Irish Opera 2: The Sleeping Queen

And in January, I saw a much more intimate staging of Michael William Balfe’s operetta, The Sleeping Queen, another Irish work. This one was a bit older and a bit less ambitious in scope than Eithne (though, I think, much more successful in execution).

During her introductory remarks, Hunt noted the strong possibility of influence from Balfe’s operetta on the later work by Gilbert and Sullivan. I’m convinced: the works share a playfulness and a strong sense of tonal melody; even the libretto shares lyrical characteristics with the later pair’s work (A neighbouring king ‘Proposes an alliance / Offensive and defensive / With treaties most extensive / Immense and comprehensive…’).

The work has some nice musical tricks, though it burns its best one very early on: the second song features a rapid-fire duet between Agnes and the Regent; a ‘Repeat-after-me’-style oath, broken down to the syllable and shot back and forth between the two characters without room for breath or break.

Irish Opera 1: Eithne

Looking at the most recent entry on this blog, I see that somehow I’ve let six months slip by between posts. Time to start catching up.

Back in October, I was lucky enough to cover a unique event for the Journal of Music: a restoration of a century-old opera written in the Irish language, Eithne, by Robert O’Dwyer. While the music didn’t work for me, the night was one to remember. Audience and musicians alike seemed to feel that they were participating in something special:

In hearing the music, perhaps the most striking thing is often the language itself. There was a minor vogue in the early twentieth century for writing opera in the Irish language, but, for a variety of reasons, it never caught on. It is a pity, because the language suits the medium, perhaps surprisingly well. It is bold, earthy and rich, with hard, throaty consonants and long, warm vowels.

When it came to the music, I couldn’t help but feel out-of-step with the audience’s rapturous response, in spite of both the historical significance of the work and the quality of its performance. A review of the 1909 première described O’Dwyer, somewhat damningly, as influenced by ‘what he knows of Wagner’. That more or less gets at the core of the music, in ways both positive and negative. The music of Eithne is superficially Wagnerian: it has Wagner’s warmth of tone, his full-bodied orchestral sound, but it lacks Wagner’s mastery of structure and counterpoint.

What it really lacks, though, is Wagner’s adventurousness. Any time the harmony approaches something daring, it gets cold feet and backs away. In the turbulent musical climate a century ago, it must have felt downright old-fashioned.

Griffin Candey on Making New Opera Great

Smart post from Griffin Candey on Fach Yeah Opera Singers:

To be fair, this subject has very few clean answers—too many parties tied up in too many aspects of this process means that no suggestions, no matter how clear-cut, can produce an idyllic version of the new opera process. That being said, many of the improvements must occur, and they must occur soon; if not, the current iterations of new opera will continue to limp (and possibly fall).

I don’t believe anything can truly make art fall (except the fall of civilisation), but the article makes some great points. And while the art itself won’t fall, if everyone’s trying the same bad strategy, many of those individual houses and production companies will fail.

Alison Kinney on blackface in opera

In the wake of the Met’s overdue announcement that they won’t be staging Verdi’s Otello in blackface, Alison Kinney on hyperallergic has an excellent run-down of the history of blackface in opera:

Opera’s blackface tradition spans two centuries, linking it with Bobby Deen, Al Jolson, minstrelsy—and the KKK, who, in their Reconstruction-era, pre-hood days, used to “black up” with burnt cork, then accuse Black people of having committed their own crimes.

“The Revolution of Steve Jobs”

The Guardian reports that there’ll be a new opera about Steve Jobs, by Mason Bates.

I know Jobs’ story is a little bit overexposed at the moment, but I for one think an operatic treatment could be pretty g—

The opera company describes Jobs as “an innovator who simplified communication with sleek devices, but who paradoxically learned that complex human relationships require more than one button to work.”

Never mind.