Having never taken to cinema relays, the experience of watching opera at home has been better than I would have imagined, (albeit at the mercy of an internet connection). Think of some of the advantages: (1) No travel involved, no late-night trains home. (2) Cameras get in on the action, close up, saving hundreds on the cost of a front stalls ticket. (3) No irritating audience neighbours. (4) Watch in comfort when you feel like it. (5) Subtitles rather than surtitles. (6) Rewind as required. (7) Truly international viewing. (8) Excellent sound, voices clearly audible. (9) Participate in watch party chats. Of course, the thrill of experiencing a live-performance in-house is lacking, but so are the chances of contracting the virus. Watching great opera while also staying alive: a no-brainer!
How will new viewing habits affect the future of opera? Since it receives taxpayers' support, It seems only right that the Royal Opera, for example, makes available its output for all to see, regardless of geography . So will there be a two-tier audience? Theatre attendees paying lots to be there while those at home watch for free? How about an annual subscription for the UK's output of opera made available on a special channel? Or does this new situation herald the demise of grand opera houses altogether?
I've just finished a short piano concerto. The orchestral accompaniment is strings only - could be single strings, too. I wanted the piano and strings to work together rather than have the pianist stand out as a celebrity, so I called the solo part 'piano continuo' since it plays all the time. I know one of my many weaknesses is that after a couple of minutes I go from one thing to another; the result here is a kind of suite of pieces which may feel disjointed; of course, they're meant to complement each other like a multi-course meal. In fact, there are connections running through the piece and it's technically written as one movement, so I hope it will have some coherence . This Kandinsky in Grenoble sort of looks what it sounds like, to me at any rate.
The recent death of Andrew Sinclair, international opera director, has suddenly brought to mind the period when he and I most closely worked together. The occasion was his direction of my chamber opera Caedmon, produced by The Garden Venture at the Royal Opera House in 1989.
Small-scale opera is a thing nowadays, not surprising given the economies involved. Lots of popular classics have been doing the rounds - La Boheme, Carmen, La Traviata, G&S, etc., as well as arrangements of less mainstream works. Anything to get opera out and about and attract new audiences everywhere is to be greatly applauded. But it has to be admitted the resulting musical experience without orchestra and choruses is likely to be underwhelming compared to the experience that was intended. Just as we like ‘Early Music’ to sound right with period instruments, so grand opera ideally needs to be savoured as the ‘real thing’, performed by the forces and in the spaces it was written for. But it’s worth noting that theatres in the 17th and 18th century (1000 seats) were nowhere near as large as those built in the 19th century (around 2000 seats) - and these are dwarfed by the monster new-builds and extensions of the 20th (3000 to 4000 capacity). In these auditoria, most spectators are distant from the stage, many spy on the performance through opera glasses and typically listen with acoustic enhancement (amplification) even if they’re not aware of it. By contrast, small-scale opera in intimate venues allows the audience to feel close to the stage and feel more involved in the drama. Clearly, voices don’t need to be so large (and wobbly) and don’t have to strain; they can, more often than not, sound more detailed and beautiful. The challenge we face, therefore, is to create new, tailor-made, small-scale works that appeal to audiences everywhere and enhance the repertory of sung dramas that are so powerful and compelling.
Last night was aired one of the best TV arts programmes I've watched in recent years. It was like something from the good old days when the BBC took risks, rose to its subject matter and didn't dumb down to an audience only thought to be interested in cake-baking, auctions or murders. Guardian review.
I’ve just finished reading The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. I'm doubtless late to the party but just in case there’s someone reading this who hasn’t yet got around to dusting down this hefty tome, let me explain that Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften is widely regarded as one of the world’s great novels, compared by some to Ulysses or The Remembrance of Things Past (The Times). No doubt it is something of a cult work in German-speaking lands.
A project in the autumn and winter lockdowns recently has been to finish another Lorca setting. My operatic version of Así que pasen cinco años I've called In Five Years' Time, which seems a more natural translation than 'When Five Years Have Passed'. Death is a theme of the play and very much in the headlines right now.
About a year ago I finished this chamber opera on a play by Oscar Wilde. I was keen to write an Italian-style opera although never sure what I meant by that.
Written before the pandemic outbreak, this could hardly have been more timely. A rhyming libretto by Leo Doulton at first had me stumped: how could such a doom-laden scenario be treated as a 'comedy of manners', as he put it?
Gilles' Requiem is one of the most lovely works of all time!
An interesting observation by Philip Brown... Handel vs. Bach.
I went to see Music Theatre Wales' production of The Golden Dragon in Basingstoke recently. This is a production which has caused some controversy because of its ‘yellowface’ casting.
The Oval Portrait
I came across Poe’s The Oval Portrait in 2013 when I needed to complete a programme of chamber opera: the story is concise and simply told, written in prose that sounds very musical.
Composer and musician