Bullet Train/Witch on Thin Ice

Another unusual and interesting show from Larry Beckwith’s Confluence Concerts last night at the Aki Studio.  The first half of the programme was a reading of Madeleine Thien’s short story Bullet Train.  It’s sort of a double coming of age story that also looks at what we hang onto and what we don’t as we move through life.  It was beautifully read by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster with cunningly chosen piano interludes played by Gregory Oh.

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After the interval it was Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Yoko Ono inspired piece; Witch on Thin Ice.  At it’s centre was virtuoso percussionist  Beverly Johnstone who displayed great skill on a range of untuned and tuned percussion while executing parts of Melissa Bettio’s choreography and producing all but indescribable vocals!  She was supported by soprano Vania Chan and dancer Jessica Mak with a rap number by Gregory Oh.  Playing over all of this were really rather striking videos and electronics designed by Alice.  It was a bit overwhelming really.  Maybe like being in the middle of an immersive video game and a very complex percussion piece at the same time.  Anyway, great fun and totally unexpected!

There’s another chance to catch this programme tonight at 8pm at the Aki Studio.

Ravel double bill

In 2012 Glyndebourne staged an interesting and contrasting double bill of Ravel one-acters in productions by Laurent Pelly.  The first was L’heure espagnole.  It’s a sort of Feydeau farce set to music.  The plot is classic bedroom farce with the twist that most of the doors the lovers come in or out of belong to clocks.  Concepción is the bored wife of a nerdy clockmaker.  She’s not overly impressed by her two lovers; a prolix poet and a smug banker, who show up while hubby is out doing the municipal clocks.  She’s much more taken by the slightly simple but very muscular muleteer who spends most of his time lugging lover infested clocks up and down stairs for her.  Pelly wisely takes the piece at face value and brings off a mad cap forty five minutes timed to the split second.

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Makes me want to cut my throat too

Philippe Boesmans’ opera Julie; libretto by Luc Bondy and Marie-Louise Bischolberger after Früken Julie by August Strindberg, is unremittingly bleak.  In fact, if it lasted much longer than its 75 minutes I could well imagine audience members cutting their throats long before the title character.  That said, it’s pretty compelling stuff.  It’s a tight drama about a young aristocratic woman kicking against the constraints of her privileged life aided and abetted by her father’s rather spineless valet Jean; a suitable occupation as he is one of nature’s lackeys.  The only likeable character is Jean’s young fiancée Kristin, a cook in the household.  Buried in this simple melodramatic plot of lust, betrayal and suicide are all kinds of ideas about heredity, social class and behaviour.  Broadly speaking the message is “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” and woe betide you if your plebeian mother married above herself.

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There’s the Moral to Draw

Robert Lepage’s 2007 Brussels production of The Rake’s Progress is fascinating on many levels.  I think all good opera productions start with the music and this is no exception.  Lepage sees a crucial relationship between Stravinsky at the time the work was written (1948) and film and television.  It was an era when insubstantial visual imagery was being supported emotionally by pretty impressive music.  Lepage works with that idea; setting the work in the 40s and incorporating film and film making imagery extensively.  I think this decision also frees up the music.  By taking the piece out of the 18th century it becomes possible to take the 18th century out of the piece.  For instance, there are elements in the libretto that mimic 18th century street ballads but Stravinsky absolutely avoids writing the kind of phrasing one might expect and quite deliberately breaks up the line.  That phrasing is respected here whereas I have often heard a false legato imposed on some of those phrases. In a way, the production is helping the viewer to hear the music differently which is perhaps the highest compliment one can pay an opera production.  There are other intriguing relationships between Lepage’s vision and Stravinsky’s.  Lepage sees Stravinsky as playing with time in a cinematic way i.e. rendering it non-linear.  Lepage seeks to mirror this in the spatial dimension by using some odd perspectives and some cinema devices; notably Anne driving her car in front of a moving backdrop just like a studio movie of the period.  There’s a lot going on and it would be tedious to describe it in detail.

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