Monday, 4 April 2011

Spring Opera Blossoming

As March becomes April the opportunity to see opera has exploded across London like some sort of daffodil flashmobbing. Indeed, with the festival season just on the horizon there's a great deal of rehearsing going on across the country in addition to the regional companies that continue to provide high-quality operatic experiences (by all accounts). Moreover, the majority of the operatic activity happening right now in the capital is bound by the vogue for small scale, for being 'intimate'. Perhaps the 'flashmob' sobriquet, with its connotations of verisimilitude, spontaneity and invisible barriers is actually rather appropriate.

The Return Of Ulysses, ENO at The Young Vic
This weekend gone by has seen new operas by Robert Hugill (When A Man Knows) and Will Gregory (Piccard In Space, this latter artist being of the pop outfit Goldfrapp). English Touring Opera are also well through a tour of a new work by Tobias Picker, Fantastic Mr Fox. Those lucky enough to have secured a ticket will have seen the similar-in-spirit small-scale production of Return Of Ulysses staged by English National Opera at The Young Vic (if reports of the production in a transparent-walled set are to be believed then this is the most 'intimate' of all current shows).

Indeed, Monteverdi seems a no-brainer choice for the small-venue production vogue and this week Mark Ravenhill stages The Coronation Of Poppea at The King's Head Theatre (for the same company, one assumes, that recently beat the Royal Opera and ENO to an Olivier for their production of La Boheme). Also this week Hampstead Garden Opera are putting on a new, double-cast Semele. This is an interesting company who operate in a similar space to the King's Head Theatre, also performing in a small space annexed to a pub.

Like OperaUpClose, Hampstead Garden Opera use current or recently graduated students in their productions and it's been great to see that the feeder conservatoires have been staging their own productions at the front of this spring glut: The Carmelites at the Guildhall and Rodelinda at the Royal College were strong showings but arguably trumped by the Royal Academy's new commission Kommilitonen! by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It's worth mentioning that the Royal Northern College's Vanessa is still on its run. Sadly we have not heard much of the Royal Welsh College's Die Fledermaus of last week, having no doubt overpowered the good people of Cardiff who had only just digested WNO's run of performances of the same work.

Above all, I've been very interested to look at the relative profile that these shows have in the press. Generally it's heartening to see that, despite the high celebrity currency of some of those involved with putting on opera in London, the roughly established social network that helps to promote and discuss the work is a far more level-headed, content-aware platform for approaching and consuming opera. Today the Daily Telegraph has published an interview with Stewart Copeland, formerly drummer with The Police and now helping to put together an opera, in the same modest vein as those listed above, for the Royal Opera's Opera Shots series at the Linbury Studio. In addition to Copeland's adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe, the hugely successful pop arranger and composer Anne Dudley is also teaming up with ex-Python Terry Jones to produce a work. Clearly this is a significant event yet, this article aside (incidentally, redundantly titled 'Can pop stars write opera?' as it can't answer the question, posed as a pseud-intellectual hook to a promotional feature) is creating no more stir than Twitter chatter concerning the change of conductor for the Royal Opera Fidelio, the poor reviews for Piccard (perhaps pop stars can't write opera?!) or the democratised rush of genuine acclaim for everything from Anna Nicole to the Riverside Studio/Tete A Tete Opera hit production of Salad Days.

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