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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Robert Ashley
16 May 2015

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

A review by Rebecca S. Lentjes

Above: Robert Ashley

 

According to Robert Ashley, the composer himself, “Well, if I say it’s opera, it’s opera! Who’s running this show, anyway?” The composer, who died in March of last year, was known for anecdotal libretti and “television operas” that invite close listening and that range in tone from tragic to comic to cosmically, bewilderingly existential.

Crash , the last of his operas, was performed at Roulette by Varispeed, an experimental music group consisting of a younger generation of Ashley disciples: Brian McCorkle, Dave Ruder, Gelsey Bell, Paul Pinto, Aliza Simons, and Amirtha Kidambi. First performed last year at the Whitney Biennial, Crash was reincarnated for four nights in April by director Tom Hamilton and producer Mimi Johnson. The opera is divided into six acts of fifteen minutes each, during which three of the speakers, in a Cageian fashion, take turns talking for 30 seconds each: “Thoughts” rambles, as if partaking in a phone conversation, about fourteen-year life cycles, evil short men, and the frustrations of neighbors; “Crash” swirls out a string of poetic fears and musings; “The Journal” stammers out descriptions of each year from Ashley’s life. Meanwhile, the other three voices murmur quietly in the background. The members of Varispeed rotated through the parts so that, by the sixth act, each had taken his or her turn assuming each of the voices and their varying tempos and amplifications.

Roulette TV: ROBERT ASHLEY // Crash: Act 1 from Roulette Intermedium on Vimeo.

Unlike other of Ashley’s operas, which feature loosely outlined piano or electronic parts, Crash is distinct in its accompaniment: each of the three trains of thought, which thread in and around each other like a braid of multicolored ribbons, is joined only by the quick but quiet mumbling of three other voices and an array of three different photo projections. This symphony of voices and abstract images allows the focus to fall not just on Ashley’s texts but on the spotlighted speaker and the hills and valleys of their inflections, vocal register and timbre, and unique embodiment of the “character”. So although the opera is sparse in requisites, it feels inordinately full and rich in tone as the six voices—four voices at any given moment—complement each other in continually new ways. (The interpretations of “The Journal” were most striking in their differences, as each of the members of Varispeed adopted the required stutter in a particular way.)

Despite this sense of evolution in the ever-fluctuating vocal combinations, there was an overall sensation of constancy and meditation throughout the comforting rhythms and switch-offs of the 30-second segments. Each time one of the characters started back up, no matter who was speaking, the carefully intricate yet seemingly stream-of-conscious themes and anecdotes of Ashley’s life fell into their familiar patterns. The mathematically predictable structure of the opera was the perfect framework for Ashley’s unpredictable and often humorous observations. Each of the vocalists managed to capture the ponderous, philosophical, and psychological ramblings—which in the case of “The Journal” were highly linear and easy to follow, while during “Crash” they were more obscure—with not just humor but sensitivity and musicality.

Another reason, aside from the scrupulous performance of Varispeed, that Ashley’s personal accounts and musings never felt heavy-handed or forced were the photographs by Philip Makanna, who collaborated with Ashley on the latter’s 14-hour video opera/documentary Music with Roots in the Aether. Throughout the “projection score” by Katie Cox, Eric Magnus, and Andie Springer, the abstract and peaceful visual component did not feel like a contrived, maladroit powerpoint sequence as so many new music projections do. Rather, the photographed landscapes not only depicted the American scenery so important to Ashley, but also allowed the audience to “hear the singing and the texts without the typical visual distractions”, as Ashley desired. In combination with lighting designer David Moodey’s skillful spotlight maneuvering and Kate Brehm’s stage management, the photo projections did not hammer home a message but allowed the viewers to form their own responses alongside their listening. This was the rare opera experience wherein the visual and aural experiences were united with not a blip of disjunction.

More straightforward than Ashley’s other operas, which can be oblique and convoluted in narrative and musical structure, Crash delivers a wondrous yet meditative experience. Written at the end of the sixth fourteen-year cycle of his life—and it’s surely no coincidence Ashley died just before his 84th birthday, considering his self-imposed significance on the number—the opera feels as if Ashley is looking back on his life while also looking towards the future, using the voices of young people to explore concepts of voice, story-telling, and, yes, opera.

Rebecca S. Lentjes

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):