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

Baroque at the Edge: London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017

On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.

OPERA RARA AUCTION: online auction for opera lovers worldwide

On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

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):