recordings and new discoveries.
Director of Opera
The Beatles are always on my playlist but the overriding sense of optimism in their music makes it especially good for now.
Haydn’s string quartets. I only really got in to Haydn about five years ago. As soon as it became clear that the current situation was going to go on for some time, I decided to listen to the string quartets in order. All 68 of them. One per day.
David Bowie is another always artist, and always while I am cooking.
I have been unable to listen to Onegin, Rigoletto or anything else from our 2020 season as it is too raw at the moment. So on to #OHP2021 and well . . . to be continued.
During the daily exercise, I run listening to talking books or podcasts. I’m currently revisiting my childhood and the innocent times of the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge, and enjoying Stephen Fry reading Sherlock Holmes on Audible.
Lastly, Nina Simone. Always. Pain and hope.
With so much time at home, working or cooking or doing nothing, you tend to explore further or revisit old favourites in your listening. As ever, music is about mood and the mood swings wildly! I don’t listen to as much classical or opera as you might imagine but during lockdown I have found myself turning to Sir John Barbirolli’s recordings of Delius. Particular favourites are the Irmelin Prelude, The Walk to the Paradise Garden (from A Village Romeo and Juliet) and Brigg Fair.
I’m a worshipper of the great Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist, John Martyn. His album One World waxes and wanes from powerful, rhythmic anger to rhapsodic, unspeakably gorgeous songs of love and heartbreak. There is no more beautiful song than ‘Couldn’t love you more’. I have also been exploring more of the South African singer Sibongile Khumalo, particularly her wonderful 2016 album, Breath of Life.
Neapolitan songs filled my childhood home, and I still love to listen to them, especially when cooking! Roberto Murolo is the master. His performance of ‘O sole mio’ is no cheesy Sorrento tourist version. It is beautifully sung, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, and delivered in authentic, lyrical Neapolitan dialect. Murolo’s album Antologia della canzone partenopea Napoletana features a stonking 110 songs that date back to the 12th century and is a definitive chronological history of the tradition. The evocative mournfulness can bring me to tears of melancholy and memory.
Finally, I like a bit of uplift from time to time so I will be turning to George Duke’s Brazilian Love Affair frequently.
Research and Repertoire
The memory of the last concert I attended in March, by the London Symphony Orchestra under Antonio Pappano, is so vivid I can almost taste it, like rust. Everyone in the hall that night knew what was coming, especially those on stage, and the grief, love and defiance in their performance of Vaughan Williams’s Sixth Symphony was startling.
Former ‘go-to’ recordings became strangely painful, especially opera, so I turned to Samuel West’s daily recordings of poetry on Soundcloud. The one exception was Handel. My stepmother is self-isolating, and I have been sending her one aria a day, as a soundtrack for her morning coffee. With over forty operas and nearly thirty oratorios, we are unlikely to run out of material.
When my son came home from university the kitchen playlist changed to Joe Pass, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley and Joni Mitchell’s Mingus – a musical common ground. Of course I cracked. First it was Alice Coote’s recording of Mahler’s song cycles. Then Donald MacLeod’s sequence of programmes with Jonathan Biss on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas in BBC Radio Three’s Composer of the Week slot, a model of intelligent broadcasting. Donald warned me that I would cry, and I did. Pain and hope, indeed.
My lockdown playlist is of the ‘pick’n’mix’ sort – pretty specific but hugely variable! It’s very dependent on what I’m doing; whether that’s work related, playing the piano or painting, or just watching TV with my parents (the latest being a Dolly Parton concert). I’ve been trying to make the most of the OperaVision website, which streams operas from across the globe. I’ve started listening to more of Grieg’s piano repertoire – his ‘Lyric Pieces’ and ‘Wedding Day at Troldhaugen’ for example. While painting it’s a more contemporary playlist, including R&B, jazz and folk-infused music by Celeste, Olivia Dean, Cosmo Sheldrake, to name a few. Oh, and it’s randomly interspersed with some Bollywood music (try ‘Fitoori’ from the film Bajirao Mastani or ‘Ghoomar’ from Padmaavat, if you’re intrigued…).
Head of Marketing
I visited Rome at the beginning of March, managing to get what was literally the final flight home before the lockdown in Italy started. The soundtrack to Paolo Sorrentino’s film, The Great Beauty – a love letter to Rome – evokes fond memories of that sunny weekend away before this strange and worrying period properly began. The soundtrack intertwines recordings of some of my favourite pieces by John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Vladmir Martynov and Henryk Górecki, speckled with the odd dance/electronic flick (Bob Sinclar’s A far l’amore), to capture perfectly both the spirituality and serenity of the city’s hidden churches and corners, and the vibrant social scene.
Head of Development
My lockdown listening has been fairly eclectic. I really enjoyed Ólafsson’s new release Debussy – Rameau, which is great for exploring these two French composers and a fantastic reminder of how rich the French Baroque repertoire is. Lully’s Regina coeli, Mondonville’s Dominus regnavit and Rameau’s operas Platée and Les Indes galantes are all available on YouTube.
Another new album is Laura Marling’s Song For Our Daughter. The album lasts just over half an hour and has an inward-looking, introverted feeling. It feels more like an intimate live gig than a series of singles and I recommend listening to it in one go. When I’ve needed something more upbeat – particularly for the sunnier days – I’ve been listening to Vulfpeck. If you don’t know this American funk band, 1612 is a good starting point.
Finally, every Spring I seem to come back to the Beatus Vir by Niccolò Jommelli, also available on YouTube. This composer is probably better known for his operas, including Armida abbandonata and Didone abbandonata. In the current climate, I’m trying to avoid anything involving abandonment and the Beatus Vir is so bright and uplifting with a beautiful (and devilish) solo.