Saturday, 5 February 2011

Fantasy Opera: the first two seasons

When I should have been at work on a frightening number of other things, I came across Lisa Hirsch’s latest Fantasy Opera season from her blog, ‘Iron Tongue of Midnight’. Over the past day or so, when again I should have been etc., I found myself from time to time thinking about what I should like to hear in an imaginary opera season, for instance when the call came for a new regime at a major opera house. For the sake of argument, there were to be sixteen productions: it seemed a reasonable number, though I hankered after more. I set myself an arbitrary but not unreasonable rule: no more than one work per composer. Still, it was far too difficult, so I allowed myself two seasons; the rule of one work still applied over the two-year span. There are more than sixteen works in each season, since there is a pair of double-bills in both. Though I did not make this a rule, I steered clear of works that were very often performed, not really in order to make a point, but just to make choice a little, and I stress a little, easier. I started off assigning conductors to the works, but left that particular project on one side, since it was complicated enough simply to select the works. (I was quite proud of a few opera-and-conductor pairings, though, and even started thinking about stage directors and some casting.) One choice is an oratorio, but it is an oratorio that in many respects cries out to be staged - or at the very least would not be harmed by doing so.

There can of course be no claim to any particular validity to these imaginary seasons, and I am well aware that, ‘in the real world’ – though surely if opera is anywhere, it should not be there! – it would be necessary to revive earlier productions and so on, but let us leave such mundane concerns aside for the moment. (For what it is worth, a new broom such as Gérard Mortier managed to accomplish a great deal without resorting to existing productions.) What undoubtedly came across, though, was how, without the slightest effort whatsoever, programmes that would be fresh and appealing could be constructed. Had we to declare a moratorium upon beloved works such as Figaro and Tristan, we might not only survive but flourish. And that was all before even beginning to consider what is perhaps most necessary of all: newly-commissioned works…

Season One

Birtwistle, The Mask of Orpheus
Monteverdi, L’incoronazione di Poppea
Rameau, Les Boréades
Henze, König Hirsch
Ravel, L’enfant et les sortilèges and Stravinsky, The Nightingale
Davies, Taverner
Mozart, Lucio Silla
Busoni, Doktor Faust
Britten, The Turn of the Screw
Gluck, Armide
Weber, Euryanthe
Mussorgsky, Khovanschina
Prokofiev, The Fiery Angel
Weill, Aufstieg and Fall der Stadt Mahagonny
Debussy, Pelléas et Mélisande
Schoenberg, Die glückliche Hand, and Nono, Intolleranza 1960

Season Two

Stockhausen, Donnerstag
Handel, Saul
Wagner, Rienzi
Dusapin, Faustus, the Last Night
Haydn, Armida
Purcell, Dido and Aeneas, and Benjamin, Into the Little Hill
Goehr, Arden Must Die
Szymanowski, King Roger
Schumann, Genoveva
Dallapiccola, Ulisse
Hindemith, Cardillac
Berio, Cronaca del Luogo
Charpentier, Actéon, and Strauss, Daphne
Janáček, From the House of the Dead
Berlioz, Benvenuto Cellini
Messiaen, St François d’Assise

I was surprised by the number of works by English composers: perhaps I am possessed of a greater national bias than I should ever have suspected, though I suspect that it is more that my country's musical culture is far richer than I sometimes allow. More to the point, there was so much else I should have loved to include. There are no works by Zemlinsky, Cavalli, Schreker, Rossini, Lully, Schubert, Puccini, Meyerbeer, and so many others – and not for any good reason: there simply was not enough space. I was especially sorry to lose Cerha’s Baal, again for no good reason whatsoever, other than perhaps to allot a place to a work from another era. Pelléas was perhaps an indulgence – though who could ever resist that particular indulgence? – but I managed to steer clear of the more frequently performed works of Mozart and Wagner. Fidelio and the Berg operas would have to wait too, likewise anything by Tchaikovsky, perhaps until the third and fourth seasons, when a new Ring would be mounted...


la23ng said...

Sounds spiffing.

Mark Berry said...

Out of interest (at least for me), of those thirty-six operas, I have seen eleven in the theatre, plus two and a bit in concert performances. Next time, I really ought to make more of an effort to stage some rarities...

Andrebreton62 said...

Very very interesting, congratulations...I would add some Cimarosa or Paisiello (in love with Napoli) or a good and strange Galluppi, just suggestions for a future season...

Mark Berry said...

Thank you! Maybe some Pergolesi too...

Henry Holland said...

Excellent, especially when you lead off with The Mask of Orpheus. I'm assuming ENO sent their production to a rubbish dump long ago, but it's definitely on my shortlist of operas I'd love to experience in a theater before I die.

Interesting double bill in the first season, but I'd propose an all-Schoenberg evening as was done in Leipzig a few years ago: Erwartung > Die glückliche Hand > Von heute auf morgen.

Extra bonus points for no bel canto.

Mark Berry said...

Sometimes I fear I shall never see a production of 'The Mask of Orpheus,' but I live in hope. The all-Schoenberg idea is very tempting, but I thought since I had actually seen the Leipzig productions (, I should, with regret, do something else. Perhaps we should think of other works to accompany all three of the Schoenberg one-acters, maybe even stage some other Schoenberg pieces too, as Leipzig again did with 'Pierrot Lunaire,' (this time with Poulenc's' La Voix humaine': The Arnold Schoenberg Center really ought to give Oper Leipzig a prize!

By the way, the specific reason for the Schoenberg-Nono coupling - as well as thinking how well it would work - was that Nono not only dedicated 'Intolleranza' to Schoenberg, but 'Die glückliche Hand' and 'Lulu' were the twentieth-century operas he most admired. As for the others, Barenboim coupled 'Von heute auf morgen' with Carter's 'What Next?' a while ago: that I'd have loved to hear. I wondered about either some Offenbach (!) or Monteverdi's 'Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda'. The 'Erwartung' - 'Bluebeard's Castle' coupling has been done many times, so perhaps we might substitute 'Gianni Schicchi' or Busoni's 'Turandot'.

As for bel canto, there really isn't enough time in several life-times... I am also mystified by who it might be who thinks differently, since I can honestly say that I have never knowingly met a Donizetti enthusiast. Yet this stuff is performed time and time again. When there is so much wonderful Italian opera (here from Monteverdi to Berio), that baffles me...

Steve Morrison said...

I would kill to see it. I posted mine:

Lisa Hirsch said...

Those are great seasons! I think the Ravel/Stravinsky pairing is particularly inspired. ENO paired Monteverdi madrigals with Duke Bluebeard's Castle in 1993.

I have seen eight of the works in the two seasons, all staged.

Bruce Hodges said...

Great choices, Mark. (And a hearty laugh at Henry Holland's "Extra bonus points for no bel canto.")