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 Reviews

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>The Second Violinist</em> by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh, Barbican Theatre, 6th September 2018
09 Sep 2018

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Second Violinist by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh, Barbican Theatre, 6th September 2018

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Aaron Monaghan (Martin)

Photo credit: Patrick Redmond

 

A chamber opera lasting 75 minutes, The Second Violinist is Dennehy and Walsh’s second operatic collaboration. The first, The Last Hotel, was driven by an ominous meeting and the shadow of death and these elements seem to be becoming trademarks: The Second Violinist lays bare Martin’s suffering soul, loneliness and introspective journeys into surreal and violent worlds, but leaves identity and narrative shrouded in mystery. The opera was first presented by Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera at the Galway International Arts Festival on 27th July 2017 and now the production, which won the Fedora Generali prize for opera and the Best Opera award at the Irish Times Theatre Awards, has travelled to London where the UK premiere opened the new Barbican Centre season this week.

Designer Jamie Varton’s set is dominated by an imposing cinematic interface which stretches across the central section of the wide Barbican Theatre stage. A prefatory statement sets the tone: “Beauty, since you are leaving, as you take my heart, take its suffering too.” As the drama unfolds, the screen flashes hyperactively with the images which storm Martin’s tensely clutched smartphone - thumped-out text messages, pizza delivery promotions, dating agency updates and the like, alongside the insta-snaps taken by Martin - literally a mute musician (Aaron Monaghan takes the silent role), and fictionally a violinist disenchanted with his vocation (and with his instrument if the way he bashes his fiddle about is anything to judge by) - which document his daily travels, routines and miseries.

On Tinder Martin lists his interests as Gesualdo, Masterchef and Ireland Birdwatch - swallows, and their freedom, become a recurring visual and psychological motif - but this cine-world also reveals his obsessions. And, they err on the violent side: Japanese samurai video-game slaughter, safari slayings in which lionesses sink their teeth tenaciously into wildebeests’ necks, and Carlo Gesualdo, that murderous melancholic madrigalist and madman, who, with impunity, killed his wife - Maria D’Avalos, daughter of the Prince of Montesarchio - when he learned of her sexual betrayal. As Martin’s texts unfold before us, video designer Jack Phelan plays a slick trick by back-tracking when Martin describes his occupation as “violen-”, rapidly substituting “violinist”.

The fourteen-strong Crash Ensemble, dynamically conducted by Ryan McAdams, are placed in a sunken orchestral pit, out of which the eponymous protagonist climbs onto a stage which presents a medley of the domestic and the potentially dangerous. Stage-right a lavatory and working shower are apportioned; mid-stage rests a crumpled bed; stage-left houses a kitchen with a large refrigerator from which dangles a miniature violin. In the centre of all is a turning treadmill, suggestive of the passing of time but also - when Martin mounts it, his stare unflinching, slightly unhinged - of his controlling fixations. Up above, accessed by a trapdoor ladder, grows a grim, Brothers Grimm-style forest: a leaf-less, post-apocalypse landscape.

These are evocative and suggestive visual images, but there is simply too much paraphernalia, too widely dispersed. At least when one is watching a tennis match, one’s swinging gaze is following the ball, but here it was impossible to find a focus or keep track of what was going on in the visual margins - and what made it more frustrating was that quick glances left to right and back again suggested that that usually that wasn’t much of import: the pouring of a glass of wine, the sending of a text message.

Sharon Carty.jpgSharon Carty (Amy). Photo Credit: Patrick Redmond.

Walsh’s characters are desperately in need of Forster’s psychological wisdom, ‘only connect’. A recent romantic rift has left Martin heartbroken and emotionally scarred. At first he tells his Tinder correspondent, Scarlett, that he is a “Violinist in a musical ensemble!” but as his hope of potential romance grows he indulges in grandiose wish-fulfilment: he is actually a “Composer of operas”. His favourite Gesualdo madrigal is ‘Già piansi nel dolore’, with its uplifting sentiments, “Once I wept with sorrow, now my heart rejoices, because my lover has said: ‘I too burn for you.’” But, reality bites, and Martin’s identity sinks to simply “Living” and “Alone”.

Amy (Sharon Carty) and Matthew (Benedict Nelson) are in the throes of matrimonial disintegration. Obsession once again rears its ugly head: Amy’s enthusiasm for interior re-decoration is becoming a pathological compulsion. At least the walls are light grey, not dark, for this would be like living in a graveyard, quips Matthew. The characters have an alarming propensity to furtively flourish knives, and the arrival of Hannah, Amy’s old college friend, Hannah (Máire Flavin), sharpens the blade-point further.

As passions are remembered and re-ignited, rivalries and conflicts escalate. Not surprisingly violence erupts, and it’s the two women - themselves former lovers, perhaps? - who bear the brunt. But, is the perpetrator Martin, or Michael? The hands of both drip with viscous blood and Martin’s excoriating scrubbing in the shower surely leaves few layers of his skin intact. Are Martin and Matthew the same person? Have we travelled back in time to the moment of Martin’s abandonment?

Benedict  Nelson.jpgBenedict Nelson (Matthew). Photo Credit: Patrick Redmond.

The Second Violinist poses potentially intriguing questions and the melange of media could be dynamic. But I wasn’t convinced that Dennehy and Walsh have really made voice, music, word, design, image and movement combine and cohere, in such a way that each element in the hybrid form plays its part in the relation of narrative, emotion and meaning. There’s not actually much singing in The Second Violinist: the titular character is silent and, a quasi-film score, the music more frequently seems simply to illustrate images - the stabbing underpinning of punched out chat-room chat-ups, for example - rather than to forward the emotional and narrative trajectory. The characters’ stage movements often feel directionless; it’s not clear, for example, what purpose is served when the sixteen singers of the chorus move, half-way through, from one side of the stage to the other. Walsh’s text is rather banal: perhaps that’s the point - that the tragedy is the banality?

While Dennehy’s score does incorporate some tensely frenetic music - particularly for the strings - as well as quieter reflections, it is the madrigal-esque choral commentaries that are the musical highpoint, though these choric interjections are not assimilated into a musico-dramatic continuum. The chromatic contortions and disconcerting lurches between distantly related harmonies encapsulate both the characters’ pained alienation and the drama’s unstable psychological ambiguities - though repetition of the devise brought the sense that my sentiments were being manipulated: dissonance and disjuncture seem somewhat facile intimations of dysfunctional psychopathy.

The solo roles were performed with uniformly intense commitment and focus, but there is little differentiation of character in Dennehy’s vocal writing. Both Carty and Flavin crafted their melodic lines with clarity and focused tone, but their diction was weak. Nelson projected strongly, but the presence that the singer brings to the stage felt under-used and the characterisation of Matthew under-developed. And, despite the tension generated by the unanswered questions, there was a countering static quality. Every fibre of Aaron Monaghan’s face and fibre screamed with Martin’s pain but given that’s how he starts there’s not really anywhere to go.

If you like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train then you’ll probably love The Second Violinist - certainly the Barbican Theatre audience were enthusiastic in their reception. When Scarlett (Kimani Arthur) eventually meets Martin, we fear it’s not so much for a casual stroll in the countryside as for a risky venture ‘Into the Woods’, with Bluebeard as an escort. Gesualdo got away with murdering his wife in flagrante. Will Martin/Matthew? The trouble is, I’m not sure that I really cared.

Claire Seymour

Donnacha Dennehy: The Second Violinist (libretto by Enda Walsh)

Martin - Aaron Monaghan, Hannah - Máire Flavin, Amy - Sharon Carty, Matthew - Benedict Nelson, Scarlett - Kimani Arthur; Director - Enda Walsh, Conductor - Ryan McAdams, Designer - Jamie Varton, Lighting designer - Adam Silverman, Video designer - Jack Phelan, Sound designers - David Sheppard and Helen Atkinson, Costume designer - Joan O’Clery, Crash Ensemble, Chorus.

Barbican Theatre, London; Thursday 6th September 2018.

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):