Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Yvette Bonner (Sarah), Roderick Williams (Aiden) [Photo by Hans van den Bogaard courtesy of De Nederlandse Opera]
17 May 2010

Michel van der Aa : After Life at the Barbican, London

“If you could take any one memory with you to eternity, which one would you choose?” In Michel van der Aa’s After Life several people meet in a waiting room.

Michael van der Aa: After Life

Roderick Williams: Aiden; Richard Stuart: Mr Walter; Yvette Bonner: Sarah; Margriet van Reisen: Ilona; Claron McFadden: Chief; Helena Rasker: Bryna Tessa; Juul; Flint; Bert: participants. Asko/Schoenberg. Otto Tausk: conductor. Michel van de Aa: director, video script. Robby Duiveman: costumes. Barbican Theatre, London, 15th May 2010.

Above: Yvette Bonner as Sarah and Roderick Williams as Aiden

All photos by Hans van den Bogaard courtesy of De Nederlandse Opera

 

They’ve just died, but they must examine their lives, and pick one memory to take with them before they can journey on. One memory to summarize a whole lifetime? It’s not easy. Effectively, they’re pondering what their lives might have meant. It’s a powerful psychological concept, strikingly adapted as theatre.

At the premiere in 2006, Shirley Apthorp in the Financial Times described the opera as “The Gesammstkunstwerk of the Future”. Michel van der Aa mixes live orchestra with electronica, live performers with ordinary people captured on film. That’s not specially innovative in itself, but van der Aa takes the concept further, blending art and reality. Singers and musicians perform a score, while ordinary people speak spontaneously. Van der Aa abandoned the idea of script altogether: people simply turned up at his studio, and talked spontaneously. Ordinary people, but extraordinary lives.

Perhaps that’s part of After Life’s message too. More emotionally articulate people have more insight into what makes them what they are, but even the most mundane life has meaning.. What of those who are blocked in some way ? Mr Walter ( Richard Suart) looks back on a “so-so job, a so-so marriage”, where nothing seems to have mattered either way. Ilana (Margreit van Reisen) has had such a horrible life she doesn’t want to remember anything. But in the Afterlife, you can’t move on unless you can deal with your past.

That’s why the staff in the “waiting room” help people reconstruct their lives and memories. Sometimes it isn’t the grand gestures that create the best memories, but simple things. like hugging a loved pet, or sitting on a park bench and feeling you belong. Aiden (Roderick Williams) reveals that the staff themselves are people who are blocked and can’t proceed until they, too, learn the meaning of their lives. Aiden helps Walter, but by helping Walter, he finds his own release. In this strange Limbo, the authority figure, The Chief (Claron McFadden) may in fact be the person most trapped. Maybe the secret to passage isn’t what memory you carry with you, but how much excess baggage you’re prepared to leave behind.

Michel van der Aa’s music may be avant garde, and extended by electronic effects, but it communicates well. Van der Aa wrote one of the study pieces for After Life for the famous Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, hence the harpsichord-led purity of line. As he says, the music “has two layers, a direct, physically dramatic layer and another with more depth, that is more conceptual”. The opera deals with very unusual ideas, so this interplay between clarity and mystery is fundamental.

al.18generale.gifClaron McFadden (Chief), Margriet van Reisen (Ilana), Yvette Bonner (Sarah), Helena Rasker (Bryna Pullman), Roderick Williams (Aiden)

The vocal lines sweep up and down the scale, even within phrases, but don’t sound unnatural. McFadden, who has few equals in modern music, and has created the wildest Harpies, sounds soft and lyrical, actually quite sweet. Williams proves why he’s one of the most sought after character baritones in his generation. He’s a wonderful, expressive actor who moves as well as he sings. Yvette Bonner as Sarah, the other member of staff, has good potential.

Michel van der Aa worked with Louis Andriessen (Writing to Vermeer) who promoted the idea of anti-orchestra back in the 1960’s. The idea of multi-media, conceptual theatre is fairly well established in Europe. The Queen of the Netherlands attended After Life at the highly prestigious Holland Festival. Holland’s famous for its liberal, open-minded attitudes, but After Life is so good that it can export, even to more buttoned down. British psyche. After all, every one of us will one day make that journey, whatever may be on the other side.

Congratulations to the Barbican for bringing it to London, just months after the recent revival (with revisions) . I was impressed by the way the Barbican marketed this opera, which might have been a hard sell, given that it’s so modern. They set up a mini website, inviting readers to send in their own ideas of what memory they’d take into the unknown. After Life is about ordinary people, so it’s a good idea that “ordinary people” participate. While it emphasizes “ordinary” life, this opera poses questions about life, identity and emotional dexterity that make it a challenge. What you get from it reflects what you put in. A bit like life itself.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):