The Hannigan obsession continues. This time I’ve been looking at a DVD, Barbara Hannigan – Concert Documentary. It’s in two parts. There’s a recording of Hannigan as soloist and conductor with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the 2014 Lucerne Festival and there’s a documentary, I’m a creative animal, looking at her life and work.
The concert is an interestingly curated program combining Rossini’s overture to La scala di seta, some Mozart concert arias, Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande and two Ligeti pieces; Concert Românesc and, of course, Mysteries of the Macabre. Hannigan conducts and sings of course. It’s all good stuff and the first Ligeti piece is a surprise as it’s an essentially tonal piece based on Romanian folk music complete with naturally tuned horns. Hannigan can sing Mozart of course and once again demonstrates that she’s not just a novelty act as a conductor. She could completely cut it in that department without the other things she brings to the party.
The fun bit though is her party piece; Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. It’s a piece of performance art drawn from Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre. Personally, if I never have to watch the whole opera again it will be too soon but Mysteries is great fun and an incredible display of virtuosity for both singer and instrumentalists. It features the crazy, paranoid head of the Gepopo (the secret police) making an utterly incoherent speech in code to her troops (the orchestra). Lots of extended vocal techniques weird intervals, word fragments and general lunacy for the soloist while the band is expected to play, sing and shout as required. There’s a bit of a tradition that something unexpected happens in a performance. Here it’s Simon Rattle showing up on stage screaming “What the hell is going on here?” The audience lapped it up and so would I.
The documentary sort of alternates between a “day in the life of” and a biopic. We see Hannigan jogging by Lake Lucerne, riding a horse in Central Park, at her childhood home in Waverley Nova Scotia and cooking in her Lucerne apartment. She jokes about her plans for a cooking show for singers “Oral Obsessions”. Some producer take her up on this please and I want to be on the show too. There’s some emphasis on the life of a working musician; the travel, learning music, rehearsals and, above all, making a tolerable life out of it. The overall impression is of an extraordinarily talented person who has taken control of her own destiny with an iron will and extraordinary self-control. Which is exactly how she presents in real life.