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 Commentary

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

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.

Natalya Romaniw: 'one of the outstanding sopranos of her generation’

There can hardly be a dry eye in the house, at the ‘Theatre in the Woods’ at West Horsley Place - Grange Park Opera’s new home - when, in Act 3 of Janáček's first mature opera, Natalya Romaniw’s Jenůfa realises that the tiny child whose frozen body has been discovered under the ice is her own dead son.

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

A Chat With Italian Conductor Riccardo Frizza

Riccardo Frizza is a young Italian conductor whose performances in Europe and the United States are getting rave reviews. He tells us of his love for the operas of Verdi, Bellini, and particularly Donizetti.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

When Performance Gets Political: A Brooklyn Concert Benefiting the ACLU

What’s an artist’s place in politics? That’s the question many were asking after actress Meryl Streep made a pointed speech criticizing President Trump at the Golden Globes. Trump responded directly to Streep, using his preferred communication medium of Twitter to call Streep “overrated.”

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).

Battles administration neglects FLO’s assets by defunding the program

The college administration and President Denise Battles’ recent decision to defund the Finger Lakes Opera came as a shock to many and a concern to more. This decision reflects the administration’s blatant disregard for the arts and reveals a mindset that is counterproductive to the mission of the college.

2017 Summer Festival at Lucerne

Lucerne Festival announces its 2017 Summer Festival.

BEMF Chamber Opera Series Presents Splendors of Versailles

The GRAMMY Award-winning BEMF Chamber Opera Series returns with an all-new production inspired by the splendor and music of the palace of Versailles. King Louis XIV transformed his father’s pastoral hunting lodge at Versailles into a lavish palace that served as the seat of government and culture in France.

Center for Contemporary Opera presents Jane Eyre (World Premiere)

Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre, a full-length opera in three acts with a libretto by Diane Osen based on Charlotte Bronte’s novel, will receive its world premiere at The Kaye Playhouse (Hunter College) on Thursday, October 20, 7:30pm with a second performance on Saturday, October 22, 8pm. Jane Eyre is Karchin’s second opera, composed in 2014, following his critically acclaimed one-act comic opera Romulus.

Boston Early Music Festival announces the appointment of Melinda Sullivan to the new position of the Lucy Graham Dance Director

Cambridge, MA–The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) is pleased to announce the appointment of Melinda Sullivan to the new position of the Lucy Graham Dance Director.

2016 Elizabeth Connell Prize Winner Announced

Kseniia Muslanova from the Russian Federation has won the 3rd annual Elizabeth Connell Prize for aspiring dramatic sopranos held at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Sydney Australia on 3 September 2016.

A New Opera Company with a True Story of Forbidden Love

Victory Hall Opera is a new company making its debut in Charlottesville Virginia on August 14, 2016. Its first presentation will be Richard Strauss’s and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Der Rosenkavalier.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Narropera
23 Dec 2016

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).

Narropera

An article by Claire Seymour

Above: Hanns Heinz Odenthal, Dorothee Jansen and Haydn Rawstron.

 

While the majority of well-known operas probably have a cast of seven or so major roles, the grand operas of the nineteenth century swelled the ranks considerably. And, there are no limits. Jonathan Dove’s 2015 Monster in the Maze - jointly commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence - involved 350 singers: children, teenagers and adults; amateurs and professionals.

Opera comes in all shapes and sizes, as do the venues where it has been performed: from the Gonzaga’s ducal palace that witnessed the first performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in 1607 to the the Bayreuth Festspielhaus which opened in 1876 with three performances of the complete Ring cycle. Nowadays one is just as likely to see opera performed in amulti-story car-park, a disused warehouse, a North London pub, or even on the beach.

Haydn Rawstron’s opera company, Narropera, have reinvented the genre once again. Narropera pares down the operatic experience to its essentials. There are just three performers, the Narropera Trio. There is a singer (Rawstron’s wife, the versatile soprano, Dorothee Jansen, whose career has taken her to venues such as La Scala, Bayreuth, and the Wigmore Hall) who represents several different characters. Then, a violinist (or rather, one of three violinists, depending on where in the world the company are performing) weaves the vocal lines together and or adopts the vocal lines of an actual character of the story. These two are joined by a pianist (Rawstron himself), who both provides the musical structure and serves as a narrator, filling in the ‘story’ between the singer’s arias.

The emphasis, as one might imagine from the company’s name, is on narrative. But, while the opera may be ‘pared down’ to 90 minutes or so of uninterrupted story-telling, there is no lessening of the musical quality or experience. The intimacy of the chamber form and context creates an immediacy and directness. Knowledgeable listeners may hear afresh and discover new details; those unfamiliar with the work, or even new to opera itself, will be beguiled by a story clearly told through words and music.

Rawstron, a New Zealander, read music and was organ scholar at Christ Church, Oxford, before working at the Oldenburg State Theatre and developing a career in opera in Germany. Later, he established a successful agency for opera singers, conductors and stage directors, developing and managing the international careers of performers such as Anne Schwanewilms, Katarina Dalayman, Hillevi Martinpelto, Kathleen Kuhlmann, Birgitta Svenden, Renate Behle, Robert Gambill, Rainer Trost, Klaus Florian Vogt, Benjamin Bruns, Eike Wilm Schulte, Kristinn Sigmundsson, Willy Decker, Andreas Homoki, Göran Järvefelt, Heinz Wallberg, Arnold Östman, among others. When he retired in 2009, Rawstron wished to return to performing. As he puts, it ‘Out of that desire has evolved narropera’.

Jansen.jpg Dorothee Jansen.

Rawstron explains the concept of narropera: ‘Whereas opera is understandably inflexible given the numerous forces that require coordinating, narropera’s chamber-music trio-presentation and its story-telling/singing interaction allow for considerable flexibility and creativity, not only in the preparation of the individual narroperas, but also in terms of a certain improvisation in actual performance. […] It is not necessary for the public to bring any special knowledge to narropera performances, neither of the opera being performed nor of opera in general […] the opera fan and the opera novice share in the same clarity and at the end of a narropera performance there is a great deal less difference between that which the fan and the novice respectively knows about the opera they have just experienced, and frankly that is just how it should be.’ This short interview confirms Rawstron’s creative spirit and commitment to the genre.

The company was created in response to the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes which damaged or destroyed many of the region’s cultural and performance venues, leaving the area without theatre, opera house or concert hall. Initially planned as a ‘stop-gap entertainment’, the first narropera - an adaptation of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro - was performed at the Old Tai Tapu Road-based Lansdown House near Christchurch in early 2013, by Rawstron, Jansen and violinist Jan van den Berg. Narropera has out-lived those early intentions, however, and Rawstron and Jansen have not only established an annual festival at Lansdown but have also exported the concept to Germany, England and the Isle of Man.

The current format evolved gradually during the three years leading to that first narropera performance. First, Rawstron mounted a series of programmes, entitled Caccini to Puccini, which charted four centuries of Italian bel canto. Each programme presented arias from twelve different Italian composers metaphorically ‘holding hands’ through the centuries, and each aria programme came with a narration, setting the arias in their historical context, with a literal text translation preceding each aria.

Narraopera 2.jpg Dorothee Jansen and Hanns Heinz Odenthal.

The popularity of these performances encouraged Rawstron to expand the format to encompass the presentation of whole operas. Eighteenth-century Italian works proved well-suited to the concept, and Handel and Mozart have been the mainstay of the company’s repertory. Handel’s aria cycle, Neun deutsche Arien, setting poems by B. H. Brockes, followed that first Figaro. Since then, the composer’s Giulio Cesare and a ‘medley’ - wryly entitled Handeling the Old Testament - presenting ten arias from five of Handel’s oratorios (Esther, Athalia, Saul, Samson and Jephtha) with accompanying biblical stories to link the arias, have followed.

Mozart has been represented by La clemenza di Tito, Don Giovanni and, most recently in 2016, Così van tutte. Moreover, Rawstron comments that once created, the narroperas ‘evolve’ in subsequent performances: ‘For instance, we have added three additional pieces to the overall musical component of Don Giovanni, one extra piece in Figaro and made various changes to the narrative texts of both.’

Floriane Peycelon.jpg Floriane Peycelon who has recently joined the Narropera Trio as the company’s UK-based violinist.

A review in the Manx Independent of the company’s Così at Peel’s Centenary Centre in October 2016, by Dr Peter Litman, the director of music at Peel Cathedral, captures the flavour of a Narropera performance: ‘Rawstron’s ability to weave the complex tapestry of plot with the music of Mozart was quite mesmerising. Soprano Dorothee Jansen displayed both a beauty and dexterity, effortlessly moving between head and chest voice, and playing out her various roles through compelling facial expression. Having an intimate feel -rather like a soiree in a grand house in a lost era I was surprised by how much Jansen brought the plot of the opera to life drawing the audience into the story, even though she was singing in Italian. […] Joining the singer and pianist, Hanns Heinz Odenthal’s silvery violin complemented the voice like lace icing, and gave us a real sense of chamber performance. […] The diverse talents of Rawstron as a dramatic reader provided not only entertainment but gave real depth and accessibility to the plot during the narrations. He presented himself as impresario and performer and we were amazed at the fluidity and ease with which he could move from wistful storytelling to the piano.’

There have already been four narropera performances in the Isle of Man, nearly twenty performances in the UK and three in Germany (includingLe nozze di Figaro at the festival Musica Bayreuth), while the remaining performances have been in New Zealand, home to Lansdown Summer, an indoor festival of narropera presented in a magical heritage setting in rural Christchurch. In October 2016 Narropera gave its 50th performance since Rawstron and Jansen invented the new genre, at Eastwell Manor near Ashford, in Kent.

The 4th Narropera Festival takes place at Lansdown in February/March 2017, where the company will perform a new narropera derived from Weber’s Der Freischütz. It will have its UK premiere in spring 2017.

Claire Seymour

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):