Opera of the Month – Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is a show that has it all - love, drama and the comic element are perfectly combined in this opera written and composed by Richard Wagner. You now have the chance to watch the opera at the Royal Opera House between the 11th and 31st of March 2017.

Wagner’s opera was first performed in 1868 in Munich and is commonly known as one of the longest shows performed, since it consists of 3 acts and usually takes around 4 hoursThe story begins in mid 16th century when artist Walther falls in love with Eva. Her strict father wants her to marry someone from the Mastersingers’ Club and Walther is now faced with a challenge. Will he be able to defeat his rival, Sixtus, and win the Mastersingers’ competition or will the drama and difficulties crush his dream?

Even though the plot was drafted in 1845, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is really an opera of our times. According to Director Kasper Holten“Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is about the tension between the new and old, it's about the tension between populism and elitism. It's about a lot of things that preoccupy us in the world right now. We've set the production in a gentlemen's club, like they only exist in London. Women are not allowed in this club but one, the daughter of one of the masters, is to be put forward as a prize in a competition for a man to win”.

Through this opera, Wagner investigates the nature of art. Strong characters facing love and drama trying to achieve their dreams. The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is a glorious and profound comedy written to make you laugh and move you at the same time. Is this show real life transformed into art, a fight between tradition and innovation? If you attend the show, we’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts on our twitter page.

Muscat de Riversaltes – a wine made for Spring

March is the first month of Spring, and it’s all about refreshing flavours and vibrant colours.  Sweet pairings are the perfect way to start the season and we have the ultimate combination for you. Last week our post was about crème brûlée, a delectable dessert with a long history. Its rich, creamy texture and its crunchy caramelised crust make it the perfect light dessert for Spring and yes, we have managed to pair it with a sweet, refreshing dessert wine – the Muscat des Rivesaltes. 

Muscat de Riversaltes is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée in Roussillon, for fortified wines using the Muscat grape. All Muscat de Rivesaltes wines, are a specialty of the area and are classified as naturally sweet wines. The region of Roussillon is located between the French Pyrenees and the Mediterranean and the sunny, warm climate creates the perfect weather conditions for the grapes to ripe.

All Muscat de Rivesaltes wines are made from 2 different grape varieties. The Muscat Blanc variety provides aromas of exotic and citrus fruits while the Muscat of Alexandria gives a floral and ripe stone vibe. Each producer decides on the ratio of the varieties blended according to his preference, but the combination of the two usually gives the wine aromas of peach, lemon and mango.

This wine’s colour absolutely matches the colours of Spring. Pale gold sometimes with a silvery-green tinge in the beginning, as years go by it turns into deep gold with orange and amber notes. Its sugar levels are quite high (100g/l) and so is its alcohol level (15%). One glass of this honeyed, caramelly wine will be just enough! 

A match made in heaven, our Muscat de Rivesaltes and our crème brûlée served with raspberry and basil will not disappoint you. This combination is the perfect ending to a wonderful Spring night of French food and live opera.

Crème Brûlée – A Tale of Three Countries

Crème brûlée is a rich, creamy custard dessert covered with a hard toffee crust. Its perfect texture and sweetness have made crème brûlée one of the best desserts of all time. The story about where it comes from has many different versions but we cannot be entirely sure which one is true.

It takes only a few ingredients to create this exquisite dessert that was first recorded in the 1690s. Chef François Massialot wrote the recipe of crème brûlée in a cookbook, in which the sugar topping was melted and burnt, similar to how it is done today, but we are not sure he named the dessert “crème brûlée”.

But was that really the first version of crème brûlée? It is hard to trace its true origins, mostly because custards were a popular dessert during the Middle Ages.

Three countries, England, Spain and France claim they created the very first version of Crème brûlée, but which one was the first ?

The majority of people think that crème brûlée is a French dessert, because its name is French. It was not until the 19th century that the name “crème brûlée” was established. According to the early French version of the recipe, a pre-made caramelised disk was placed on top of the custard, which is very different to contemporary recipes or other versions of the old ones.

According to the Brits, Trinity College at Cambridge University was the birthplace of Crème brûlée. A student came up with the idea of burning sugar on the custard during the 17th century but the College’s kitchen staff did not take his advice until after he became a fellow. The dish was named “Trinity Burnt Crème” and is still one of the most delicious dishes served in the college’s dining room.  Even though it is hard to prove that this actually happened, the crème brûlée served at Trinity College is quite different to the version we know, as it is unsweetened with a thicker crust.

The Spanish, have their own version of the story.  They claim that “Crema Catalana” is the original version of crème brûlée and it originates back to the 18th century, which is much later than the British and French versions.  However there are two significant differences in crema catalana. It is not cooked in a bain marie and it is often mixed with orange or lemon zest. The Spanish version is also served cold with a hot caramelised sugar crust.

Due to the popularity of custards as desserts and tart fillings since the Middle Ages, we cannot be sure of the actual origins of crème brûlée. Whether it’s French, British or Spanish, we love all variations of it and believe it is a delectable dessert. When it comes to Bel Canto’s variation, our chef serves our crème brûlée with basil and raspberries for extra flavour and aroma!  

An Alternative Post-work Drinks Idea

It’s already Wednesday and we cannot wait for our Friday Funday to arrive and for the weekend to begin.

As per the British culture, the Friday after-work-drinks session with colleagues is a thing and according to statistics one in five UK employees will attend a pub crawling session with colleagues at least once a month, 11 per cent of whom will keep drinking until the end of the night.  According to Forbes Magazine, there are many advantages to attending this kind of events. You get to know your colleagues better and you bond with senior management in a more relaxed environment. Bel Canto offers the perfect ambiance for a post work drinks gathering.

At Bel Canto, you have the opportunity to have fun, bond with colleagues and eat high quality food while watching a live opera show and sipping a glass of exquisite French wine.  Here are a few reasons why you should book with us your next post work gathering.

The ideal setting: During your visit, you will be watching our singers/waiters perform a live opera show but there will also be plenty of pauses throughout so you can talk to and bond with your colleagues.

The food: The Bel Canto menu offers high quality French food with lots of options for you to choose from. Always remember that if you run out of icebreakers, commenting on the food is always a great way to start a conversation!

The fun: What can be more fun than singing? We are lucky enough to have some of the finest artists and singers from across the world perform at our restaurant.

Bel Canto’s Group Bookings Promotion: Booking as a group will unlock unique offers and discounts for your party.  You also have the option to choose one of our set menus and be aware of how much you will spend in advance. Get in touch with Bel Canto to find out more.

A post work gathering at Bel Canto, guarantees you an evening full of fun, great food and high quality drinks. You will get to promote your cultural side amongst your colleagues and managers, and also figure out what they actually like in terms of music, food and entertainment! Which might also make things easier for you for the next Secret Santa!

Opera of the Month - Partenope

A belated Happy Valentine’s day to all our readers! We hope you spent a wonderful day celebrating love in whichever way you saw fit. Whether you are single or not, newlywed or part of an old married couple, we can guarantee that you will consider yourself better off than the characters in this week’s opera. Next month, Handel’s comic opera Partenope will be playing at the ENO and, let us tell you, this is one tangled love web.

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First performed in 1730, as with many of Handel’s operas, this three-act piece was largely forgotten about until the 1980s – and almost never came into being at all. He originally proposed the idea to the Royal Academy of music in 1726, wanting to compose to Silvio Stampiglia’s 1699 libretto, which had already been adapted several times before, but the idea was rejected. Seen as too frivolous and uncommercial, the libretto lay on the shelf for several years before Handel took up the idea again, writing his first comic opera since Agrippina. Finishing the score just a fortnight before its London premiere, the work was a hit, running for seven performances and being revived twice – once that year, and then again in 1737.

Since then, it has been performed all over the world and this March the ENO is reviving its popular Christopher Alden version, first staged in 2008. Translated by British librettist Amanda Holden, this Olivier Award-winning production will star soprano Sarah Tynan as Partenope, mezzo Stephanie Windsor Lewis as Rosmira, and Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon as Arsace. Alden’s version is set in the 1920s with set design inspired by Man Ray’s Surrealist imagery.

Act One opens in Naples, at Queen Partenope’s house, where she is throwing a party. The guests include Arsace – her new beloved – Emilio and Armindo, both of whom are suitors for her hand, and an unknown guest called Eurimene (who is secretly Arsace’s former fiancée, Rosmira, in disguise) Thus commences a series of events which sees Armindo try (and fail) to let Partenope know how much he loves her, Rosmira consistently embarrassing Arsace, and Emilio suggesting a “war game” which nearly ends badly for Partenope and certainly does end badly for Emilio, who is disgraced. Things reach their crux when Eurimene challenges Arsace to a duel, and he must decide whether to fight the woman he once loved, or risk losing the woman he loves now… You’ll have to watch the opera itself to find out how that one works out. No spoilers here!

Handel’s work follows the basic structure and forms of the opera seria for which he is best known, but it is humorous in subject – with the typical cases of gender confusion and hidden identities – as well light-textured musically. Unusually for Handel, there is a comic quartet in the third act, and the work’s other notable features are the orchestral passages interspersed with ariosos and recitatives during act two’s “battle” scene.

In short, this is a charming, light-hearted work, with surprisingly feminist overtones – though, perhaps, not a roadmap for love in the real world…