Rocking Horse Winner; music by Gareth Williams and libretto by Anna Chatterton, opened last night at the Berkeley Street Theatre. It’s based on the short story by DH Lawrence and is a co-commission of Tapestry Opera and Scottish Opera. There are some changes from the original story. Here Paul is a developmentally challenged adult (on the autism spectrum) rather than a child. The gardener is replaced by his personal care worker who moonlights as a caller at the local racetrack. This has a couple of advantages. It provides something of a rationale for Paul hearing the “voice” of the house and for his apparently inexplicable intuition about race winners and it also means that Paul can be cast as a tenor rather than having to make an awkward choice between a boy soprano or a pants role. As Paul is one of, perhaps the main, character, this simplifies casting considerably. The work is also gently updated. So gently in fact that it’s barely perceptible.
Richard Jones chose to set his 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff in Windsor in 1946. I suspect it’s driven by similar reasoning to Robert Carsen’s 1950s production. Falstaff plays out very nicely as a conflict between an older order of things and a more thrusting kind of bourgeoisie and 1940s/50s England works well for that. The “just after the war” setting also allows Jones to present Fenton as a G.I. which adds another twist to Ford’s distrust of him. Although the jumping off point for Jones and Carsen is the same the results are quite different. Jones seems to be operating in the traditions of English farce, à la Brian Rix, or maybe Carry on films,which works pretty well. Falstaff is a farce rather than a comedy of manners. So, besides the obligatory entrances and exits, couples caught in flagrante etc we also get a certain geometric precision in the blocking that borders on choreography. In Act 1 Scene 2, for instance, the ladies rather military perambulation in a garden of very precisely aligned cabbages is doubled up by Brownies and a rowing four countermarching.
Edita Gruberova in recent years has pretty much cut her repertoire down to a handful of bel canto roles; Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux and the title roles in Anna Bolena, La Straniera, Norma and Lucrezia Borgia. The last of these was recorded in Munich in 2009 in a production by Christof Loy for the Bayerisches Staatsoper. It shows that Gruberova still very much at the height of her powers but the production is less satisfactory.
To Mazzoleni Hall yesterday to hear Christina Campsall’s graduating recital. I think over the course of the year she has become my “top tip” for this year’s graduating class at the Conservatory and nothing that happened yesterday did anything to shake that judgement. It was a pretty intense program that was definitely more shade than light but that, I think, rather suits her voice. The opening set, Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, was a case in point. Dark, brooding texts, dark, brooding music and a dark, brooding voice with plenty of power. We have a mezzo here not a second soprano! That said, her high notes are all there and there seems to be plenty of power all through the registers, though to be fait I’ve only seen her once in a large hall and that was in operetta. Very good German too with a distinct northern inflection. All the consonants!
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland premiered at the BayerischeStaatsoper in 2007 in a production by Achim Freyer. It’s a curious work. It cleaves fairly closely to Carroll but the beginning and ending are altered to make it clear this is all a dream. In between those two short scenes we get all the familiar stuff; Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, Tea Party, Croquet Lawn, Trial etc. It’s all staged on a steeply raked stage with a sort of set of “advent calendar” openings. Lines of light are used to suggest scale changes and the characters (almost) all wear mesh masks and have puppet selves too. It’s a look that won costume designer Nina Weitzner an award. Everybody seems to be wearing an aerial wire and there’s a fair bit of flying about. It looks, on the face of it, visually inventive and psychologically convincing.
The final concert of the year involving members of the Ensemble Studio took place yesterday in the RBA. First up were Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon with Britten’s Les Illuminations. This is a formidable challenge for both singer and pianist and we were treated to a performance of real intensity and maturity. Charles seemed to be sufficiently in technical command of the material to let himself go a bit and have some fun with the more ironic bits of Rimbaud’s rather extraordinary text. His French diction was more than good enough for this, even in the places where the notes pretty much fall over themselves. There were some very pretty sounds where needed and real intensity, particularly in Parade. Hyejin was excellent too. The piano part is no mere support in this piece. It’s challenging and demands real partnership with the singer. All in all, it was a performance that made one forget that these two have only been in the program for a year.
Tapestry Opera’s upcoming show is a new opera based on DH Lawrence’s short story Rocking Horse Winner. The music is by Gareth Williams and the libretto by Anna Chatterton. It’s co-commissioned with Scottish Opera but this time, unlike The Devil Inside, seen earlier this season, it’s a Canadian production with a Canadian cast. I spoke with director Michael Mori and librettist Anna Chatterton to find out what it was all about.