If you didn’t catch it live last night there’s a really lovely concert up on the Royal Opera House Youtube channel which should be available for a couple of weeks. Tony Pappano is at the piano with Louise Alder singing Britten, Strauss and Handel, Toby Spence with some Butterworth plus Gerald Finley with Finzi, Turnage and Britten. The boys finish off with the Pearl Fishers duet. Along the way, Morgen is sung by Louise and danced quite beautifully to choreography by Wayne McGregor by Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales. It’s weird, and even eerie, to see a concert from a large empty theatre but there we are. Highly recommended.
I’ve tried several times in the past to watch the DVD recording of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole and never made it past the second scene, which is revolting and, I still think, rather patronising. This time though I made it all the way through and I think, taken as a whole, this is a pretty impressive piece with a clever libretto and some real musical depth. It’s also, in the true and technical sense, a tragedy, and a very operatic one at that.
Later this month I’ll be attending a double bill of Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos. The latter, for those who don’t know the play, is the one with the famous line “L’Enfer; c’est les autres”. I posted the details earlier. Anyway, this led me on a train of thought that ended with the idea of Nihilist Night at the Opera; a sort of antidote to Rossini. Ideally Nihilist Night would feature a double or triple bill of unrelievedly depressing operas and should leave the audience with no hope at all for humanity.
What might qualify? Wozzeck coupled with Moses und Aron seems just about ideal. Want something more contemporary? How about Turnage’s Greek coupled with Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy?
So riffing off an idea raised in comments over at Likely Impossibilities, what books, films, plays, stories or other source material would you like to see made into an opera? Feel free to suggest a composer and librettist and even cast it if you so wish! To start the ball rolling I’ll offer up a few suggestions.
As 2011 draws to a close I got to thinking about which, if any, “new” operas might survive infancy (for the survival rate of new operas seems to be roughly comparable to newborns in an 18th century foundlings hospital). My knowledge of new opera isn’t comprehensive and it’s biased to the English speaking world. Is it my imagination or is there a major split in this area between continental Europe and the angloverse? Or is there simply not much new work being produced on the Continent? Anyway here’s a far from complete list of operas that premiered in 2000 or after and my thoughts on their likely longevity.
John Adams Doctor Atomic 2005. Not Adams’ best work in my opinion. The libretto is pretty awful but there are some good orchestral lines and it’s a great subject. It probably has a future because it’s by Adams.
Harrison Birtwistle Minotaur 2008. Early days but the equally good (IMO) Gawain never got any traction. It’s also a pretty uncompromisingly atonal approach to a classical subject in a world where “tabloid opera” seems to be the thing. It’s probably undeservedly doomed though the fact that a really good video recording is available may help it.
Thomas Adès Tempest 2009. Already scheduled for the Met with a starry cast so has good survival chances.
Marc Anthony Turnage Anna Nicole 2011. I hate it but it fits the contemporary Zeitgeist.
Oswaldo Golijov Ainadamar 2003. A brilliant score but I bet it’s a bugger to stage. Probably doomed.
Jake Heggie Dead Man Walking 2000. This is well established in the US and has, crucially, been performed a few times outside the angloverse. Probably a survivor.
Kaija Saariaho L’Amour de Loin 2000. One of only two non English language opera on the list. Seems to have traction in both Europe and North America. Survivor?
Last night I lasted about thirty minutes in to Mark-Anthony Turnage’s much hyped Anna Nicole. I quite liked the orchestral writing and Eva-Marie Westbroek was acting up a storm but in the end I just felt “meh”. Watching Tony Pappano’s doco on “fallen women” in opera that was meant to contextualize Anna Nicole I think I understand why. Turnage and his librettist are trying to do to “us” what Verdi did with La Traviata; challenge our hypocrisy at colluding in the creation of Anna-Nicole Smith while deploring her life. Doesn’t work for me. Until the opera came along I scarcely knew who she was. I hate the “cult of celebrity”. I despise everything about it and the people who feed off it so trying to guilt trip me over voyeuristic fascination in this particular specimen was doomed to fall flat. It did.
Also, not nearly so edgy as Turnage and company seem to think. The painfully fake Texas accents underlie what is, essentially, an assertion of British cultural superiority over the crass Americans. If the Royal Opera House wanted to make an opera about the cult of mindless celebrity and they had any balls they’d make it about the vacuity of Princess Diana and her family. Not much chance of that!