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

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

13 Nov 2016

Beat Furrer FAMA - Hörtheater reaches London

Beat Furrer's FAMA came to London at last, with the London Sinfonietta. The piece was hailed as "a miracle" at its premiere at Donaueschingen in 2005 by Die Zeit: State of the Art New Music, recognized by mainstream media, which proves that there is a market for contemporary music lies with lively audiences

Beat Furrer : FAMA, London Sinfonietta, Isabelle Menke, Eva Furrer, EXAUDI, St John's Smith Square, 11 November 2016

A review by Anne Ozorio

 

FAMA is music as theatre in the widest sense, operating on multiple levels. In the last ten years, it's been performed many times, and there's a recording on Kairos. Experiencing it live, however, is essential since it was created as an experience to be enacted live, for maximum impact. It's a multi-sensory immersion: participation is not passive.

Ostensibly, Furrer's text comes from Arthur Schnitzler's novel Fräulein Else, about a girl who likes a fancy life and makes money from entertaining men, but it would be a mistake if this were taken too literally. The narrative isn't straightforward. The opera begins in Latin. then flows into a stream of consciousness, where ideas constantly mutate. What "is" Else's story? We aren't told in straightforward narrative. We learn through induction, empathizing with the clues in the seemingly disjointed text, and in the oblique imagery in the music. As we learn in real life. Significantly, FAMA begins with a discourse from Ovid, Metamorphoses Book XII, in which Fama the goddess of Rumour intuits meaning by processing what she hears around herself. What we knows, or think we know, grows through interpreting impressions from a non-stop flow of data.

Sparkling bell-like sounds, voices intoning fragments, beautifully pitched but elusive, long elliptical phrases in the orchestra shooting forth, patterns that move and draw back. The first two scenes in FAMA suggest teeming, vibrant happenings, just beyond our grasp. "Ich höre das Feuer.....ich höre den Regen..... ich höre in meiner Erinnerung.....ich höre das Schweigen." Then Else emerges, or rather Isabelle Menke intoning Else's words rapid-fire. The syntax isn't conversation, it doesn't communicate. It's an internal monologue, free associating, random thoughts from which we might, or might not, deduce who Else is. Perhaps Else herself is still figuring things out, asking questions, deducing, unsure. The ensemble reveals little: barely audible clicks and brushing sounds, as if the players themselves were listening and watching. As Else's voice rises, tensely, the orchestra bursts into manic life: cacophony, cut through by long, clear metallic lines, replicated by the voice. It's as if the voice and ensemble were reaching out, feeling out to invisible walls, gauging distance by sound waves. High, clear notes, flutes and clarinets feeling the way, hesitating, interrupted by sudden flashes of percussion. Sounds come from all directions, often out of sight, often distorted. Else's voice sometimes seems to materialize in the air. Piano sounds, accordion sounds, are heard as if from great distances across time. Ticking sounds, sometimes percussion, sometimes bows sawn against strings in bizarrely mechanical fashion. Every noise matters, no matter how subtle.

"Wie hübsch!" said Menke, with a demented smile. "How cute it is to walk around naked" Figuratively, she's watching herself in a mirror wondering what others think, and what she should be thinking of herself. The strings bow violent, mechanical angles, the brass blow mocking raspberries. The text describes how Else puts on a coat and walks naked through a hotel lobby. No-one knows. Then, at first quietly, the sound of a contrabass flute takes over where Else's words end. Contrabass flute: an instrument which looks so bizarre that just looking at it is an act of theatre. It's huge, silvery and metallic but, full blast, it's like a siren, blaring menace and mystery. This contrabass flute interlude is a magnificent coup de théâtre. The whole orchestra screams in response, then falls quiet as the contrabass flute, played by Eva Furrer, continued unchallenged, like a strange dancer, moving and singing with grave but bizarre beauty.

The words "Else, Else, Else" are projected onto the walls. A point is being made, visually, though the words are barely heard, the voices of Exaudi singing pure sound, materializing as if in dream. The effect was both magical and sinister. We don't know what happens to Else, but we could hear the swirling tumult in the orchestra. Walls of sound crashed around us, giving way to uncanny chords resonating in near silence. The contrabass flute led a section that seemed almost fugue-like in its grave but quirky dignity. Else returned briefly. Her last words were "Adresse bleibt Fiala". Whatever that's supposed to mean, I do not know, but the effect was powerful, and lingers tantalisingly in the mind. FAMA is more focused than Furrer's earlier Hörtheater Begrehen, first released on DVD in 2008, which also deals with multi-level concepts of time, space and sound. Thus FAMA lends itself well to semi-concert performance, as we enjoyed at St John's, Smith Square. Although we didn't see the cool, blue walls of the original, the plot. such as there is, predicates on a kind of mental imprisonment. The gold and burgundy of St John's, with its elegant chandelier, suggested the outward luxury of Else's profession, which could take place anywhere, not just in the Dolomites. The drama, and the genius, of Furrer's FAMA is that, through art, we may have come closer to understanding what goes on in Else's soul.

Thank goodness for the London Sinfonietta, returning to their roots in cutting-edge repertoire. For a while, they seemed caught up in sponsor-pleasing "education", but good work is, in itself, educational. Any orchestra can do education, but what the London Sinfonietta does is new music better than anyone else. This FAMA will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at an undisclosed date, but make sure you book for the next London Sinfonietta concert at St John's, Smith Square on December 6th when they'll be doing Hans Abrahamsen's Schnee, with Fool is Hurt, a new work by Simon Holt.

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):