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 Commentary

In conversation with Nina Brazier

When British opera director Nina Brazier tries to telephone me from Frankfurt, where she is in the middle of rehearsals for a revival of Florentine Klepper’s 2015 production of Martinů’s Julietta, she finds herself - to my embarrassment - ‘blocked’ by my telephone preference settings. The technical hitch is soon solved; but doors, in the UK and Europe, are certainly very much wide open for Nina, who has been described by The Observer as ‘one of Britain’s leading young directors of opera’.

2019 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera International Song Competition

Russian bass-baritone Mikhail Timoshenko has won the top prize at the 2019 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera International Song Competition.

An Englishman in Vienna: Stephen Storace

When his first opera, Gli sposi malcontenti, premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1st June 1985, the 23-year-old Stephen Storace must have been confident that his future fame and fortune were assured.

Stendhal on the Rossini Revolution

Some Details concerning the Revolution inaugurated by Rossini

Louise Jeffreys to become Deputy Chair of ENO

English National Opera (ENO) is pleased to announce that Louise Jeffreys is to become Deputy Chair of English National Opera and the London Coliseum. She replaces Nicholas Allan. Louise is currently Artistic Director of the Barbican where she leads...

Verdi Treasures from Milan’s Ricordi Archive make US debut

Rare testimonies to the history of Italian opera from the Milan-based, Bertelsmann-owned Ricordi Archive will now be shown in the United States for the first time. Fans of classical music and literature can look forward to the exhibition “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff - Highlights from the Ricordi Archive”, which will be on view at the renowned Morgan Library & Museum in New York from September 6, 2019 to January 5, 2020.

Odyssey Opera Resurrects Henry VIII

BOSTON, MA (For Release 07.18.19) — One of the nation’s most adventurous opera companies, Odyssey Opera, begins its seventh season with a concert performance of Henry VIII (1883) by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns based on El cisma en Inglaterra (The schism in England) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

Glyndebourne Announces the Return of the Glyndebourne Opera Cup in 2020

Glyndebourne’s major new international singing competition returns in 2020 with a renewed commitment to supporting diversity in opera. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup - the international competition for opera singers is designed to discover and spotlight the best young singers around the world, offering a top prize of £15,000 and a guaranteed role at a leading international opera house. The final will once again be broadcast live on Sky Arts on 7 March 2020 and the series is produced by Factory Films.

Garsington Opera: Five Young Singers Win Prestigious Awards

Winners of this year’s prestigious Leonard Ingrams Foundation awards are mezzo-soprano Bianca Andrew and tenor Oliver Johnston. These awards support, encourage and nurture the best young artists involved in the creative process of bringing opera to the stage, and are made in memory of Garsington Opera’s founder Leonard Ingrams, to ensure the continuity of his vision.

Bill Bankes-Jones on the twelfth Tête à Tête Opera Festival

“We need to stop talking about ‘diversity’ and think instead about ‘inclusivity’,” says Bill Bankes-Jones, when we meet to talk about the forthcoming twelfth Tête à Tête Opera Festival which runs from 24th July to 10th August.

The Italian Opera Connection at ‘The English Versailles’: The Duchess of Buccleuch and the Georgian Stage at Boughton House

As part of its annual programme of events, Boughton House in Northamptonshire hosts ‘A Passion for Opera’, a rare exhibition portraying the musical life of Lady Elizabeth Montagu (1743–1827) and the world of Georgian operatic culture.

An interview with composer Dani Howard

The young Hong Kong-born British composer Dani Howard is having quite a busy year.

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycle

Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced both schedules and cast-lists for is Spring 2020 performances of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Given the series of individual productions already staged by the company since Fall 2016, that pave the way for the complete cycle, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s complete production should affirm the artistic might of the great composer.

Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

London Bel Canto Festival 2019: an interview with Ken Querns-Langley

“Physiognomy, psychology and technique.” These are the three things that determine the way a singer’s sound is produced, so Ken Querns-Langley explains when we meet in the genteel surroundings of the National Liberal Club, where the training programmes, open masterclasses and performances which will form part the third London Bel Canto Festival will be held from 5th-24th August.

The Royal Opera Tours to Japan in September 2019

The Royal Opera is delighted to be returning to Japan in September 2019 as part of an exciting year of UK-Japan exchanges, titled UK in Japan 2019-20, following the Company’s hugely successful tour in autumn 2015.

Longborough Festival Opera announces collaboration with The Academy of Ancient Music in 2020

Longborough Festival Opera will collaborate with the Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) for its production of Monteverdi The Return of Ulysses in 2020. Robert Howarth will conduct Monteverdi’s beautiful, compassionate drama, with Tom Randle in the title role.

Glyndebourne’s first production of Dialogues des Carmélites to open Glyndebourne Festival 2020

Glyndebourne’s first production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites will open Glyndebourne Festival 2020, it was announced today. The opera house unveiled its 2020 plans at an event in its recently built Production Hub, hosted by Glyndebourne’s new senior leadership team, Artistic Director Stephen Langridge and Managing Director Sarah Hopwood, who jointly replace the former position of General Director.

Garsington Opera Announces 2020 season and 2019 Paris Performance

Garsington Opera is delighted to announce the 2020 season that will open on 28 May, featuring three new productions - Verdi’s Un giorno di regno, Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto, Dvořák’s Rusalka and a revival of John Cox’s legendary production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park: in conversation with Alison Langer

“Sop. Page, attendant on the King.” So, reads a typical character description of the loyal page Oscar, whose actions, in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, unintentionally lead to his monarch’s death. He reveals the costume that King Gustavo is wearing at the masked ball, thus enabling the monarch’s secretary, Anckarstroem, to shoot him. The dying King falls into the faithful Oscar’s arms.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Luke Bedford [Photo by Ben Ealovega]
10 Jun 2011

Luke Bedford’s Seven Angels

There has been much eager anticipation for Luke Bedford’s opera Seven Angels.

Luke Bedford: Seven Angels

Click here for cast and production information.

Above: Luke Bedford [Photo by Ben Ealovega]

 

Bedford is one of the finest British composers of his generation. Any new piece of his is big news, but what makes Seven Angels significant is that Bedford writes especially well for voice. It’s his first opera, and its genesis shows how thoughtfully he’s taken to writing for the stage.

Seven Angels was inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost. “You can’t set Paradise Lost,” says Glyn Maxwell, the poet who wrote the libretto. “You have to read it, absorb it and then have a response.” The narrative is allegory, not literal setting. “We knew that we wanted to use Paradise Lost as a template in some way and to bring out issues of climate change and environmental destruction,” says Bedford. He, Maxwell and director John Fulljames worked together closely from the start. “The very rough outline of the story and the idea of the angels narrating it came from these sessions, if I remember correctly. Then Glyn went away and did a first draft synopsis, which beautifully collected together all the fragments of text and story that we had.”

In the new opera, seven angels have been falling from above and arrive in a deserted place. They try to work out who they are and where they are. Using such clues as they have, such as the wind and rain, they begin to construct a story that explains how this place was ruined. So each of the Angels acts as a narrator and also a character in the story they are telling.

Their story concerns a King and Queen, who have a beautiful garden; their son, the Prince; the Waitress, who serves him along with other members of the royal household; and three delegates from other lands who have travelled to see the garden. Eventually, the “Infinity of Plenty” the garden is supposed to represent is revealed as illusion. At the end of scene six, the Angels’ story breaks down and we are left with just the seven figures in their deserted landscape. However two of the Angels refuse to give up on the story and continue on into that world. “We are all that the Garden was,” sing the Waitress and the Prince. “We are all that the Garden is.”

Reading Glyn Maxwell’s text for Seven Angels is intriguing. On paper, their lines overlap, blank spaces indicating blank spaces in the score, perhaps. Intuitively, you can feel how Bedford’s setting might sound — wavering, dream-like textures, harmonies that flow effortlessly, creating atmosphere and wonder. Sometimes the text is set in dense blocs, which read with turbulent rhythm. Not all poets write well for the stage, but Glyn Maxwell is also a playwright. His experience in the theatre informs the way he writes for music. He’s written several libretti for opera, and texts for film. Drama is thus inherently linked to his work.

“Once we had something like a full libretto,” says Bedford, “I went away and tried working on sections of it. Sometimes I had an inkling of the music that I need to write straight away, other times not! The very opening of the opera was one of the hardest sections and took three or four drafts of very different material to get right. Whenever there was a section that I felt needed more, or more often less, text I would ask Glyn and he would be very understanding. Sometimes I asked for slightly different words at certain moments, so they fitted the music better. But by and large Glyn’s text just needed me to add some music to it.”

Bedford has collaborated with Maxwell before. Bedford’s Good Dream She Has stems from the idea of Adam and Eve, dreaming in Eden before the Fall. Seven Angels is a much larger piece. “There’s certainly a link between the kind of material in Good Dream and the opening section of the opera for example. In both pieces there are familiar tonal triads but they are chiseled out from their familiar surroundings and reseen in a new light.”

Bedford’s Seven Angels is, however, much larger and more ambitious. “One of the things I enjoyed about writing a ninety-minute-long work was being forced into having big changes of mood; of music; of style! So you’ll find some manically fast music, despair and even the dreaded word ‘humour’ in there too.”

“As there is a fair amount of narration by the Angels, I had to try to work out a way of telling the story musically. It is really important that the words are clear and understandable at these moments. So I worked on ways of incorporating recitative-like moments into the piece. If you look through the score, you will see quite a few senza misura bars, where the singer has a degree of rhythmical freedom. I found this was extremely useful in allowing the singers to help bring out the words.”

“Having said that, I didn’t want to have any sort of traditional aria and recitative-type structure in the piece. The music must be able to flow in and out of these narrated moments and I think the technique I found allows me to do that. Apart from the seven singers, there is an ensemble of twelve players. It’s quite an unusual line-up, not least as there are four violas in there and a concentration on lower, darker wind sounds. It could be the first opera where the contrabassoon part has more pages than the flute!” This is “Paradise Lost” after all, and the orchestration is atmospheric. Apart from the four violas and contrabass there are steel drums, piano, analogue radio, crotales, tam tam, cymbals, lion’s roar, a whip and rainstick.

What kind of opera is this where there are almost as many singers as instrumental players? In Bedford’s music, speech translates into beautifully expressive form. Bedford is the Wigmore Hall’s first composer in residence, and several of his works, like Or voit tout en aventure, are classics in new music terms. “The voice is something so fundamental and natural to us. It is the channel, through which composers can address audiences in a very direct way. It’s very humanness, with all the qualities and disadvantages that entails, is what appeals to me so much about the voice.”

“Writing for the stage”, he adds, “is indeed quite different from concert pieces. It feels as if there’s an extra dimension that you have to think about and it took me a little time at first to adjust to this,” says Bedford. “But once I got into the soundworld of the opera, I felt I could write quite quickly as there’s not only the text but the drama propelling where the music should go. The early workshops (with Maxwell and Fulljames) were really instructive for me, just to see what a difference it makes when someone is just standing singing from music, to when they start moving around and interacting with others. Suddenly this extra dimension comes to life.”

John Fulljames is director and artist Takamine Tadasu created the designs. Because Bedford and Maxwell worked so closely with Fulljames and Tadasu from the start, the production has grown organically from the opera. “They’ve come up with something that I think is going to look very special. The whole stage will be covered in over a thousand books and almost all the props will be created out of these books. Even the King and Queen’s garden will be one enormous pop-up book! As John has been involved in the project from the beginning, he’s seen how Glyn and I have shaped it, so he has a deep and sensitive understanding of what we’re trying to achieve.”.

Fulljames has just been appointed Associate Director of Opera at The Royal Opera House. This is good news, for Fulljames is one of the most promising directors in the business. He and the company he founded, The Opera Group, created the outstanding second production of George Benjamin’s Into The Little Hill, reviewed in depth here on Opera Today. Fulljames’s work has appeared at Wexford, Aldeburgh, the Linbury Theatre, the Young Vic, Opera North and throughout Europe.

Luke Bedford’s Seven Angels premieres in Birmingham on 17th June. The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group then tours to Cardiff, Glasgow, Brighton and Oxford, and comes to the Linbury at the Royal Opera House in London on 12th July. It’s also part of the Latitude Festival in Suffolk, a multi-genre event that attracts audiences who might not normally venture into opera or art music.

Anne Ozorio

For more details, please see, the Opera Group’s web site and the web site of the Royal Opera House.

Click here for a video preview.

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):