Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
Jonathan Dove’s 1994 one act opera Siren Song is a twisted little piece and very enjoyable. Apparently it’s based on a true story which just makes it weirder. Its the mid 1980s. Davey Palmer is an Able Seaman on HMS Ark Royal. He answers an ad in Navy News from a young woman, Diana, seeking a pen pal. Diana is a model and the relationship gets quite steamy but somehow whenever Davey gets shore leave there is some reason why Diana can’t meet him. Soon Diana’s brother Jonathan is showing up to make the excuses. Diana has throat cancer and can’t make phone calls and on it goes until the nature of the phone calls between Davey and Jonathan leads the MOD police to investigate a possible homosexual relationship. Surprise! There is no Diana and Jonathan is a con man. It’s very cleverly constructed with Diana appearing as a character though, we realise eventually, only in Davey’s imagination and the the pacing is such that our suspicion builds rather than the denouement being a huge surprise.
I’ve been impressed by Jonathan Dove’s art songs so I was glad to be able to take a look at one of his operas. It’s The Adventures of Pinocchio and it was recorded in a production by Opera North at Sadlers Wells in 2008. I feel a bit ambivalent about it. I really like the music but I’m not hugely engaged by the libretto. I think this is largely because of the subject matter so it may come off better for someone else.
That headline is taken from the eighth movement of Jonathan Dove’s 2016 work for orchestra and children’s chorus; A Brief History of Creation, which takes us in thirteen movements from the stars to man via, inter alia, rain, sharks, whales and monkeys. The text, by Alasdair Middleton, is clever, engaging and singable. The music is eclectic. There are elements of atonality but also intense lyricism. It’s by turns shimmery, frantic, doom laden and meditative. It engages beautifully with the text and Dove has a very sure sense of what is and is not reasonable to ask of a children’s choir. Some short text sections are left as spoken (with a very authentic Mancunian accent). All in all, it’s a witty and enjoyable piece that doesn’t outstay it’s 45 minutes or so.