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

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sarah Wegener and Christoph Pohl [Photo © ROH 2015. Photograph by Clive Barda]
14 Nov 2015

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Sarah Wegener and Christoph Pohl [Photo © ROH 2015. Photograph by Clive Barda]

 

But consider what music is — it's a means of communicating complex, abstract ideas which can't easily be articulated in words

No-one knows what happens when we die, or what the transition might feel like. Morgen und Abend is a tone poem on a grand scale, with singing and personalities as signposts to point the way. It is opera in the very deepest meaning of the word, for it operates on our subliminal senses, activating our response to the human emotions we hear enacted on the stage.

Morgen und Abend begins with an Overture, of sorts. Loud, thudding percussion loud enough that our heartbeats begin to synchronize. The sounds come from the boxes on both sides of the auditorium, like the ears we have on each side of our heads, or the two lungs thar pump within so we can breathe, like the ventricles in our hearts that pump blood to keep us alive. This is “Invisible Theatre”, drawing the audience physically into the drama. Perhaps that’s why Morgen und Abend is both compelling and disturbing. Listening becomes an active, not passive experience, challenging emotions we might find hard to deal with. We, too, are part of the story.

An old man Olai (Klaus Maria Brandauer) sits in an empty room. A door stands on its own without walls. perhaps the man could pass through, but he doesn’t. At first he notices the unnatural silence of his surroundings. A midwife (Sarah Wegener) appears, telling the old man that his baby son is born. Yet, listen to the strange broken phrases in the vocal parts, repeating cadences which are taken up subtly by the orchestra. This isn’t normal speech, even by opera standards. Is Olai re-living happy memories in a dream? The boy , named Johannes, “will be a fisherman like me”, intones Brandauer Woodwinds and horns create strange sounds - the crying of a newborn, the agony of a mother. When Olai was a young man, birth was dangerous, the cusp of life and death. I nursed someone in his last days, who had nursed me long before. Dying is a lot like being born: you’re helpless, you don’t know what’s coming, you resist.

Another old man rises from his bed. The atmosphere here, too, is unnaturally still and silent, though the percussion ticks gently, as if marking the passage of time. The old man is Johannes (Christoph Pohl). He rises from his bed, but notices that his aches and pains have disappeared. Instead, he feels oddly weightless, and the room glows with light, as if objects are floating. Johannes notices that his body doesn’t ache as it did before. He feels a strange weightlessness, and objects seem to float in light. Things haven’t been the same since Erna, his wife (Helena Rasker), died. Yet he sees her, and she sings.

He sings about Signe, the name of his mother, who long ago gave him birth, and also the name of his youngest daughter, a symmetry that suggests continuity and subtle change, reflected in the understated but complex instrumentation. Johannes’s old friend Peter (Will Hartmann) appears. Why is Peter’s hair so long? Why is he so grey? “Let me cut your hair for you” sings Johannes, “like we did 50 years ago”. “You can’t” sings Peter.

Johannes wants to sail again as he used to. “When the sea as still and calm as this”, he sings, “I could sail out far into the west”. Like his father Olai before him, Johannes is remembering happiness past. In the horns and low woodwinds, we hear the roar of the ocean and feel the freedom Johannes must have enjoyed when he was young. This journey, this time, is different.

Johannes appears in his daughter’s house, but she can’t see or hear him. Significantly, the part is sung by Sarah Wegener, who sang the Midwife. Yet Signe feels his embrace.. “Passing through a great chill” she sings, “But nothing evil”. Love doesn’t die, there’s nothing to fear, though Signe doesn’t yet know what has happened. The music bubbles along, occasionally spiking up, with long drawn slow diminuendos. It’s as if the complex machinery of a human body is gradually shutting down, the blood chilling, cells shutting down Long, keening lines which seem to stretch out to limitless horizons.

A story this surreal needs abstract presentation. Greys, whites, silvers blend into each other, changing with light. Nature itself operates in this way. Stand on any beach and see the myriad gradations of colour in the sand, in the sky, in the sea. Nothing is colourless unless you want it to be.

Objects seem to materialize out of nowhere: the props constantly shifting. Johannes’s boat seems to disappear as quietly as it came. The effect is as in a dream, or memory, though it’s created by a turntable mechanism under the floor, which works so well - and so quietly - that we hardly notice. A lot like the passage of time.

This Morgen und Abend operates on many levels, literally and figuratively. Although the texts are direct and conversational, this makes the characterizations human and sympathetic, allowing the music to work its magic on our emotions. The libretto is by Jon Fosse, based on his novel Morgon og Kveld. Against a backcloth the English text is projected, the words moving and changing in tune with music and mood.

Georg Friedrich Haas (born 1953) is an important composer, so the Royal Opera House gives Morgen und Abend the attention it deserves. The cast are well known and well respected. The director is Graham Vick. The designer is Richard Hudson. But in an opera like this, where the music is protagonist, the orchestra makes all the difference. We take the Royal Opera House Orchestra for granted because we hear them so often, but as Antonio Pappano has said, they are an extremely good band. Conducted by Michael Boder they sound as idiomatic as a specialist new music ensemble, clearly inspired by the challenge of Haas’s music. In 2013, Haas’s In Vain was done by the London Sinfonietta. Please read my piece “Invisible Theatre” HERE. Technically, Haas’s music is nowhere as demanding as most of the London Sinfonietta’s repertoire, but any comparison is an achievement.

Haas’s music is beautiful, compelling and poetic. It can stand on its own merits, but conceptually it is sophisticated. New music isn’t an easy sell to audiences expecting the music of 100 years ago. This is where the ROH could improve its marketing. Fortunately the programme notes are good and include a piece by Tim Rutherford-Johnson on Haas’s music, but the real need is to give the public enough good information about the composer that they want to come in the first place.

For details of further performances see the Royal Opera House website.

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):