Monday 23 May 2011

Name that opera

I'd have guessed an all-in-the-schoolroom reinterpretation of Britten's The Turn of the Screw. In fact Alastair Muir's ENO production photo is from Christopher Alden's even more radical re-think of A Midsummer Night's Dream, next in the Britten operatic canon: Iestyn Davies, whose throat infection meant he did a perfect mime job to William Towers singing very well from a box on the first night, is Oberon/Quint, with Dominic Williams as changeling boy/Miles and Anna Christy as Tytania/Governess. I've thought and thought about this superb realisation, which like Rupert Goold's vision of Turandot set in a Chinese restaurant oughtn't to work right across the board but somehow does, since I saw it on Thursday: read the Arts Desk review here.

To coincide with the new production, the latest in a series of new ENO-related series of opera guides has just been published. Building on the old ones, but even handsomer, they take me back to a more innocent time doing humble proofing for still much-missed Nick John alongside Henry Bredin, and happy days are here again with the very friendly Gary Kahn in charge. He asked me to write a piece on the production history of MND - haven't seen a copy yet, so can't tell you what else is in it - and I realise I've seen rather a lot, from luminously trad (the Peter Hall at Glyndebourne, three times) to luminously mod (Robert Carsen plus a short-lived Opera London version conducted by Hickox at Sadlers Wells) via one by Christopher Renshaw which made the score seem stiff and contrived at Covent Garden (saving grace: fledgling Mark Rylance as Puck) and one in a semi-staged performance at Snape (the diplo-mate sang Theseus).

The one I still wish I'd seen, apart of course from Aldeburgh days before I was born, is Baz Luhrmann's Raj-versus-protoBollywood Opera Australia production. I put up this YouTube trailer on the Arts Desk, but no harm in repeating it here. I've heard better performances of "Now until the break of day", not least last Thursday's, so bewitchingly as well as brutally conducted by Leo Hussain, but none - again, apart from ENO's latest departure from the norm - which looks more enticing.

ENO, of course, is on a roll. Though it's more hit and miss, Terry Gilliam's approach to Berlioz's already problematic Damnation of Faust has at least three visual scenes to compare with the coups of the C Alden Dream and continues the Bury regime's mostly successful incorporation of other media (the Dream is austerely straightforward in that respect, though the visuals - especially in an Act 2 sequence which I won't spoil - are no less amazing). Here's another blackboard shot for ENO, this time by Tristram Kenton - Peter Hoare as coxcombed, C D Friedrich Faust and Christopher Purves as Mephistopheles.

Next season has two surefire talking points which I hope will be great hits, and which I've taken the risk of including among the six operas we'll study at the City Lit. At the ENO's 2011-12 core is what I believe will be the London, though not the UK, stage premiere of Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer, which still hits idiotic pro-Israeli lobby reefs in the States (I've just read what Adams so eloquently and carefully has to say about the balance of sympathies in his superb book Hallelujah Junction). And the season kicks off with Mieczyslaw Weinberg's The Passenger in the David Pountney production, the Bregenz world premiere of which I've just waxed lyrical over for the BBC Music Magazine.

A more of-the-essence piece of work than Weinberg's The Portrait - don't miss the Radio 3 broadcast this coming Saturday at 18:00, with Christopher Cook chatting to me in one of the Leeds Grand Theatre boxes - it deserves its right to deal with Auschwitz; the author of the novel, Zofia Posmysz, was interred there and based her tale on the premise of what would happen if she came face to face in later life with her tormenting Kapo, and Weinberg escaped Poland and the fate of the rest of his family only to end up a near-victim of Stalin's antisemitic drive in the early 1950s. But none of this would figure if the score wasn't extremely strong, and I think it is, though haven't made up my mind pending the live experience whether it's a masterpiece or not.

My, these are culturally exhausting times. I've been to big events five nights on the trot, and I'm holding my breath about tonight's special-invitation Chamber Orchestra of Europe 30th birthday concert, on a hunch as to why the conductor isn't named on the invite. Wasn't looking forward hugely to the Glyndebourne Meistersinger on Saturday, given unquenchable loyalties to the WNO experience of Richard Jones's superlative production with Bryn Terfel last June, but it did its own thing and, while not surpassing the Welsh event, came close to it at times. Again, I tried to be as fair as I could to Gerald Finley, who did a good job and won a not undeserved standing ovation but still isn't Bryn or Norman Bailey, on the Arts Desk. And it was sheer bliss to be at Glyndebourne again on a perfect day.

I was lured away from my favourite picnic spot by the lake since we critics had only a ticket apiece, I wanted company, Ed Seckerson hadn't wanted to risk (wrongly) anticipated cold and discomfort, and so I joined him and a friend in one of the Wallops. Where the food was much better than I'd anticipated, even if service was in a bit of chaos on the first night. Anyway, I then got another little wander just as the sun had gone off the gardens.

At least one aspect of the new garden regime is redeeming recent misdemeanours: the abundance of papaver orientalis both in the beds on the lawn and in the formal garden was spectacular.


Willym said...

You must be exhausted - if happily so? As always I read you with green with envy and happy of heart that I can share your experiences - if only on the screen.

Its been a long time since I've been to Glyndebourne - went fairly regularly at one point in the late 60-early 70s - Janet Baker's Calisto being the most indelible experience.

I wonder what John Christie would say now that they've finally got to Meistersinger???

David said...

I guess you're referring to his lifelong dream to see Meistersinger done at Glyndebourne? Apparently they performed excerpts in the Organ Room - the esteemed Sir David Damant has his own take on that in an earlier comment - and Jessica Duchen has a fab pic of JC in his Lederhosen.

I finally got to press the flesh of the admirable Gus, but was even happier to effuse to Danielle de Niese about how I loved her charisma: and it's true, she's a real stage animal, however spiteful the denizens of Parterre may be about her (so I count myself in distinguished company..)

Anyway, once again you've no cause to be green, zipping around the loveliest parts of Sicily and seeing The Greek Passion in Palermo...good to see you back.

David Damant said...

The story is told of John Christie - presumably after he had handed over - that a guest, tiring of Henze, found JC standing alone by the haha and gazing at an empty meadow. "You know" remarked JC suddenly " the cows.....if it were Mozart they would be clustering right up to the haha - but as it is....."

Gavin Plumley said...

Am so surprised by your reaction to GF as Sachs... a very different animal to Bailey and Terfel, but the first scene of Act 3 was unbearably moving and beautifully sung.

David said...

Well, there we go - I only found it moving in the orchestra. More so from Finley fitfully later in the act, but nothing like past experiences of greatness. Too many yardsticks of crying my eyes out through all of Act 3 - not once did I shed a tear here - though I grant he made it his own up to a point.

Didn't know you were there. But it was the usual first-night hurly-burly.

Geo. said...

Obviously from this side of the post I can't comment on ENO's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, although I did attend Lyric Opera of Chicago's production last November, not at all set in a boarding school, but if nothing else, with Hippolyta and Theseus dressed in Jacqueline Kennedy-JFK style. But that aside, one US company is taking on the The Death of Klinghoffer in just a few weeks, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Their page about the production is here.

David said...

Gosh - well, let's see whether there are the usual boycotts and protests. Even the choruses, detachable for concert purposes, seem to stir up trouble- though not always for the obvious reasons, as JA outlines in his book.

Geo. said...

Of course, I meant to say "this side of the pond" in my earlier post. That aside, going back to the St. Louis production of The Death of Klinghoffer, no reports of any boycotts just yet that I find, but one news report is of a recent symposium, sort of in the "can't we all just get along?" spirit or some such thing.