Category Archives: contemporary operas
Fantastic ROH news:
During this extended period there will be 2 (yes, two) new Handel productions! The very brand new one by Kosky! The other one – new to ROH – you know and love by Loy (not that one, the other one). Scroll down 😉
Tl;dr: this is turning into a really excting period at ROH and not just because of Handel (but especially). I am also expecting Poppea cca Januray 2020, after the first two Monteverdi instalments. Very low on Mozart, though. You know there is more to him than the DaPonte stuff (and Mitridate).
It’s that time of the year people are eager to find out what’s coming up, so here are some updates from the ever reliable source. I put a NEW next to the information that’s transpired since my last post on the subject:
late 2018 – 2019
Katya Kabanova (Janacek)
NEW Fall 2018 | Production: Richard Jones all the Janacek! from Jones!
The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) Co-Production with De Nederlandse Opera | Production: Stefan Herheim
NEW January 2019 | Polina: Anna Goryachova <- will they keep the trouser role scene?
La Forza Del Destino (Verdi) February 2019 | Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Production: Christof Loy <- Leo gets a white shirt?
Don Alvaro: Jonas Kaufmann
Leonora: Anna Netrebko
Fra Melitone: Alessandro Corbelli
NEW Das Liebesverbot (Wagner) coproduction with Teatro Real-Madrid
Spring 2019 | Director: Kasper Holten
NEW Billy Budd (Britten)
Conductor: Richard Farnes | Director: David McVicar hm, why not?
NEW Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart)
2019 La Contessa: Julia Kleiter
NEW March 2019 | Marguérite: Diana Damrau I might go
NEW Otello (Verdi)
Desdemona: Ermonela Jaho
Andrea Chénier (Giordano)
NEW Spring 2019 (pushed back)
2019 – 2020
NEW Jenufa (Janacek)
Director: Claus Guth
Kostelnicka: Karita Mattila yes to more Mattila and more Janacek. Hope Guth will be on form.
Death in Venice (Britten)
Conductor: Mark Elder | Production: David McVicar
Production: Barrie Kosky ❤ you know you want to come to London!
[edit: debuting in Munich this Summer with Coote in the title role and Fagioli and Davies as Nerone and Ottone]
Elektra (Strauss) 2020
Klytemnestra: Karita Mattila I’ll go see her!
Parsifal (Wagner) 2020
Conductor: Semyon Bychkov
Madama Butterfly (Puccini) Summer 2020
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Goro: Carlo Bosi
NEW 2020 – 2021
Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Offenbach) Fall 2020
Hoffmann: Juan Diego Florez
So they’re chucking out their ancient Hoffmann? Good riddance! I hope Michieletto does something with this sexist story. On the other hand, there’s a lot of Hoffmann in just a few years, chap wrote other fun stuff (like his take of Orphee).
Hänsel und Gretel (Humperdinck)
Production: Antony McDonald I wonder if it’s replacing the cancelled Konigskinder?
4 new works inspired by Slavoj Zizek’s writings (Saariaho, Turnage, Francesconi, Widmann) heh, interesting idea
Librettist: Sofi Oksanen
Alcina (Händel) ❤ ❤ ❤
Production: Christof Loy (from Zurich)
Bradamante: Varduhi Abrahamyan ❤
I’m expecting everyone to London for an extended Alcina party!
Věc Makropulos (Janacek) ❤ Mattila, right? She sang it at Southbank a couple of years back ❤
As I was saying in an earlier post, I liked this very much indeed, but being other it wasn’t easy to write about. Also I’ve been sucked into the blackhole known as other interests these days and have generally neglected to put words on
paper screen (what do you mean other interests? what can be more interesting than l’opera??? I know, I was shocked too. Sabotage!).
Anyway, a fitting return of Thursday’s Something Else. Let’s see what the blurb tells us:
In this special, one-evening concert, The Royal Opera joins forces with Shubbak Festival to showcase works by five composers from the Arab world. Shubbak is London’s major biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture, connecting London audiences with the best of Arab culture across visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, architecture and debate. This evening in two parts will share and celebrate short works by five composers, centring on the premiere of scenes from Bushra El-Turk’s new opera Woman at Point Zero.
Woman at Point Zero is based on the seminal novel by Egyptian author, feminist and doctor Nawal El Saadawi – an allegorical tale of historical female oppression in Egypt that questions what true freedom and empowerment can mean for women today. Preceding extracts of Woman at Point Zero are the UK premieres of chamber works by the four participants of The Royal Opera and Shubbak’s inaugural Arab Composer Residency programme: Amir ElSaffar (Iraq/US), Nadim Husni (Syria/Poland), Bahaa El-Ansary (Egypt) and Nabil Benabdeljalil (Morocco).
Though St Luke’s – an 18th century church converted into a musical venue – is located at Old Street and thus very convenient for yours truly and I got there with time to spare, I managed not to land a programme, being more focused on getting from point A to point B (seating) inside the venue, so that I could find a nice spot on the balcony to better view the stage. Thus I couldn’t tell which piece/composer came first, middle and last.
The pieces ranged from what a rather clueless Westerner (yours truly) would call Middle Eastern singing backed by a string quartet to some string shredding that would not look out of place in an extreme metal festival, via a piece that combined Polish folk singing and Middle Eastern instrumentation rather interestingly – so full circle. Unsurprisingly I felt serious kinship with the entirely instrumental string shredding – very fine work from the LSO violonist, whom I would nominate if I had the programme… – in spite of the heavy angst – or perhaps it was just simply very energetic.
After the interval we had the scenes from Woman at Point Zero, entirely orchestrated with an array of very good looking world music wind instruments and an accordion that sounded like no accordion I’ve ever heard. That was a very good thing, as if there is one instrument I can’t stand it’s that one1.
The scenes were staged in a manner that reminded me of Sellars’ treatment of The Gospel According to the Other Mary – that is, movement was integral, staging minimal. Now seeing as how this shapes up to be chamber opera, that was ideal. The orchestra, made up of 6 musicians, was also called to move throughout the piece. I was highly impressed with how they managed to interact with the main character (The Woman) whilst playing without scores (especially the flautist). I’m compelled to add that I find myself a lot more responsive to this contemporary type of dance than to its classical counterpart. Maybe I should start the broadening of my ballet horizons via this.
At the beginning they were all lined up at the back of the stage, in hieratic poses. As The Woman starts to breath, the wind instruments help her find her voice, coming closer and closer and offering her a variety of primordial sounds. This is a feminist text so that was an excellent illustration of one’s emerging sense of self. It also harked back – I think – to the Ancient Egyptian Ka. I loved it. Soprano Merit Ariane Stephanos (one of the forces behind the inception of the project) did a mesmerising job with the title role.
The scenes continued like this, The Woman recounting the events of her life that built on her present condition, which seemed both desperate (death row) and keenly self aware. It’s a very typical story of Woman trying to find her place in a society that does not offer her much of a choice. What impresses is of course her inner strength and desire to better herself/discover her worth.
The “recit” part of the text is spoken (no Spechgesang) in English and sung in Arabic, so we have an interesting and quite seamless combination of Western and Arab. The recits are contemporary music in ethos whilst the singing seems written in traditional manner from around the world, which also helps illustrate the divergent forces that create the drama at hand.
To get a better idea, check it out here and read the blurb below the video as well, it’s got more info:
the nudes …another eyebrow-raising search engine term. Dear reader, I must disappoint you. I actually had to google Ms Gimadieva’s images as I had only a vague idea of how she looked (= brunette). Less of an idea about her in the nude 😉 but I can see how those who like typical Russian features might dig further (and they will have to, I don’t have any related pictures stashed around this blog).
the cave. I’m in the cave because I’ve been struck by ear blockage, which prevented me from going to see Spyres and El-Khoury yesterday. So much for giving Spyres another chance. After some in-house work on my ears I’m crossing my fingers Gerhaher projects tonight because I don’t want to miss him as well now that I finally chanced on a ticket to see him in recital. You see how fate keeps trying to stop me from seeing him?
Tito. It’s been a while, eh? But you might remember it’s not long now that Tito will return to Glyndebourne and the Proms, so there will be a lot of Tito talk around here, like in the good old days.
In the meanwhile, somebody graciously informed me that the Aspen Music Festival is running three Tito dates this August, so if you can get there check it out. I would love to see Tito in that kind of landscape (I’m from a mountain town myself).
Woman at Ground Zero. The show happened on Thursday, before my blocked ear wahala. I loved it! It’s the kind of contemporary opera project I can happily get behind. Post to come.
The Love for Three Oranges. Just for fun 🙂
16:40 – just sitting on the lawn, listening to Sarah Connolly warm up with… Idamante? Didn’t expect that one; in fact it took me a while to figure out why I should know the tune.
It’s not raining! And it’s not nearly as windy as last time. Lots of bees doing their thing to plants in many shades of purple.
20:45 – that was the most boring opera first half I’ve ever willingly gone to see in the house. About halfway through I gave up the fight against zzzs and napped in earnest. Somehow I managed not to drop my opera glasses. During the second half I did not sleep but I entertained myself by trying to figure out ways to get Vitellia1 to lose some weight.
TO NAP OR NOT TO NAP
If you’re curious, Glyndebourne live streams it on 6 July, but for my £15 it was deadly dull, both at orchestra level and vocally. The singers did their job commendably when there was something for them to tackle. Give me Anna Nicole any day. At least that one is unabashedly pop and has fun with its idiom.
This is pretentious yet unimaginative. It pulls out all the boring contemporary opera tricks and none of the interesting stuff – like some unusual orchestration, interesting instruments, some sort of rhythmic inventiveness – or whatever they’re supposed to do so as not to repeat the past. The singing is pretty much Sprechgesang (the kind I pull out to liven up daily chores) peppered with ambulance siren ensembles2 and sort of arias, obviously to wake up the people lulled to sleep by the very serious dullness.
The sort of aria I have in mind is Ophelia’s, undoubtedly an homage to the mad scenes of yore, which, in this case and production is Zerbinetta having a breakdown. Poor Babs Hannigan, they had her jump around like a gymnast, throw herself and writhe on the floor, jump on someone’s back – the works, I suppose, of what posh women are expected to do when they’re having a manic episode. It’s also obviously hard to sing and she coped very well (because we know she likes this sort of thing, jumping around included) – but remember what Richard Croft said in the interview I posted the other day, it’s very hard to be spotless vocally with this kind of stuff and dramatically moving at the same time. I’m really glad now that I saw her in Written on Skin, where she got to be emotionally expressive; even though I’m not its biggest fan, that was a much more enjoyable experience all around.
Connolly and Tomlinson wasted their time with this, as far as I’m concerned. Il padre adorato was my favourite bit from her all night, glad I kept near the building where she was warming up 🙂 Allan Clayton in the title role put a lot of effort into it but I’ve never heard a more boring main part in an opera before. I can’t remember anything; based on just this, I find it impossible to judge his singing skills. I’m also not sure why they gave him a bushy beard that made him look like an extra from Boris Godunov.
The point of it all seemed to be staying as close to the play as possible, so we got all the famous lines, sometimes more than once and by different characters. Playing with what has penetrated popular culture to the point of cliche is fine if you do it cleverly. Not the case here. Just having The Ghost/Gravedigger say “to be or not to be” and wink is kind of har.har. Hamlet actually says “the rest is silence” as he’s expiring which almost made me chuckle. Surely you didn’t need that?! Especially as Horatio was just going on about how singing angels will guide him to his resting place. It’s like “oy, Horatio, I don’t need no stinkin’ angels! This is not the 1800s”. Are we supposed to laugh or are we supposed to be navel gazing?
As per Rupert Christiansen, “Neil Armfield’s effective and unassertive production is inoffensively updated to a modern setting”, which in my translation means it’s just there. They have these side windows at some point which I swear they recycled from that scene in Le nozze di Figaro where Cherubino has to jump out the window (though upon checking it looks more like th ROH production windows – but that kind nonetheless).
As a conclusion I think from now on I will 1) not allow myself fly off just because the cast looks brilliant, 2) avoid Brett Dean stuff.
On the upside, for that £15 I actually got to sit down in a central seat in the upper amphi, which is probably quite rare at Glyndebourne. Also the day progressed into very pleasant come the interval, so I just lay down in the grass and watched the clouds, which is another thing I don’t get to do often enough.
On the bus I chatted with a woman from NYC (not originally) who was visiting London and decided to come to Glyndebourne on her own when her friends balked out. How commendable! After the interval a seatmate thought to make conversation:
Chap (cheerfully): So how do you like the opera?
Dehggi: I think it’s terrible.
Chap (taken aback): Really? In what way?
Dehggi: I couldn’t get into neither the orchestral part or the singing.
Chap (turns around and starts talking to someone else).
Said chap was also a woop! woop! shouter and had this slow and emphatic way of clapping, as if he was sarcastic only I’m pretty sure he wasn’t. The claps were particularly loud, each clap like a gunshot. And when it was time to leave, he and his buddy cheerfully stopped dead at the end of the row, effectively blocking everyone else’s way. Clearly he liked it. The rest of us had a bus to catch and Glyndebourne is too lovely a place to leave in a hurry, especially on a balmy night, when it’s not quite dark.
- cat ;-) ↩
- Rupert Christiansen thinks “Dean is rare among contemporary opera composers in understanding how to present people singing together” but to me it sounded exactly as boring as most contemporary attempts at just that – people singing at such intervals as to cancel each other’s efforts and end up sounding like the din of the schoolyard. I mean, by all means don’t reinvent The Anvil Chorus but if I wantedto listen to a schoolyard ensemble I’d open the window. But read his review because maybe you don’t need to take my word for it. ↩
I went to see Adès’ latest offering mostly on the strength of the cast. Then I thought the Bunuel connection could be interesting. Also it’s good to know what’s being written these days, although the vocal writing makes Baroque vocals sound positively natural by comparison. Pehaps this artificiality is intentional.
Leonora Palma (Dr Conde’s patient/stalker): Anne Sofie von Otter
Blanca Delgado (pianist, wife of Roc): Christine Rice
Edmundo, Marques de Nobile (party host): Charles Workman
Lucia, Marquesa de Nobile (his wife): Amanda Echalaz
Count Raúl Yebenes (explorer): Frédéric Antoun
Doctor Carlos Conde (GP/Psychiatrist): John Tomlinson
Alberto Roc (conductor): Thomas Allen
Francisco de Avila (Silvia’s younger brother): Iestyn Davies
Eduardo (Beatriz’ boyfriend): Ed Lyon
Leticia (opera singer): Audrey Luna
Silvia de Avila (young, widowed mother): Sally Matthews
Beatriz (Eduardo’s girlfriend): Sophie Bevan
Lucas (footman): Hubert Francis
Enrique (waiter): Thomas Atkins
Señor Russell (dude who dies): Sten Byriel
Colonel Alvaro Gomez (Marquesa’s lover): David Adam Moore
Julio (butler): Morgan Moody
Conductor: Thomas Adès | Royal Opera Choir and Orchestra
Ondes martenot: Cynthia Millar
Librettist/Director: Tom Cairns
Co-production with Salzburger Festspiele, Metropolitan Opera and The Royal Danish Opera
Seeing the composer himself conduct is another interesting angle. I had the kind of seat (on the right arm of the trusty horseshoe, where I’ve sat many times) from where I could see him at work. His style of conducting struck me as very clear, though what do I know? As far as sound levels he did not go easy on his singers, though the whole (wall of sound) benefitted in my ears. It’s pretty much just Sprechgesang so it’s not like you’re missing some beautiful ppp lines. That’s not to say singers didn’t indulge in dynamic variation, they did (I remember some nice work from Workman and Rice) and these were sometimes swallowed by the whole. Which was rather fitting.
It turned out Cairns’ libretto was wickedly funny.
“I slept worse than that time on the train to Nice that derailed!” and “Perhaps I’m insensitive but the fate of those squashed common people [3rd class carriage] didn’t affect me at all”. These are gems from Silvia de Avila, who also boasts “I love this oddness! I don’t like anything normal!” or words to that effect. The answer to that is “We’ve all noticed that [in reference to her overly maternal (Oedipal) relationship with her whingy/neurotic brother] but we never said anything because we’re polite!” – this by the opera singer character (soprano), Leticia Maynar, who speaks in acuti only. Luckily Luna wasn’t pingy, because she had quite a bit to say.
As you can tell from the Surrealist connection, the shadow of Freud looms large. The voice of reason is the Doctor, who is GP and Psychoterapist rolled in one. This gives him funny lines like “In 5 days s/he will go completely bald” – his answer to any medical question posed to him. But even that has a funny answer “That’s not bad, she has a very fine skull!”
The libretto offers one of the most positive portrayals of Psychiatrists I’ve seen, with the Doctor reminding everyone of the need to preserve their humanity. The day is, however, saved by the soprano, who organises a reenactment of the moment everything went pearshaped, which in turn restores order. So music fixes everything. But it also screws things up (that’s sopranos for you).
It sounds like the host’s enthusiastic/polite quip that “you can’t leave now! This is the most intimate hour!” trapped them all in his drawing room for what seemed like an eternity (sounds like most parties after about 3am). I enjoyed both sides of the conversation – with the hosts complaining about being tired or bored and the hosts – subtly – trying to get them to leave already (“Give them breakfast and they’ll leave”).
The libretto boasts astute observervations along the way, such as people’s transition from abject hunger to contradictory complaints about the cooked meat when sheep appear out of thin air. Speaking of sheep, there were live (and very docile) sheep on stage when we were allowed into the auditorium and I could only relate their presence to their connection with sleep/dreaming.
So I took this as a meditation on human condition via a “very bad trip”, from luxury to degradation and back. The Ondes Martenot (related to the Theremin) was the anchoring instrument of the evening, with its eerie, early electronica sounds. Millar played it from the left Dress Circle (the orchestra is so big it takes the entire pit, with a few instruments spilling below and above) and I had a very good view at her work and got to appreciate it.
It wasn’t an easy evening but it kept me constantly engaged, even though I had had a long (and very cold) day, which included some flitting about in the ROH vicinity, because I had time to kill and I realised I knew very little about the area beside tube station – opera house – Covent Garden Market, which all in all comprises about 200m. Because of this I had the
misfortune chance to hear a busking opera singer whose chief tool was a heavily undulating vibrato which rivaled that Martenot but completely obscured the tune of whatever he was attempting to sing shout.
The singing in the opera was more conversational but it’s still not easy for me to gauge how the singers fared. With so many characters it was initially a challenge to figure out who was who and what they were on about. It seemed like a marathon of dramatic intensity and focus rather than one of singing prowess. Everyone appeared engaged and did their thing when called for it – sometimes after long periods of not singing, though they were all stuck on stage at all times. Thomas Allen as conductor Roc had it easiest, one would say, as his character slept through most of the drama. As someone quipped, “why did Sr Russel die, why not the conductor? What difference does one conductor less make?” There were other such in-jokes in the libretto, not the least Francisco’s (I think?) reccurent cry “play us something by Adès, I implore you!” when the pianist, Blanca, regales them with a few phrases on the piano.
Dramatically, I really enjoyed the way Silvia was drawn as a character (obsessed with oddness, caricaturally overprotective of her brother + ambiguously close to him whilst potentially oblivious of Padre Sanson’s intentions towards her son, homeschooled by him. Though considering it’s her brother Francisco who voices doubts about Padre Sanson’s saintliness it was hard to tell whether she was negligent or he was paranoid. Matthews showed some top comedic timing when delivering her lines. Davies as Francisco also did a very good job acting neurotic/infantilised. Tomlinson as Dr Conde was very credible as the well intentioned “saviour of humanity”.
In conclusion, it was highly entertaining, though I think I need to see/hear it a couple of times before I can form a more coherent idea about the whole. Also seeing the original Bunuel film might help.
- Padre Sanson (Yoli’s teacher): Wyn Pencarreg | Yoli (Silvia’s son): Joshua Abrams | Pablo (cook): James Cleverton | Meni (maid): Elizabeth Atherton | Camila (maid): Anne Marie Gibbons ↩
Given that I haven’t been to Glyndebourne in a few years, I don’t know if this general booking system is new or not. In any case, you apparently can’t sneak in before the appointed time. Though I got in 14secs after 6pm, I was #622 in the queue. Luckily I was tag-teaming with Baroque Bird, who was in the 300s already. So Team London will be there for La clemenza di Tito on 31 July (Glyndebourne will broadcast the 3 August performance) and yours truly will see a couple more shows (Hipermestra and Hamlet in June plus another go at Tito in August). Let’s hope for clement weather 🙂
edit: we now have Annio (Anna Stéphany) and Publio (Clive Bayley). Interesting that Stéphany is Annio, seeing as how she’s already sung Sesto. But I do rather see her as Annio. You may remember I saw Bayley as Aye in Akhnaten last year and when I say saw I mean it. It’s going to be nice actually hearing him 😉
tl;dr: barely any Mozart, no Baroque (though some might trickle through nearer to the time) but some tempting things nonetheless. Here‘s your source.
New productions 2017-18
La Vestale (Spontini) La Gheorghiu continues her work to keep the rep traditional
Julia: Angela Gheorghiu
La Boheme (Puccini)
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Production: Richard Jones
Mimi: ? keeping the suspense
Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano
Marcello: Mariusz Kwiecien
The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) – Co-Production with De Nederlandse Opera
Production: Stefan Herheim I like it, I’ll go
Der Freischutz (Weber) I don’t quite like it but I might go because how often does it come around?
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Production: Kasper Holten
Max: Jonas Kaufmann / Stuart Skelton
Semiramide (Rossini) bring it on! I might go twice [2018 update: I did go twice!]
Production: David Alden
Semiramide: Joyce DiDonato
Arsace: Daniela Barcellona
Katya Kabanova (Janacek) tempting
Production: Ivo van Hove
Katya: Amanda Majeski
Lessons in Love and Violence (George Benjamin, World Premiere) [2018: will go soon]
Director: Katie Mitchell
Barbara Hannigan ❤ I’ll take the chance with her
Les Vepres Siciliennes (Verdi) October – November 2017
Rachele Stanisci (Helene), two performances who’s she? I missed the Vepres the last time around, might go this time
Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) / Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) Dec 2017
Nedda: Carmen Giannattasio
Silvio: Artur Rucinski
Santuzza: Elina Garanca I’d go for comparison purposes but it’s a bit soon
Tosca (Puccini) January 2018
Caravadossi: Vittorio Grigolo yes, but who is Tosca?
Lucia di Lammermor (Donizetti) November 2017? So soon?!
Lucia: Olga Peretyatko
Raimondo: Michele Pertusi
Juan Diego Flórez he doesn’t want to!
Don Giovanni (Mozart) July 2018
Donna Anna: Chen Reiss
Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik
Andrea Chenier (Giordano) ?2018 never too soon 😉 [2018: it’s 2019 now, so I guess it was too soon…]
Andrea Chenier: Jonas Kaufmann
Salome (Strauss) Yay! Hope it’s good. [2018: it was]
Peter Grimes (Britten)
Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton
Ellen Orford: Emma Bell
New Productions 2018-19
Königskinder (Humperdinck) 13/17/21/27 Dec 2018, 1 Jan 2019 [2018: apparently cancelled]
Production: David Bosch
Der Königssohn: Daniel Behle ❤
Fedora: Angela Gheorghiu
From the House of the Dead (Janacek) I’ll go [2018: very good!]
Production: Krzysztof Warlikowski
Through the Looking Glass (Unsuk Chin) World Premiere (?)
Don Pasquale (Donizetti) I really don’t see the appeal of this one
Production: Damiano Michieletto
La Forza Del Destino (Verdi) – 2019 not unless we get Harteros [2018: we’re not getting her]
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Death in Venice (Britten) I like the story, I might go
Conductor: Mark Elder
Production: David McVicar
Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Brunnhilde: Nina Stemme should yours truly make an effort?
Siegfried: Stefan Vinke
Siegmund: Stuart Skelton
Carmen November- December 2018
Micaela: Eleonora Buratto
Faust (Gounod) should go this time [2018: quite tempting with Damrau]
Written on Skin had its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012 and ran at ROH in 2013 under the baton of the composer (so we can settle what the composer really wanted in this case). This month it had its first ROH revival, also conducted by Benjamin.
Though I’m not a contemporary opera afficionado I do enjoy keeping abreast at least partially with what’s being written these days. When I first heard it I didn’t like it; not because I found it unlistenable (it’s not); I just didn’t like the vibe. The lack of visuals didn’t help. I wasn’t going to see it this time around either although I really wanted to see Barbara Hannigan live in anything modern and when her date at Wiggy went MIA last Autumn I was at a loss. John suggested this was a good opportunity for just that so I booked a ticket. At £19 what’s one got to lose?
The Protector: Christopher Purves
Agnès: Barbara Hannigan
Angel 1 / The Boy: Iestyn Davies
Angel 2 / Marie: Victoria Simmonds
Angel 3 / John: Mark Padmore
Conductor: George Benjamin | Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
A co-commission and co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Netherlands Opera Amsterdam and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse
I know by now that there are operas you like just by listening to the music, others where you need visuals to spur you on and some yet that you might only appreciate if you get your arse into the designated space for this type of entertainment. This is one of them (for me). I liked the performance/production a lot; I was not bored for a moment but I don’t know that I’d rush to just listen to it again. I would go see it again but not tomorrow.
However I can see why some have really got into it – it’s got a lot going for it – especially the libretto, with its very compact/concise style, which somehow mixes a lot of poetry in and because of this interesting combo it’s actually rather difficult to discuss. Characters speak as themselves as well as the narrator, modernity and old skool attitudes alternate when you least expect it, as if past and present are running at the same time whilst people live and watch themselves do the act of living.
It is good to see women taking control of their lives in opera, even when the only control they can have is over their own death. Or maybe I’m a miser here, Agnes did have her fun before that. I also liked that she didn’t want to live a lie.
The production, with its interesting mix of modern and ancient, which in this case is as according to the libretto, fits the mood of the work perfectly. (When I was at uni I used to work in the library, where I got to see how books are mended/made. As a result I developed a slight fascination with the process so I was very pleased to see it play an important role in this production.)
I like stage designs that compartimentalise the space because those compartments speak for themselves. Here we had the house where the couple lives (ancient) and the space where the book about them is being written (modern), plus “the woods”, which in some ways is the space where wild things brew.
This is an opera that heavily relies on acting – voice (in many ways it’s an ode to the written/spoken word) and movement alike. The high quality of the production relied on the choice of performers, some of whom have created the roles1. Right off the bat Benjamin’s writing for the voice reminded me of lieder. I bet you this cast is worth hearing in recital as well. It was gripping word drama. Hannigan had the most intense role – a woman awakening to herself – and her highly charismatic stage presence was captivating even in this half-ethereal role but the men + Simmonds (reprising her 2013 ROH role) were all in high form as well.
With a libretto so strongly focused on words, you notice things like diction and pitch and Hannigan’s were both impressive. Agnes, who is quiet and meek (and illiterate) to begin with but very soon blossoms, emboldened by desire – desire to know the world both physically and intellectually – is a refreshing female role.
Davies as The Boy was in very fine voice and he had no problems making himself heard in the amphitheatre over the slender accompaniment, which makes me think ROH can accomodate Baroque/voice all right. The Boy is another interesting role, as he entirely supportive of Agnes on her journey to personhood, as opposed to The Protector (the husband), who’s basically a backwoods bigot, the type who wants his woman barefoot in the kitchen.
He does commission the book The Boy writes/draws about their righteous life (bigots are usually righteous), which I guess means he’s interested in leaving a very good (albeit hypocritical) impression about himself to the rest of the world. So The Boy is somewhere between personal PR and investigative journalist, as he ends up digging the truth about the so-called righteous couple as is promptly assassinated. Purves as the villainous husband had just the right edge and the appealing lied-narration style fit his voice as well as his temper real well.
The performance ran for ~135min without an interval, save for a couple of breaks for scenery change, which the audience used to expel all the pentup coughing (an impressive amount, considering there were no extraneous noises during the performance; in fact the domino effect of dumping air via the mouth likely caused hilarity among the public). I often praise other houses for their atmosphere, but these breaks gave me the opportunity to remember just how enjoyable the ROH auditorium is as well. I do take it for granted and with good reason: it felt like an extension of my personal space.
- Purves and Hannigan. ↩
(Accidents happen or don’t buy opera tickets when very tired/distracted)
I set my alarm for 8am this morning then when the intro to ‘giardiniera started I kicked it and went back to sleep which tells you this ROH Spring brings slim pickings for me.
But when I returned from work I decided to scavenge for anything cheap for The Exterminating Angel (I
don’t like didn’t like Bunuel when I was 19, but based on my very positive experience with Written on Skin I thought I’d try another comtemporary opera) and L’elisir d’amore because of secret soprano crush Kurzak (here with hubby Alagna)… and then I accidentally ended up with Yende and Villazon (they were team A but perhaps unsurprisingly team B sold faster). Now I was curious about Yende anyway but oh dear god, Villazon. Come on, Sr V, prove me wrong 😛