Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
09 Mar 2006
For most of its 40 plus years the Adelaide Festival of Arts has had as its central attraction the Australian premieres of a landmark European opera like Wozzeck, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, The Fiery Angel or landmark contemporary works like Death in Venice, Nixon in China or El Nino presented within a few years of their world premieres.
2006 saw the local premiere of a contemporary work that has, in the few years since its premiere, achieved the same degree of success as the Britten or Adams' works, Jonathan Dove’s three act opera Flight. Originally performed at Glyndebourne in 1998, Flight has been produced in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, twice in the USA and subsequently revived at Glyndebourne in 2005. The Adelaide performances feature the Glyndebourne production directed by Geoffrey Dolton recreating Richard Jones’ original direction.
The original idea for Flight came from the true-life report of Mehran Nasseri, who lived for eleven months within the Charles de Gaulle Airport, the same story that inspired the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal. Set in an airport terminal, Flight concerns two couples, a stateless and passportless refugee, two flight attendants and an older woman. One couple, Bill and Tina are about to re-kindle their flagging marriage with a second honeymoon and self-help book. The other couple is a diplomat and his pregnant wife who suddenly refuses to leave with him. The older woman, Sandra, is waiting for her latest fiancée to arrive, this one she met at a bar in Cabrera. A storm halts all flights and all are now stranded for the night. The proceedings are watched over and commented on by the Flight Controller from her observation tower. While the Refugee begs small change from the passengers, the women get drunk, the habitually promiscuous flight attendants have quickies in the elevator and later the male attendant seduces the equally promiscuous Bill.
Much has been said of the easy accessibility of Dove's score. Experiencing the opera in performance reveals a blending the dramatic possibilities of opera seria with popular music styles. Dove, for instance, describes the very ordinary departure lounge chatter like the holiday plans of the very ordinary Bill and Tina in jaunty Rhumba rhythms not unlike the Leonard Bernstein of Wonderful Town. The similarities between Flight and a top-drawer musical composer like Bernstein or Stephen Sondheim are apt.
In a recent interview the conductor of the Adelaide performances, Brad Cohen referred to Dove's compositional style at the time as “evolving” and that “it just seems right.” Dove’s sound world does have an instinctive feel and sounds like a melting pot of musical styles assembled with the same seeming ease Sondheim blended the fairy tale music of Tchaikovsky and Ravel with his own orchestral palette in Into the Woods or a good film composer transfers symphonic thought into visual support. Later he can refer to encroaching storms in a style not unlike the build up to the storm in Britten’s Peter Grimes. None of this is pastiche, however, just a couple of hours of constantly and refreshingly varied music. In purely orchestral passages the depictions of jets taking off and landing do in orchestral terms for aircraft what Honegger’s Pacific 231 did for steam trains. Dove, in fact, has recently drawn an orchestral suite from Flight called “Airport Scenes” which might well take its place along side Honegger's famous opus.
In the Festival theatre, the variety of the music was given full head by Cohen and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Not surprisingly for an Englishman Dove's word setting descends from Britten, particularly Britten's break with the older English preference for one note per syllable so that the high voices especially have exuberant melismas that take ‘flight’ as often as any of the aircraft in the opera. The opera's only really dramatic character, the Refugee, is written for a counter-tenor and in often dramatic arioso form making him sound foreign to the other characters and the overall jollity of their music. David Walker’s voice is full and resonant, highly dramatic, and at far remove from the usual ‘early music’ sounding counter-tenor. Mary Hegarty who sang the Flight Controller at the opera’s Belgian premiere seems perfectly at ease, her high soprano, reaching up to high F and, not just the staccato pips of a Queen of the Night, but sustained phrases.
Nuala Willis, who created the Older Woman in 1998, reprises her role here. Willis's voice is a plaintive contralto that gives the comic but sad character’s realization that her holiday romancing days are over an air of melancholy. This sad character is a descendant of the love-lorn contraltos in Gilbert and Sullivan opera easily transposed into the twentieth century where she can contribute to a Gilbertian about marital relationships
“I stuck to my ex-husband like religion…I should have stuck to religion.
We always called each other names…Bastard! Moron! Rotten Sod!”
Just as the Older Woman may have stepped out of a Gilbert and Sullivan, Bill and Tina (the Brad and Janet of the opera world) and the flight attendants are stalwarts of British farce with their ‘carry on abroad’ antics or frenzied pantomime sex scenes. The libretto by April de Angelis merges farce and drama, particularly towards the end where the Diplomat’s wife gives birth on stage and the Refugee’s true plight is revealed. Like the music the libretto draws parallels with those of musicals and popular theatre in suggesting an embittered modern world even in a light-hearted story. The characters through their close encounters with each other emerge with a new perspective on their lot and voice their own personal revelations rather than draw a homogeneous moral.
With over sixty performances worldwide, a compact disc recording and forthcoming DVD Flight seems likely to join the still thin ranks of contemporary operas that survive alongside the standard repertoire.
Flight by Jonathan Dove
Adelaide Festival of Arts
Performance date 3 March 2006