Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Oxford Lieder Festival 2017: Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna

Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Garsington Opera Announces Extended Season: 1 June to 30 July 2017

For the first time in its history, this summer Garsington Opera will present four productions as well as a large community opera. 2017 also sees the arrival of the Philharmonia Orchestra for one opera production each season for the next five years.

Glyndebourne Festival 2017: White Cube artist Rachel Kneebone to exhibit new work

New work by the English artist Rachel Kneebone will be exhibited at Glyndebourne Festival 2017, which opens for public booking on 5 March. The London-based artist has created three new sculptures inspired by two of the operas being staged at the Festival this summer - Cavalli’s Hipermestra and a new opera based on Hamlet by composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gerald Tyler as the the Condemned Man and Omar Ebrahimas the Officer [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of Welsh National Opera]
20 Sep 2010

An experience In the Penal Colony

Kafka's In the Penal Colony set as an opera by Philip Glass? Against all expectations, it was a powerful and deeply moving experience.

Philip Glass : In the Penal Colony

The Officer : Omar Ebrahim, The Visitor : Michael Bennett, The Condemned Man : Gerald Tyler, Conductor : Michael Rafferty, Music Theatre Wales Ensemble, Director :Michael McCarthy, Electronics: Sounds Intermedia, Lighting : Ace McCarron. Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, 15th September 2010.

Above: Gerald Tyler as the the Condemned Man and Omar Ebrahimas the Officer

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of Welsh National Opera

 

A Visitor (Michael Bennett) arrives in a remote penal colony. He’s asked to witness an execution. He tries to be completely neutral, insisting that his opinions don’t count because he’s not involved with the system. A Condemned Man (Gerald Tyler) is to be strapped into a machine which kills slowly by driving the words of his “crime” into his body. Thirty years ago I read Kafka’s original story. It’s so horrifying that I haven’t been able to read it since.

It’s so traumatic that you’re forced to respond. Kafka intuited Antonin Artaud’s theory that extremes shake people out of complacency. In the penal colony, people accept the killing machine passively, even though it’s no longer as well maintained as it was when the Old Commander, its inventor, ruled the island. No-one is prepared to take moral responsibility.

Only when the Visitor finally confronts the horror do things change. The Officer, however, has so absorbed the madness that he can’t live without it.

Glass’s music whirls, unearthly sounds projected over a string quintet, mechanical merging with live music, as precisely as cogs in a machine. The endless repetitions fit the plot as tightly as a straitjacket. “Efficient, quiet, anonymous”, as the Visitor explained he’d like to be. You’re half-hypnotized by this strange semi-trance music, just as the protagonists are numbed into accepting their circumstances.

Yet the repetitions move with a crazy logic, sometimes up a notch, sometimes disintegrating into cacophony (such as when the Officer thinks of his homeland — a last glimpse of the man he once was). Pay close attention to the subtle gradations. Like good film music they affect emotions subliminally. You understand how people in the penal colony become machines.

Omar Ebrahim, who sings The Officer, is extremely experienced in contemporary music theatre. His vocal range is prodigious, though not used here where the monotony of the music is part of the plot. Nonetheless, Ebrahim brings surprising lyricism to the part. Some passages shimmer with the fervour of Bach. The Officer’s dedication to his old Commander and to the machine demands total sacrifice. Blasphemy, perhaps, but in the insane world of the penal colony, there’s crazy logic to the idea that the Officer should offer himself to the machine as it falls apart.

The Music Theatre of Wales Ensemble played well. If at times, the electronic projections of Sound Intrermedia — leaders in their field — threatened to overwhelm, it reinforced the disturbing effect of machine overcoming human. Michael Rafferty conducted, Michael McCarthy directed.

The Condemned Man is so debased, the character is silent. Instead, Gerald Tyler moves like an animal, his eyes slanted, flickering like a snake. But for fortune, this dehumanized prisoner could be another Officer.

100913_0043-penalcolony-M-B.gifMichael Bennett as the Visitor, Gerald Tyler as the Condemned Man and Omar Ebrahim as the Officer

Oddly both Tyler and Ebrahim are covered in tattoos which probably pre-date the production. It’s bizarre, since the machine carves words into bodies and the Old Commander’s penmanship was so elaborate the Visitor couldn’t decipher it. Michael Bennett didn’t undress. He disrobed emotionally.

In the Penal Colony isn’t meant to be entertaining. It’s subject is so sick that I can’t imagine what sort of people could sit comfortably through it. You’re forced to take an emotional stand. The Visitor looks at the audience, as if seeking guidance. The Condemned Man grabs the hands of those in the front row. Few will “enjoy” this opera, I guarantee, but it’s a powerful experience. Anyone who can emerge from these horrors unshaken one way or another must be shallow indeed.

Into the Penal Colony runs at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House until 20th September then tours throughout the United Kingdom. Music Theatre Wales is courageous to put this on, because it is an important work. Much more condensed and focused than much of Glass’s other work, this piece will not easily be forgotten.

For more information please see the Music Theatre Wales site.

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):