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July/August 2018 – upcoming London opera – the rest of Grimeborn 2018 including a baroque ‘Xerse’, a reconfigured ‘Membra Jesu Nostri’, a reclaimed ‘Carmen The Gypsy’, repertoire hits, kids’ shows and jazz-dance (24th July to 26th August)

20 Jul

Grimeborn 2018, 24th July to 26th August 2018

While my previous post on London alt.opera festival Grimeborn 2018 dealt with many of its obvious heavy-hitters (including the revivals of Turnage’s ‘Greek’, Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’ and Ethel Smyth’s ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’, plus its premieres of Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ and a slew of BAME/female-originated one-acters), there’s plenty more to the season. First of all, let’s take a quick look at the reconfigurations.

Most boldly, Opera Louise’s ‘Teenage Bodies’ takes on ‘Membra Jesu Nostri’ – Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude’s seven-song five-voice cantata on the body of Christ. In a corkscrew dive from the sacred to the secular, director/lyricist Julien Chavaz, choreographer Oliver Dähler and music director Jérôme Kuhn rework it as a meditation on puberty and development, mixing live music, physical movement and new text. I’m assuming that the original Biblical listing of “feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face” have either been replaced or restored to the carnal. Equally, perhaps they’ve turned into a politicized view of the relationship and power dynamics between young and old bodies. The publicity photos and videos show what seems to be a Theatre of Cruelty classroom with an elderly man and several younger figures cavorting around each other. It could signify anything. At any rate, it’s one of the best-equipped operas in the festival, complete with small orchestra.

 
For ‘A Fantastic Bohemian: The Tales of Hoffman Revisited’, Opera MIO & Co-Productions take Jacques Offenbach’s rollicking Victorian fantasy opera ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ and turn it into an Anglo-Spanish immersive theatre piece spread across three spaces, kitting out the Arcola as Mexico City during the 1940s (during its Golden Cinema Age). The original score will be interspersed with bursts of Mexican danzón, all of the music being played by a four-piece band of piano, cello, clarinet, and violin.

Grimeborn 2018: 'Carmen The Gypsy' - 22nd to 25th August 2018In turn, Romani polymath and Romany Theatre Company head Dan Allum has rewritten Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ as ‘Carmen The Gypsy’, setting it within the contemporary British traveller community and highlighting both anti-Romani racism (“when the outside world thinks you’re scum, can you ever be free?”) and Carmen’s own struggle to liberate herself from “a brutal husband and the shackles of tradition.” This reworking features original Gypsy songs played live on guitar, drum, violin and accordion, plus staged cage fighting (presumably replacing Bizet’s bullfighting) and, as with many RTC productions, a combined English and Romani libretto.

Baroque tradition meets contemporary minimalist theatre in Ensemble OrQuesta’s straighter revival of Francesco Cavalli’s ‘Xerse’, directed by Marcio da Silva. The company triumphed last year with their production of Armide, and return with this dramatic comedy of “jealousy and unfulfilled love” set in the royal court of Persia (with a company of eleven singers, baroque violins, cello, lute and harpsichord).

Milly Forrest

Milly Forrest

For repertoire shows, The Opera Box’s compilation piece ‘Recitals’ (performed by soprano Milly Forrest and pianist Alastair Chilvers) features “new spins” on pieces by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, Vincenzo Bellini, Franz Liszt, Francis Poulenc, and Joseph Haydn. In ‘Onegin & Tatiana’, Opera Company director Guido Martin-Brandis presents “an award-winning cast explor(ing) the dramas and psychologies of Alexander Pushkin’s immortal characters”. Centred on the character of Tatiana Onegin (and focussing on female desire, fantasy and personal upheavale) it features music from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, plus additional songs by Strauss, Fauré, Massenet, Barber and Schubert.

The remaining pieces might be heading away from the opera template, but seem to be aimed at pulling in both children and the classical-averse, providing entry points to musical drama. Children are catered for via a return appearance by Melanie Gall, with her acclaimed anthropomorphic kids theatre shows about musical animals winning through against the odds (‘Opera Mouse’ quotes Puccini and Mozart, while the scat-happy ‘Jazz Cat’ is built around the music of Harry Woods, Louis Armstrong and Robert Johnson.)

Melanie Gall: 'Opera Mouse'

A more adult-orientated jazz evening arrives with Nancy Hitzig and Cat Foley’s ‘Swing Sister Swing’ “a cabaret-inspired show celebrating female choreographers, kick ass musicians and pieces created and inspired by jazz-greats” (a trinity of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday). It’ll be performed by Nancy and Cat themselves with fellow dancers Christine “Tine Machine” Gatchalian, Katie Stotter, Benjamin Cook and Stephen Atemie and European champion chorus-line The Dixie Dinahs, and with recorded and live music by Katie. “Through lindy hop, swing dance, vintage burlesque, song and comedy, performers will explore what it means to be a in a partnership and alone.”


 
All performances at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 2DJ, England.

Dates:

  • The Opera Box presents ‘Recitals’ – Thursday 26th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Nancy Hitzig & Cat Foley present ‘Swing Sister Swing’ – Sunday 29th July 2018, 4.00pm & 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Melanie Gall presents ‘Opera Mouse’ – Wednesday 1st August 2018, 11.00am – information here and here
  • Melanie Gall presents ‘Jazz Cat’, Wednesday 1st August 2018, 2.00pm – information here and here
  • Opera Louise presents ‘Teenage Bodies’ – Thursday 2nd August 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Opera MIO & Co-Productions present ‘A Fantastic Bohemian: The Tales of Hoffman Revisited’ – Saturday 4th & Saturday 11th August 2018, 2.30pm / Sunday 5th & Sunday 12th August 2018, 4.00pm – information here and here
  • Guido Martin-Brandis presents ‘Onegin & Tatiana’ – Monday 13th & Tuesday 14th August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Romany Theatre Company presents ‘Carmen the Gypsy’ – Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 25 August 2018, 8.00pm / Saturday 25 August 2018, 3.00pm – information here and here
  • Ensemble OrQuesta presents ‘Xerse’ – Friday 24th to Sunday 26th August 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

July/August 2018 – upcoming London opera – Grimeborn 2018 revives Britten, Turnage and Smyth (plus Ravel, Donizetti and Foreman & Silverman’s ‘Elephant Steps’) and premieres Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ plus diverse-source multi-cultural operas from Ruth Chan, Juwon Ogungbe, Sayan Kent, Daniel Saleeb and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (24th July to 26th August)

15 Jul

Grimeborn 2018, 24th July to 26th August 2018

London’s mockingly-titled ‘Grimeborn’ festival (based at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre) stages opera with a difference: pocket budgets, but broad-field coverage and bold new work both in terms of staging and composition. Amongst the body of work being offered up this summer are premieres (Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ and the cluster of diverse new works which make up ‘Mozaic’); revivals (most prominently the Arcola’s own new productions of Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’ and Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Greek’, but also including Ethel Smyth’s ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’, Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and ‘Rita’, and Maurice Ravel’s ‘L’Heure Espagnole’); plus reconfigured Offenbach and Buxtehude, some mixed’n’themed repertoire concerts, kids shows, infiltrations of jazz and rock theatricals and the first British performances of the “occult, surrealist rock-opera extravaganza” ‘Elephant Steps’.

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Fulham Opera's 'The Prometheus Revolution' - 7th/8th/10th August 2018Dealing with the new material first: Fulham Opera are premiering ‘The Prometheus Revolution’, the first new opera by composer/librettist Keith Burstein since his anti-War On Terror work ‘Manifest Destiny’. The latter blew up a pile of controversy at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe with its suicide bomb-vest scenes, its agit-prop metaphysics and its pungent criticism of Western motives, and eventually led to a wrangle over free speech and alleged promotion of terrorism at the Royal Courts of Justice.

‘…Prometheus…’ looks set to extend at least some of the ideas behind ‘Manifest Destiny’. Like the earlier piece, it’s a politically-heated metaphysical examination of where we are as a society, and what we might do about it, It’s set in an alternative present which closely mirrors our own, with democracy decaying into corrupt war-mongering authoritarianism and economic meltdown, with a peace movement “standing between tyranny and chaos, (although) they too are cleft by internal struggles”. Inspired by the 2012 Occupy Movement’s “99% versus the 1%” ideology, it’s billed as a “dark parable” of “star-crossed lovers, rebellion and revolution against the backdrop of a corrupt political class… shot through with pathos and ironic humour.”

As with ‘Manifest Destiny’, you can also expect more of the vigorously tonal Burstein approach to music and tunes, with a post-Britten-and-Berg score additionally “laced with the sounds of vaudeville, Broadway musicals and pop ballads.” It’s arranged for piano and singers: you’ll have to imagine the intent of a full hovering orchestra.

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Using a mixture of live and recorded music, the Mozaic Opera Showcase stages new works by black and British Asian opera creators (and, it seems, female ones) drawing on stories “yet to be seen and heard in contemporary Britain… from West Africa to Armenia to ancient China and beyond” and encouraging us to “hear opera traditions from around the world mixed with jazz, Chinese orchestra, edgy contemporary classical and more.” Three days of workshops aimed at “empowering BAME artists and associates to create new, diverse operas” will be followed by two days in which six such works are presented.

As well as the new ‘Red Seed’ (by rising theatre polymath Sayan Kent), there’ll be Hoc Opera’s production of ‘Occō’s Eternal Act’ by composer Daniel Saleeb and librettist Oge Nwosu. A ‘Huit-Clos’-ian chamber drama for five singers and eight players(previously staged at the Barbican and the V&A) its titular Occō is “trapped in a purgatorial space peopled with four significant characters from his life. He can’t escape them so he makes them perform, over and over again, for his imaginary audience…”

From Sheffield, West African-inspired theatre company Utopia are bringing down their’Pied Piper of Chibok’. Composed by eclectic Anglo-Nigerian composer Juwon Ogungbe, who balances Western opera with Afro-jazz and pop (and with a libretto by Ariya director/writer/producer Olusola Oyeleye), it conflates the European legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with the horrific real-life story of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The Myaseen Collective is presenting ‘1000 Songs’, a collaboration between visually-slanted harpist/singer/composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian and multi-instrumental singer Ziazan (who’s providing the libretto). In this “story we’re gradually going to tell” (which appears to explore the interrelated contemporary rise of neo-fascism and of woman-silencing), a woman “escapes a mob attack and locks herself away. She speaks to no-one but her tame nightingale, until she forgets how to speak – and only sings.”

 
Film, television and theatre composer Ruth Chan, known for everything from Ghost Orchestra to work with Dario Marianelli and the RSC) makes several contributions. There’s a revival of her 2014 mini-opera ‘Rain’, a collaboration with librettist Elaine Ruth White, in which Barry, the threatened head of an incompetent English water company gets into profound, potentially life-changing conversation with his Sudanese cleaner Asha (a woman from a region “where women have to walk miles to polluted streams and wells, risking the dangers of rape and death to fetch water for their families”).

 
Also being performed is Ruth’s ‘Between Constellations’ on which she worked with librettist Zoë Palmer (Musical Rumpus) and dramatist Jennifer Farmer. This was a semi-finals winner in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s ‘Fight For The Right‘ initiative, “a global commissioning competition for female composer and librettist teams to create original music dramas inspired by themes of girls and women transforming their lives through education.”

Finally, Ruth’s also contributing a revival of ‘Turandot Reimagined’ – a partly-Mandarin, Yuan Dynasty-set version of Puccini’s opera (which she’s re-arranged to a new libretto mostly by Simon Wu)/ It was originally staged three years ago by Tête à Tête, in association with Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal and the SOAS Silk and Bamboo Chinese Instrument Ensemble. Hopefully the latter will be up and involved again for the Dalston performance…


 
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Elsewhere, current events and undercurrents are making their presence felt on the Arcola’s two homegrown revivals. Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ has been in the general repertoire since its 1946 premiere, but the new Arcola version (directed by Julia Burbach of the Royal Opera House, who’s recently made a mark with revelatory productions of ‘Madama Butterfly’ and ‘Tosca’) links its story of decadence, virtue and ravishment to the outrage and repercussions around the #MeToo movement. (The press release reads “in Rome, 510 BC, Lucretia is sought out in the night by the prince Tarquinius. In Dalston, 2018 AD, a man and woman invite you to watch a re-enactment.” I’m not sure where they take it from there…)

Since its own arrival in 1988, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s four-handed multi-character piece ‘Greek’ has also made its own mark on the repertoire. For this year’s Arcola version, original adapter and stager Jonathan Moore returns to direct. It’ll be interesting to see how the piece has aged. Its old, seething vision of the East End (based around Steven Berkoff’s bare-knuckled, gutter-mouthed reimaging of the Oedipus legend) may have been slightly blurred and dissolved by the odd bedfellows of gentrification on the one hand and white flight, but it’s world of territorial café kings and hair-curling working-class invective should have kept some of its dramatic power intact regardless, calling up memories of the 1979 Winter of Discontent and the imminent, bloody birth of the Thatcher era.

Fulham Opera's ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’, 9th/11th August 2018The second of Fulham Opera’s two Grimebourne offerings is a piano-and-voices, Italian-language, contemporary-setting version of Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ – the repertoire staple (with its famous “mad scene”) of a woman ground up between the feuding rages of men. Perhaps it’s tied in with the fresh feminist reading of ‘The Rape Of Lucretia’, but if operatic narratives of tragic and tormented women (being ravished and/or losing their battles) just gets your goat, you might prefer to see another Donizetti piece, ‘Rita’, appearing as half of an Opera Alegría double bill (with Maurice Ravel’s ‘L’heure espagnole’). Both pieces showcase, via new libretto translations by Lindsey Bramley (who’ll also be performing the piano accompaniment), strong female opera characters possessing both wit and agency. In ‘Rita’, the fiery landlady of an Italian inn and her intimidated husband Peppe find the already fragile state of their marriage further tested by the arrival of her first husband, previously presumed dead. In ‘L’heure espagnole’, Concepción (the cheerfully unfaithful wife of a Toledo clockmaker) embarks on a farcical day of attempts to smuggle her assorted lovers into her bedroom, each wedged into the case of a grandfather clock…

Spectra Ensemble's ‘The Boatswain's Mate’ – 30th/31st July, 1st August 2018

Likewise, you might enjoy ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’. Revered by feminists and musicologists alike for her determination, her musical daring and her fullhearted involvement in the Suffragette movement, Edwardian-era composer Ethel Smyth wrote and staged several of her own operas. Dating from 1914, ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’is a battle-of-the-sexes comedy set in a Margate to which “young and old alike have flocked… for summer loving, healthy air and strolls on the promenade. But, at a quiet pub set back from the seafront, the landlady has a nuisance on her hands. She’s confronted with a suitor who simply won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. When he comes up with a last-ditch plan to win her heart, our formidable heroine gives him more than he’d bargained for…” Spectra Ensemble present a rare revival set during the 1952 coronation and the height of post-war seaside culture, scored for voices and a piano/cello/violin trio (and celebrating, in part, the hundredth anniversary of female suffrage in Britain).

Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre's ‘Elephant Steps’, 20th to 22nd August 2018
I’ll close the first bit of the preview with a quick look at Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre’s European premiere/fiftieth anniversary staging of ‘Elephant Steps’, a total theatre work from composer Stanley Silverman and librettist Richard Foreman (whose New York theatrical adventures have been described as “disorientation massage” and in which “music, light, images, movement, graphics, films, incense, machinery, props and performers are incorporated into a spectacular mix.” The first of seven alternative operas which Foreman and Silverman wrote together between 1968 and 1990, ‘Elephant Steps’ is a bizarre night journey following the ailing Hartman, apparently under malign spiritual attack from the suspect guru Reinhardt as he seeks to free himself, is strongarmed into false confessions, and is guided by mysterious Elephant-Angels. Silverman’s eclectic score includes elements of rock, ragtime, madrigals, Roma violins and Rodgers & Hammerstein, while Foreman’s words and concepts make an intoxicating stew of film noir, surrealism, paranoia and dream-logic imagery (all mixed with Kennedy’s new staging inspired by David Lynch, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau).

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More Grimeborn to follow in a later post… meanwhile, here are the dates for the shows listed above. All performances at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 2DJ, England.

  • Arcola Theatre presents ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ – Monday 23rd to Monday 30th July 2018, Wednesday 1st to Saturday 4th August 2018, times t.b.c – information here and here
  • Spectra Ensemble presents ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’ – 30th July to 1st August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Opera Alegria presents ‘Rita’ & ‘L’Heure Espagnole’ – 3rd & 4th August 2018, 8.00pm / 5th August 2018, 5.00pm – information here and here
  • Fulham Opera presents ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ – 7th, 8th, 10th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Arcola Theatre presents ‘Greek’ – 8th to 18th August 2018, times t.b.c. – information here and here
  • Fulham Opera presents ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ – 9th & 11th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Creative and Produce-orial Workshops – Monday 13th, Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th August 2018, 10.00pm to 6.00pm – information here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Showcase 1 (‘Red Seed’/’Rain’/’Occō’s Eternal Act’/’Pied Piper of Chibok’) – Thursday 16th & Friday 17th August 2018, time t.b.c. – information here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Showcase 2 (‘Between Constellations’/’Turandot Reimagined’/’1000 Songs’) – Monday 13th, Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th August 2018, time t.b.c. – information here
  • Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre presents ‘Elephant Steps’ – 20th to 22nd August 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

February 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Kammer Klang featuring Jennifer Walshe and Distractfold Ensemble (6th February)

30 Jan

February’s Kammer Klang sees the Dalston performance evening marching ever further away from contemporary chamber music and embracing an ethos of outright sonic performance theatre. The works presented by Jennifer Walshe and Distractfold Ensemble next week use musicality as merely one available limb of expression – even if many of the tools used are musical.

Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Jennifer Walshe + Distractfold Ensemble (playing Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Hanna Hartman and Barblina Meierhans)
Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, London E8 3DL
Tuesday 6th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Kammer Klang, 6th February 2018Witty, shapeshifting Irish composer-performer Jennifer Walshe was once described as “the wild girl of Darmstadt” (by ‘Frankfurter Rundschau’) Often hiding, Residents-like, behind the mask of the fictional ‘Milker Corporation’, she’s delivered nearly two decades worth of intriguing, award-winning work, from near-conventional instrumental composition to way-out self-performed video theatre more reminiscent of a larkier, less traumatic version of Karen Finley.

Examinations and implementations of pop culture have been a persistent creative motif for her. While this can be an embarrassing stumbling block for many a composer hamfistedly trying to ginger up high culture or elevate street culture (most of whom bellyflop soundly into the discomfort zone) Jennifer displays a thorough grounding and innate understanding of how this things can tick. This is clearly displayed in her lightning-switch pop-song collage ‘G.L.O.R.I.’, while her Snapchat-based interactive ‘Thmotes’ project (with its now-you-see-them now-you-don’t exchange of text scores) was but one example of her keen understanding of both how new forms of media operate and how they develop their own operational cultures. Inspired in part by televisual opera experimenter Robert Ashley, she’s also written miniature operas ranging from relatively serious chamber pieces about women in boxing or 2010’s focus-shifting ‘The Geometry’ to trashy X-rated soap scenarios played out by whispering, shrieking, hissing Barbie dolls.

As an intercontinental voice improviser, Jennifer’s co-run witty stunts such as the United Telepathic Improvisation Front; and for the last eleven years she’s exercised and presented a dozen different and distinct alter egos as part of the ongoing Grúpat project (a Dublin art collective of fictional “Guinness Dadaists” in which Jennifer herself creates, becomes and enacts every single artist whether exploring music, films, photography, fashion, sculpture or any overlaps between the forms – personae include grotto-builder Violetta Mahon, filmmaker Freya Birre, sculptor-of-instruments Turf Boon, psychogeographic drag queen multidisciplinarian The Dowager Marchylove and partially-fingerless concert pianist Flor Hartigan). Running through all of this (alongside of the exceptional media savvy) is a riotous stream of Irish absurdism – it’s unsurprising to discover that Jennifer cites Flann O’Brien and the “Irish openness to subterfuge” as spurs to what she does.

Her Kammer Klang performance this time involves her 2016 composition ‘There Was A Visitor’ – of which the title may be a nod to Ashley’s ‘She Was A Visitor’, and which is mostly a compression/selection from another ongoing project of spoofing/serious fictionizing, ‘Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde‘. In some ways a more historically-inclined cousin of Grúpat, ‘Historical Documents…’ is a made-up history of the Irish avant-garde, complete with its own foundation and voluminous archive of compositions, documents, academic articles and sundry ephemera. Jennifer apparently performs it within the context of “a Dadaist Halloween séance”, which she also describes as “a sort of mangled faith healer experience with optional audience engagement.”

(UPDATE, 5th February – for some reason, it seems that Jennifer’s now dropped her scheduled performance of ‘There Was A Visitor’ and replaced it with ‘Is It Cool To Try Hard Now?’, a 2016 composition “for voice, video, electronics and Artificial Intelligence”. There’s not much more information available on this one, other than that it was first premiered at the Jamjar Music Weekend in Belfast – it’s not even listed on the Milker site. If you can find out anything more about it, you’re a better, quicker browser than I am… what the hell, go along and be surprised…)

Manchester’s Distractfold Ensemble (curators of their hometown’s Cut & Splice Festival) will be presenting three pieces, including the evening’s Fresh Klang opener – a performance of Barblina Meierhans’ ‘May I Ask You Something?’. The latter is, in effect a semi-dysfunctional conversation for orchestra: an arrangement of inter-band mutters culminating in an eerie array of distracted frictional instrumental squeaks and a number of uncomfortable silences.


 
Of the other two Distractfold presentations, ‘Circling Blue’ is a 2010 tape piece by Swedish sound artist Hanna Hartman (for which Manifold members will be handling the sonic diffusion). Originally commissioned by Swedish radio for a themed programme on Nordic forests, it’s an electroacoustic work for the captured sounds of swirling winds and beating rain plus the recorded and stretched notes of soprano Ida Falk Winland.

The last presentation, ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Laughing’ is a piece of music theatre for amplified quartet and tape playback: a segment of Japanese-American electro-acoustic composer Steven Kazuo Takasugi’s five-movement ‘Sideshow’ sequence. Inspired by the crueller, more exploitative aspects of Coney Island entertainment parks (and drawing its section titles from a set of bleak aphorisms by Karl Kraus, the mordant cultural gadfly and satirist of early 20th century Vienna), the piece is “a meditation on virtuosity, freak shows, entertainment, spectacle, business, and the sacrifices one makes to survive in the world”, in which the instrumentalist perform as if they were “characters in a sideshow. The saxophonist is the Sideshow Giant, having bellow-like lungs. The violist is a sword swallower, expert with a bow sword. The pianist is the Human Spider, having been born with eight hands. The percussionist is the Stuttering Midget and Sideshow Proprietor/Announcer. Each character of this quartet has his or her uncanny double, twin, imposter, accomplice, copycat, deformed clone.”

Strange taped sounds (worked up from Takasugi’s algorithmic processing from his extensive library of recontextualized sonics) plus intense individual performer silences and motions add to the uneasy, surreal and grotesque atmosphere. Reviewing a previous performance in 2017, Stephanie Jones of ‘Sounds Like Now’ observed that it “suggested that the audience (was) masterminding a highly uncomfortable human puppet show… (which) captivated and cradled the audience on thematic pivots such as humour/cruelty and freedom/torturous restraint, while the playback ensured that the performance itself blurred the lines between illusion and fact.”
 

November 2017 – opera news – Shadwell Opera revive Peter Maxwell Davies’ ‘The Lighthouse’ (3rd, 4th, 11th & 12th November)

25 Oct

Quickie opera preview…

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'The Lighthouse', 3rd/4th/11th/12th November 2017

Shadwell Opera presents:
Peter Maxwell Davies: ‘The Lighthouse’
Showroom Studios @ Hackney Showroom, Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, Shacklewell, London, E8 2BT, England
Friday 3rd, Saturday 4th, Saturday 11th, Sunday 12th November 2017, 7.30pm (except 12th November @ 2.30pm)
– information here and here

“Raw, mysterious, disturbing, Shadwell Opera bring a haunting new production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ true operatic ghost story to Hackney Showroom in November. It explores the strange and inexplicable disappearance of three keepers from a remote Scottish lighthouse, through a mixture of courtroom testimony and fantastical flashbacks. Shadwell Opera’s critically acclaimed team will craft a multi-sensory experience that plays with the idea of theatrical immersion and suspension of disbelief. This production will make you think again about the awesome loneliness of the sea, about the fragility of the isolated male psyche, and the disturbing psychological reality of ghosts. This is an opera like no other.

“Taking the composer’s original performance suggestion of placing the horn player in the audience as a starting point, this production will further integrate Shadwell Opera’s outstanding ensemble of young soloists into the drama, continuing dialogue between pit and stage that has been at the centre of their recent work.”

 
The three-person cast is Paul Curievici (as Officer 1/Sandy), Owain Browne (as Officer 2/Blazes) and Pauls Putnins (as Officer 3/Arthur)
 

October-December 2017 – opera and musical theatre – the ‘Rough For Opera’ scratch night in London (9th October); Lucy Steven’s Kathleen Ferrier bio-show tours England (21st/26th/27th September, 3rd December)

2 Oct

Next week in London, a window on some nascent opera work…

'Rough For Opera' #16

Second Movement present:
Rough For Opera #16: A Scratch Night For New Opera
Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, London NW8 8EH
Monday 9th October 2017, 7.30pm
information

“…’Rough For Opera is a performance platform for composers to share new work and opera in progress. Each event is a snapshot and celebration of contemporary opera making, with most work being brought from page to stage for the very first time. With an informal and intimate atmosphere and a Q&A following each performance, Rough For Opera is a great way for audiences to engage directly with opera makers and for composers to get invaluable feedback about their work at an early stage in its development.” 

This month’s edition features the following short opera performances (between ten minutes and half and hour apiece):

Michael-Jon Mizra – ‘Can you Give Up Your Seat Please?’ 
Georgina Bowden – ‘Radium’ (libretto by Eleanor Knight, directed by Ruth Knight)
Voicings Collective – ‘Voicings’ (composed by Michael Betteridge, written by Rebecca Hurst, directed and performed by Freya Wynn-Jones)

Post-performance Q&As will be led by Professor Paul Barker (RCSSD).

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Over the course of October (and at the beginning of December), a labour-of-love musical staging of the life of classical and folk singing legend Kathleen Ferrier is touring some of the more out-of-the-way venues in England. From the sound of it, it’s a pretty portable show, so if you’re interested in booking it for your own venue, drop the production company a line.

Dramatic Solutions presents:
Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife!

Lucy Stevens (as Kathleen Ferrier)

Lucy Stevens (as Kathleen Ferrier)

“This new one-woman play with music tells the story of the great English contralto, whose voice and recordings are treasured to this day. Kathleen Ferrier was one of Britain’s phenomenal women of the twentieth Century. ‘Whattalife!‘ tells her story from her debut as a singer in 1940, her meteoric rise and her tragic death in 1953. ‘Whattalife!’ is the first staged dramatisation of Ferrier’s life, evoking the spirit of the war and post war years. Just like Kathleen during her short but full life, the show has a great sense of fun and talks straight from the heart. 

“Professional actress and contralto Lucy Stevens has researched and created a unique and totally engaging performance. The play is written in Kathleen’s own words taken from her letters and diaries. Sung music with piano accompaniment from her repertoire is woven through the text.”

There’s a ‘Guardian’ article on the piece here, in which Lucy reveals how the piece was put together and throws light on the life, moods and artistry of a strong-minded and talented woman who went her own way during a time when such things weren’t so readily accepted.


 
Dates:

  • Holy Trinity Church, New Road, Bengeo, Hertfordshire, SG14 3JJ, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pmemail for details
  • Cooper Hall, Selwood Manor, Frome, Somerset, BA11 3NL, England, Thursday 26th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Anthony Minghella Theatre @ Quay Arts, Sea Street, Newport Harbour, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BD, England, Friday 27th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Dorchester Arts, Corn Exchange, High East Street, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1HF, England, Sunday 3rd December 2017, 2.30pm information

And purely to indulge myself, here’s Jocelyn Pook‘s mid-’90s setting of a Ferrier loop as part of her minimalist song-cycle ‘Deluge’: best known as the theme for a mobile phone advert (and, as the video image shows, as fodder for numerous new-age compilations), it’s a little classic of minimalist fusion.


 

May 2017 – upcoming London classical gigs – polygender opera with ‘Binary Optional’ at CPT (May 25th & 26th)

21 May

One of the month’s more interesting London opera events…

'Binary Optional', 25th & 26th May 2017

Oedipa & Lucia Lucas present:
‘Binary Optional’
Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, Euston, London, NW1 2PY, England
Thurday 25th & Friday 26th May 2017, 9.00pm
information

From the press release, spliced with a little more research:

Oedipa collaborates with the extraordinary female baritone Lucia Lucas (Wuppertaler Bühnen, Deutsche Oper, Chicago Opera Theatre) on an evening of song in transition: from masc to femme, classical to queer and oppression to freedom.

“A freelance opera singer based in Germany (who has previously held full-time contracts with the Badisches Staatstheater, Kalsruhe, Theater und Orchester Heidelberg and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin), Lucia Lucas is a strong dramatic baritone specializing in Verdi roles, and has sung roles including Ford in ‘Falstaff’, Iago in ‘Otello’, Escamillo in ‘Carmen’, Le Grand-Prêtre in ‘Samson et Dalilah’, Jochanaan in ‘Salome’, Alberich in ‘Das Rheingold’, Thoas in ‘Iphigenie en Tauride’, Figaro in ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, Leporello and Giovanni in ‘Don Giovanni’, Mephistopheles in ‘Faust’, Don Pizzaro in ‘Fidelio’ and Nick Shadow in ‘The Rake’s Progress’.

“Beyond this, Lucia is one of the small but growing number of transgender woman performing significant operatic roles (a list of singers which includes Breanna Sinclairé and Emily De Salvo, whose own unusual range covers baritone to soprano). As Lucia commented in an interview in ‘Slipped Disc’ a couple of years ago, “I am performing all of the same things. Still singing angry old men on stage, but fringe projects have also started appearing as possibilities”. ‘Binary Optional’ is one such project – singing Bizet, Britten, Wagner, Purcell and Adams, flirting with Sarah Vaughan and ‘Rocky Horror’, Lucia draws on her experience singing classical repertoire across the world to tell her incredible story and celebrate the fluidity and plurality of gender in opera.


 
“Oedipa is the alter ego of writer/director Finn Beames (who’s dedicated himself to working “against the male perspective”) and a diverse range of varying collaborators. As Oedipa, groups of artists create and produce live performances in theatre, opera and related forms, often with an emphasis on music.

“Based in London and working internationally, Finn won the 2015 Genesis Future Directors Award at the Young Vic for his production of Man: 3 Plays by Tennessee Williams in the Clare theatre. He also holds the 2015 Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship, granted by the British Council for research into the eponymous Brazilian architect and the creation of a piece of theatre. For his own company, bodycorps, he recently directed a sold-out run of a new opera about depression, funded by The Wellcome Trust and ACE. Finn has commissioned further new work for bodycorps, including a musical based on The Sorrows of Young Werther. In 2014 Finn wrote, directed and designed a new music theatre work for the London Sinfonietta with composer Gavin Higgins, which they are currently expanding into a triptych. Finn is a director/librettist on the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh Music, and a member of the Young Vic Directors Network and Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab in New York.”
 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – selections from the Sheffield Classical Weekend (17th-19th)

6 Mar

There’s plenty going on at the three-day mid-March Sheffield Classical Weekend, with the city permeated with music including many old and new favourites. Among what’s on offer are two different performances of Arvo Pärt’s ‘Fratres’ (one by a wind band, one by a host of strings), two Dreams of China concerts covering formal Chinese classical compositions) and a host of choral shows (the classic monk’s-debauchery of Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ via Schubert’s ‘Mirjam’s Siegesgesang’ and Brahms’ ‘Ziguenerlieder’, through to a variety of pops choirs.) Though I’d advise checking out the entire, pleasingly diverse programme, here are my own brief and subjective picks from it, if you’re interested.

* * * * * * * *

Oliver Coates & cellists: ‘Canticles of the Sky’ – Kelham Island Museum, Alma St, Sheffield, S3 8RY, England, Saturday 18th March 2017, 3:30pm & 5.00pminformation

“A UK premiere featuring star cellist Oliver Coates (Radiohead, ‘Under The Skin’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’). Olly and a host of cellists will surround the Kelham Island audience and lift you skyward with this ethereal and dreamy work from Pulitzer and Grammy-winning composer John Luther Adams. Also featuring extracts from J.S Bach’s Cello Suites.”

* * * * * * * *

Five Choirs: Sounds From Heaven – St Marie’s Cathedral, Norfolk Row, Sheffield S1 2JB, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 2:30pminformation

“Perched around the sides of the excellent acoustic space within the Cathedral Church of St Marie, five Sheffield chamber choirs – Abbeydale Singers, Sheffield Chamber Choir, Sterndale Singers, Sheffield Chorale and Viva Voce – will “create a swoonsome heart-lifting soundscape of song.” As well as old and new choral standbys by John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Felix Mendelssohn and others, the concert will include the premiere of ‘Kraal’ a commission for five simultaneous choirs written by Jenny Jackson (a member of Sheffield’s own contemporary composer collective, Platform 4).”

* * * * * * * *

More music fostered by Platform 4 will be popping up a few times over the weekend. Flautist Rachel Shirley performs “a selection of colourful and inventive works for flute, piano, blown bottles and saxophone“; there’s an evening date at Yellow Arch Studios with players from Sheffield Music Academy, performing the collective’s own “imaginative cutting-edge compositions”. There’s a “mind-bending” collaboration with Opera On Location in which “stories are turned upside down and endings become beginnings in (a) selection of operatic palindromes, where the music is the same both backwards and forwards… featuring Paul Hindemith’s short opera ‘Hin Und Zurück’ (‘There And Back’), plus new bitesize and puzzling pieces…” Platform 4 also contribute the cello-and-electric keyboard piece ‘Upright Stance’ to be performed alongside Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto at Oliver Coates’ concert with Sheffield Music Hub Senior Schools.

  • Opera On Location with Platform 4 – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 8:30pminformation (contains strong and sexually explicit language – recommended for 18+)
  • Rachel Shirley: ‘Hooting & Drinking’ – Channing Hall @ Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, Saturday 18th March 2017, 3.30pminformation
  • Oliver Coates & Sheffield Music Hub Senior Schools: ‘From The Heart: Shostakovich’ – City Hall Ballroom @ Sheffield City Hall, Barkers Pool, Sheffield, S1 2JA, England, Sunday 19th March, 12:00pminformation
  • Platform 4 with Sheffield Music Academy – Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 6:30pminformation

* * * * * * * *

On the Friday and the Saturday, there are some thoughtfully programmed Sound Laboratory events centring on the music, ideas and influence of Pierre Boulez. Saturday sees a triple-banked set featuring pianists Beate Toyka and Matthew Odell, violinists Darragh Morgan and Lucy Phillips, clarinettist Sarah Watts and the University of Sheffield New Music Ensemble.

Each of these mini-concerts sets one of Boulez’s first three Piano Sonatas against another piece. ‘The Conflict And The Passion’ pitches ‘Piano Sonata No. 1’ against Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in a study of thwarted passions. ‘Deconstruction & Digitalisation’ presents the classical deconstruction of ‘Piano Sonata No. 2’ and the electro-acoustic contrasts of ‘Anthemes II’. ‘Choice And Chance’ (the only one of the concerts to feature two Boulez compositions) offers ‘Piano Sonata No. 3’ and the clarinet-and-orchestra piece ‘Domaines’, contrasting a piece in which major options are available to the performer and one which is considerably more ordered and regimented.

The series opens on Friday with a special Boulez-inspired concert in which “the avant-garde becomes child’s play… primary school children from across the city explore the curious frontiers of contemporary electronic music and present the results of their musical experimentation.”

Sound Laboratory:

  • ‘Computer Music’ – Firth Hall @ University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 1:30pminformation
  • ‘The Conflict & The Passion’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 1:30pminformation
  • ‘Deconstruction & Digitalisation’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 3:30pminformation
  • ‘Choice and Chance’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Saturday 18th March 5:00pminformation

* * * * * * * *

Among the Chinese-inspired events is one in which Chinese and European chamber music merge as celebrated guzheng zither soloist Xia Jing teams up with The Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan on violin, Adi Tal on cello and Mary Dullea on piano). They’ll be presenting a concert of brand-new musical premieres – Gao Ping’s ‘Feng Zheng’ (‘Kite’), Jeroen Speak’s ‘Silk Dialogues 7’, Dylan Lardelli‘s ‘Shells’, and ‘Time Bends In The Rock’ by Sheffield-based composer Dorothy Ker.

Fidelio Trio & Xia Jing: ‘Global Soundtracks: Silk Dialogues’ – Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JD, England, Friday 17th March 2017, 9:30pminformation

* * * * * * * *

In addition, there’s a variety of pop-up performances across the three days, featuring abbreviated sets by event headliners plus showings by small instrumental and vocal groups. It’s an open-minded spill moving out from classical forms to embrace folk, alt.chamber and other kinds of music.

One promising set of contributors are Manchester quintet Kabantu, who’ve thankfully dropped their previous name Project Jam Sandwich and who also “throw away the rulebook to bridge countries and cultures, creating an exuberant and joyful soundworld… vocal harmonies from South Africa coalesce with everything from Celtic reels and Brazilian samba to Balkan folk music and beyond.” Featuring violin, guitar, cello, double bass and percussion in addition to voices, they’re playing a pop-up show but also two separate consecutive-but-entirely-different sets at Yellow Arch Studios.

Classical by Night – Kabantu @ Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England, Sunday 19th March 2017, 6.30pm & 9:30pm – information here and here
 

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