CWT

August 25, 2019

Last night to the SOH for the SSO.

Simone Young conducted. The program was:

 

SCHUBERT The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: Overture

SCHUBERT arr. Liszt Wanderer Fantasy

LISZT Dante Symphony

I’ve heard the SSO play the  overture twice in 2008.  I’ve been a bit more into Schubert since then, and I got more out of it this time.  There is some quite high trumpet writing and a tricky trombone trio.  But it was still really just a curtain raiser.  I was here for the Schubert-Liszt and the Liszt.

“Schubert-Liszt” – to a pianist that is an evocative compound, mostly denoting the many song transcriptions.  The arrangement of the Wanderer is on another level.

Until recently I didn’t have a very favourable opinion of the Wanderer Fantasie.  It is quite an exhausting work for the pianist and the big writing at the end tends to come across as rather harsh and bangy and a bit relentless. It’s only really in the last year or so that I’ve really come round to it on the strength of a recording that finally won me over, though I would still be wary of what I might encounter if I heard it in the flesh Perhaps I’ve heard it too often in the Piano Competition.

The great thing about Liszt’s arrangement is that it frees the pianist from the burden of maintaining the ground of the rhythm.  Adding an orchestra works a bit like adding a rhythm section (bass, drums) to a jazz pianist.  Whilst that then leads to some flashy Lisztian enlargement of Schubert’s figurations, oddly enough I suspect this ends up being less demanding for the pianist than the original.  There is a romanticisation and a cute-ification – the opening is more remote from the Waldstein, but a bit more charm does no harm.  I really enjoyed Louis Lortie’s performance.

Liszt must have a bad reputation still amongst some – probably for meretricious bombast, because there was a marked exodus from the upper rear stalls at interval. Maybe they had come for the “Vienna” theme of the concert and considered it spent. I moved up and back a bit for the second half.

Leavers were losers.  Albeit with a certain amount of hellish musical noise (up and down some altered/diminished chord in repeated figures) the Dante symphony was terrific.  This is the “new music” of the mid-nineteenth century – half way (roughly) between Berlioz and Wagner.  Simone Young was an ideal exponent.

And the orchestra played terrifically for her.  The string playing had a real sheen in the violins – and grunt in the violas and celli and basses – that the SSO does not always achieve.  There were many other well-realised orchestral effects, and a beautiful ending with the upper voices of Cantillation singing from upstairs half way up the circle.

This was the day that Sydney trains were (again) in total disarray.  On the advice of the station attendant at Circular Quay I boarded the first available train, described as terminating at Central.  By Central it had turned into an all stations to Lidcombe (not-via-Bankstown) train and I stayed on it and got D to pick me up from Lewisham.

One of our little joke phrases when I return from a concert is “CWG”  – standing for Concert was good. D considers that a joke because exceptions to it are so rare.  This time, when he asked, I told him “CWT.”

That was “T” for “terrific.”

In the cheap seats

August 22, 2019

My friend UB emailed me at about 2pm yesterday:

Dear [Marcellous], let me know what operas you are going to this year and dates so I can try and get tickets on the same night.

Opera Australia’s online calendar for 2020 was still mostly blank, but I soon confirmed that UB (and I too, at home) had received the brochure. It was time to move quickly. UB sent me pictures of the brochure calendar from her phone.

Artistic Director (a more apt title would be “chief buyer”) Lyndon Terracini has given the Opera Review of a few years ago which recommended 11 operas be performed the finger.  Next year OA is spruiking not one, not two but four musicals. It’s not that a case cannot be made for any of these, but the two at the SOH are displacing operas.

I used to joke about WA Opera in Perth that it wasn’t the case that you couldn’t see plenty of opera, you just had to see the same operas multiple times.  That’s where I now am with OA’s Sydney offering.

A couple of years ago I gave up my long held centre-front row seats in a set series. That’s partly out of frugality, and partly because of OA’s constricted operatic repertoire.  Well-exposed popular works come around all too soon.  I’m a “mature market” and am more interested in things I haven’t seen yet.

My approach now is to see a new work multiple times, saving the best (still cheap) seats, when I also take D, till last.  If I see something 3 times, I will take restricted view from each side.  If an unfamiliar work, first time also needs surtitle view.

This requires a bit of wrangling and is best done over the counter at the OA box office – the earlier the better for the best choice of cheap seats.  The staff are very helpful.  By c.o.b. I had done it. I took a snapshot of my list of performances and SMS’d it to UB.

I’m seeing La Juive, Roberto Devereaux and Attila, all rarities I’m looking forward to, as well as a couple of others I’ve seen before.  D is coming to 4.

This morning UB sent me an email with the four nights she and her husband have chosen once the tickets became available online.

Back home last night, I perused the brochure at more leisure.

The title page touts OA’s NYE Gala offering. You can have dinner, see a show (La Bohème or an Opera Gala in the Concert Hall – in my opinion the latter is definitely the short straw) and then watch the fireworks from an exclusive after party (there must be two parallel parties) in the Northen Foyers. All for a mere $1,422.  Each.

That’s not for the likes of us. UB’s, her husband’s, D’s and my tickets for the whole year came in at less.

Academically approved

August 21, 2019

On Friday with D to the Conservatorium to see/hear a “dress rehearsal” of Psyche, billed as an opera by Meta Overman.

What is she? I hear you ask (not) – assuming you’d even determined the gender.

MO was born in Rotterdam in about 1907. She emigrated to Australia not long after WWII with her young son and pianist husband.  The impetus seems to have been to escape post-war privations in the Netherlands – relatives had accommodation on offer in Perth.  To escape the Perth heat, they moved to Albany.

Albany!  I have spent time there on account of my late aunt.  In the early 50s it must have been a remote spot indeed.

Overman wrote Psyche for the first Perth Festival, in 1953.  It is based on a novella/fairtytale by the Dutch writer, Louis Couperus.  A 1908 translation is available online.

The Perth Festival was and remains a venture of the University of Western Australia.  Psyche was conceived to be performed at the sunken garden there which was used as an outdoor theatre (my mother related to me more than once seeing Jacqui Kott there in Midsummer Night’s Dream).  It’s a special place amidst the sandy wastes of the West.  Meta Overman’s ashes were scattered there and, as it happens, I scattered (unauthorised by the University but at her written request in a document found amidst her effects) some of my Albany aunt’s there when the time came.

Psyche eventually had 10 performances there in the 1955 festival.  It was poorly attended and a financial disaster and this amongst other things apparently led to the end of Overman’s marriage.  She decamped to Melbourne with her son and  (I infer: he is  apparently still living and was active as a jazz pianist as recently as 2012) a rather younger man (not that there is anything wrong with that).

It is easy to imagine why Psyche was not a success with the 1955 Perth public. Aside from the obscurity of its fin-de-siecle source, it  was a novel work – scarcely an opera in conventional terms.  Only two characters – Eros and Psyche’s elder sister, Emeralda, are portrayed by singers.  Psyche herself was represented by a dancer, a male (I assume) dancer represented the Chimera and a Satyr who interact with her – with the Satyr (shades of Debussy) also shadowed by an obbligato flute soloist.  Psyche’s younger sister was represented by a harp solo.  The balance of the instrumental music was provided by Overman’s husband on the piano.  Two other characters were spoken by actors.

For this revival, Jeanell Carrigan semi-orchestrated the piano part for a small ensemble whose makeup seems to have been determined by the availability of the SSO fellows – a string quartet, double bass, flute, oboe and bassoon.  The solo harp and flute parts  were retained and JC herself played a still-extensive piano part.

The music was accessible and dramatically apt without stretching many boundaries and to that extent can be excused criticism of the sort that Dr Carrigan (in my opinion unduly dismissively) levelled against Elliott Gyger’s music in her review of Oscar and Lucinda .

In the scene involving the Satyr the music launched slightly incongrously into treatments of O du lieber Augustin and another song which I recognized but still cannot name.  There may have been other songs referred to here.  The best I can do by way of explanation for this is that in the novel as translated the Satyr is dismissive of “classical music” and these songs therefore represent something more popular. he Wikipedia entry on O..Augustin, which should be updated in the section on “Use in other musical works” to include reference to Psyche, mentions that “The melody is also used in “Daar wordt aan de deur geklopt”, a Dutch children’s song for the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day

I felt the instrumentation was a little cautious and could profitably have expanded, even with the available forces, more beyond the still very evident backbone of the piano part.

The actors both had microphones, which was in my opinion a misstep even if necessary for them.  Singers and actors had books (not always consulted) and it didn’t look to me as if this was just for the dress rehearsal.  The dancers (who were excellent) gave the most fully realised performances.

I enjoyed my encounter with a slightly clunky oddity.

Some peculiar properties of glass

August 13, 2019

On Friday night a couple of weeks back and with D the following Saturday to  Carriageworks to see Sydney Chamber Opera’s production of the new chamber opera, Oscar & Lucinda, based on Peter Carey’s novel. Tthe music is by Elliott Gyger and the libretto by Pierce Wilcox.  They collaborated a few years ago on an adaptation of David Malouf’s Fly away Peter, which I didn’t see.

That makes two new Australian operas seen within a fortnight of each other.  You certainly can’t say that happens often.

In comparison to Kats-Chernin’s, a member of the Dulwich Hill gang who’d been to Whiteley earlier that week described Gyger’s style as “academically approved.”

If so, not by Associate Professor Jeanell Carrigan of the Conservatorium, who didn’t think much of the music at all.

In an opera adaption surely the most important feature is the music and how well adapted to the story it is….[I]n the opinion of this reviewer, the music did not react to or reflect the action on stage or in the story.

Had one not had the visual aspect and the text ….displayed on surtitles, hearing the music would not have given the listener the effect of what was transpiring….

Gyger writes in the program notes:

The guiding metaphor for the music is one not found in the novel …In a kaleidoscope, small fragments of coloured glass fall into arbitrary relationships which are then mirrored geometrically to create the illusion of order. Different settings of the kaleidoscope generate particular harmonic colours

If this was the guiding principle behind the composition then Gyger was successful, as the music does sound like a kaleidoscope, pieces of coloured glass falling into space. However, it seemed to this listener that the music never changed to reflect the story presented.

In the love scene, the kaleidoscope of colours did not reflect a warmth normally associated with such a scene. In the death scene, which was rather protracted, the colours were again so much of the sameness of other parts of the action. What began as colourful and very exciting became uninteresting and no longer captivating.

…..

it was doubtful whether the music portrayed enough of the story line to warrant putting this story into an operatic medium.

That’s harsh.

On first listening, I had something like Carrigan’s reaction, though not as adverse.

A particular bugbear of mine with much contemporary music is that often intricate details, which can themselves be quite rhythmic (in this case, often coming from the words), are laid out against a basically time-measuring background seemingly devoid of  metre.  Where is the ritornello rhythmic pattern that we can (metaphorically) tap our feet to?  Where are the non-duple metres?

That’s probably also a stalking horse (switching metaphors in mid-stream) for regret at the absence of the straightforwardly lyrical.  Give us a song, not mere declamation!

Actually that’s an argument which goes back beyond antagonism to contemporary music.  People made that complaint about Wagner’s vocal writing, and I felt something a bit like that in relation to the constant (and ever so admired by critics as responsive to the text) recits and ariosos in The Return of Ulysses.

There is a bit of a lyricism deficit in Oscar and Lucinda – or at least there is lots of very angular and leapy music.

When I returned on Saturday – better rested than I had been on Friday and with the advantage of already having heard the music once – I found much more variety – even metrical variety – in the music than I had noticed first time around.

As for the two scenes Carrigan picked on: as to the first, her complaint should possibly be with the libretto rather than the music. It is an “in love” scene rather than a “love scene” – the whole point is that they are happy together without having declared their love to each other.  I thought the music captured this well, though perhaps you could have wished for something warmer.

The scene which Carrigan calls the “death scene” is more than that. The libretto ingeniously manages to wrap up the Miriam-Lucinda plot at the same time.  The scene is fittingly a culmination of the glass-themed style which has featured throughout the work.  True, it is a bit static (so a bit of that time-measuring that I am not so keen on) but a glass church on a barge is sinking into the river.  It’s too late to slip into a waltz.  in truth I expect Carrigan just didn’t like the style that much and by the end was sick of it.

Perhaps she should have gone again to gain a better impression.

There is more I could say about the the staging (minimalist, imaginative) and the performances (energetic, impressive, though some of the chorus-commentary harmony could have been better tempered)  and even about the music, but I’ve run out of energy for that right now.

I enjoyed both nights and they made me think about the novel afresh.  The audience was enthusiastic.  Carriageworks is a funky venue.

The ticket price of $35 was very accessible.  It was even more accessible to me because on the Friday, expecting to be too tired, I made a special trip to Carriageworks to book a ticket for the Saturday so as to be sure of one for the last night. Naively I also thought I might avoid the hated booking fee that way.  That was not to be, but there was a consolation: as I was concluding the bargain, a man returned a ticket to be given away for free.  “I’ll take it!” I cried, leaving no chance before any more tentative bystanders could put in a claim. If I flagged, I could always leave at half time secure in the knowledge I still had a ticket for the next night.  In fact, though impaired by a long day and a couple of post-work drinks I never felt the slightest bit tempted to leave.  It was totally engrossing.

Bonus!

PS: the title to this post is set by Gyger to a melodic fragment not entirely unreminiscent of “Peter Grimes I here advise.”

 

Narrow taste and the three “B”s

August 12, 2019

Our rented house has two front rooms either side of the entrance hallway.

One, called by D “the study room” (a translation of the Chinese 书房 (shufang)), contains my piano, desk, bookshelves and books.

The other is D’s bedroom.

About a year ago, D proposed these rooms  be swapped.  I wasn’t keen. One week-day a few days later I came home to find it done. D had enlisted the support of some visiting friends to move the piano and other furniture. D himself had emptied the bookshelves and then restocked them according to his own principles.

Yesterday I finally got around to re-alphabetising the piano solo portion of my music. There’s surprisingly little of it: it just about fills a single Ikea “Billy” shelf.

P1010533

That’s not all my solo piano music.  It excludes anthologies (the alphabetical order I have used is by composer), and my own personal anthologies in tatty scrap-books. These were mostly what I would have lugged to and from piano lessons in later years.

The single red  volume to the left of Beethoven Klaviersonaten I and II  (Henle, cloth bound) is one volume of a Peters edition of the Beethoven sonatas which had been given to me by my grandmother when I was about ten or eleven.  In about 1985, cycling home from a piano lesson in North Sydney, I failed to detect that I had dislodged with my heel a pannier holding its mate as well as a few other volumes. That (and the rise of photocopying) is one reason for the scrap book practice.  You can also fix up page turns more conveniently that way.

I probably have some even more tattered sheet music boxed away somewhere or in a filing cabinet.

At roughly the mid-point of the “collection” so arranged is the yellow spine of the the Schirmer edition of Cramer’s 50 Etudes.

The plastic covered blue spines which catch the light immediately to its left are Henle editions of Chopin.  To the left of Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven and Bach occupy most of the space – so about an eighth of the total for each.

There is a bit of a clump at the right for Schubert and Schumann.

Which composers take up space isn’t a direct indication of what I’ve actually played.  It’s more a question of which composers’ works I have bought in volume form.

Nevertheless, the relative under-representation of Russian and French composers (leaving aside for now that Chopin was arguably half-French) is conspicuous and probably consistent with under-representation in my repertoire.  Partly that’s because they are too hard, but I also suspect it is to do with my own musical upbringing and hence blinkers.

 

 

 

PTSD Snowflake

August 8, 2019

The NSW Legislative Assembly has been debating the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill – a private members’ bill which seeks to remove abortion from the Crimes Act and to bring NSW law roughly in line with the law in Queensland and Victoria. Within Australia, only NSW still deals with abortion as a specific offence under the Crimes Act.

In so many respects this is a replay of the agonizing process of “homosexual law” reform and specifically the marriage equality debates leading up to 2017.  On the anti-reform side all the usual road-blocks are thrown up.  There must be consultation.  The change is rushed.  The change and the path to change should be offset by obstacles and even set backs (not in the town-planning sense).

There is misrepresentation of the current state of the law and of the effect of the bill if passed.

Amendments proposed by attorney-general  Mark Speakman will make the position worse for persons seeking abortions (and those performing them) than they are under the judge-made (and for that reason inherently uncertain and liable to reconsideration) work-arounds under which abortions are presently performed. Unsatisfactory as the mutable status of such judge-made law is, it would be better there were no new Act than the Act as so amended. That’s a wedge of sorts.

The NSW Legislative Assembly now webcasts its debates and I have been watching some of them.  It is a depressing spectacle.

And if the bill passes the Legislative Assembly unscathed or amended, we still have the Legislative Council to go.

Oh, joy.

Postscript: the bill passed.  Speakman’s worst amendment didn’t get in but there are still some pretty unsatisfactory provisions.  Not that the proponents of any of these amendments including Speakman ended up voting for the bill as so amended anyway.  The pr flak painting him and Stokes as “peacemakers” was nonsense.

There was some weak wavering by temporizers in the middle watching their back against organized religion in their branches.  That’s democracy at work.  Women and the general community support for availability of abortion are less tightly organised than the “pro-life” groups.  The RC Church still has political muscle to flex.

It’s reported that supporters of the bill in the public gallery cheered.  My own response would have been a more modified rapture.

Law skool memories

July 31, 2019

Every one knows about the snail in the ginger beer bottle (though it was never actually proved to have been there) and probably a few people who dropped out of law courses can remember the Carbolic Smoke Ball case, but there are plenty of other cases that stick in one’s memory.

One came to mind today with a news story from the ABC.  A former deputy mayor is facing charges that he murdered his brother in Victoria and his mother in NSW.

In the body of the story was the following:

Cross-border crime presents ‘complex legal issues’

Mr Brand was a police prosecutor for 12 years in NSW and said he had not dealt with a serious cross-border criminal case like this before.

Excuse me!  That’s not a cross-border crime!  That’s two crimes, one on each side of a border.

To be fair, Mr Brand didn’t say it was – only the author of the sub-headline.

A cross border crime is one posed by the question, asked rhetorically of us in Criminal Law:

A man  fires a shot across the Murray River  and kills someone.  In which state has the homicide occurred?  Victoria or NSW?

The answer is: where the person was hit by the bullet.  (There are some other technicalities such as the year-and-a-day rule.  I don’t think it matters where the victim actually died.)

The more amazing thing is that there was  actually a High Court case about this.  That case is Ward v R [1980] HCA 11; (1980) 142 CLR 308.

Edward Donald Ward shot and killed Alexander Joseph Reed beside the Murray River near Echuca. He fired from the top of the steep bank of the river down at Reed, who was fishing by the river’s edge, some thirty feet below.

Ward fired from the Southern bank. He was tried and found guilty of murder in the Victorian Supreme Court. The High Court upheld his appeal because the river bed was in NSW. The border had been fixed in 1855 as being at the southern side of the “whole of the watercourse.”  The whole of the watercourse did not just mean where the water was at a particular time or even where water normally flowed, but the watercourse as defined by the banks.  Reed was killed in NSW.

This wasn’t merely academic, because if the homicide occurred in NSW Ward had available to him a defence of “diminished responsibility” which if accepted would reduce the offence from murder to manslaughter.  This defence did not exist if the case was to be tried as a crime which took place in Victoria.

So, to the ABC news site I say: come back to me when you have a real cross-border (alleged) crime to report!

I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to track down Ward’s ultimate legal fate.  The best outcome for him would have been that a plea of guilty to manslaughter was accepted.

Diminished responsibility  was abolished in NSW in 1998 and replaced with substantial impairment

Mad scenes

July 30, 2019

I’ve already posted about my attendance at the concert performance of Peter Grimes last Thursday and Saturday.

It was a big week – other than for work.  On Wednesday I went to Whiteley and on Friday, as previously foreshadowed, I went with D to the last night of Anna Bolena.

I enjoyed Anna Bolena more the second time around.  In part this was because I was ready to go with the flow of the production and probably more importantly, with its conventions.  At the accusation scene at the end of Act I, is Anna in a tight spot?  Yes, of course she is, but that isn’t going to stop her turning round at the back of the stage and advancing with a reprise of her big tune.

I was able to shut out some of the more distracting projections and annoying business.  I still don’t think AB should raise her hand to King Henry, or nobly forgive Jane Seymour whilst basically squatting, legs wide apart, on a step. I didn’t let such coarsenesses worry me too much.

Going a second time around you know the tunes better and can enjoy them even more.

There was a full house and the work was warmly received.

Seeing Peter Grimes the night before and after means that I’d managed to see within a week the bookends of the operatic mad scene.  Sure, there are earlier mad characters, but Anna Bolena is basically the first of the core genre.  The flute, invoked by Britten in Peter Grimes, is the tell.

 

SSO does Grimes

July 28, 2019

 

IMG_20190725_185703

On Thursday and Saturday last week to the SSO’s concert performances of Peter Grimes.

That is the far-from-full house from my seat in box W on the Thursday.  The Saturday performance was not much better attended.

I almost didn’t go.  When I took out my subscription last year, the concerts were not part of any series I was going to and were priced at a premium.  I am resistant to that sort of thing.

And that’s a problem for the SSO when it mounts concert performances of operas, especially if it seeks to price them at a level which will allow the orchestra to recoup the costs of a quality cast.  Leaving aside my own price-sensitive resistance – and I went to and greatly enjoyed Opera Australia’s production in 2009 which featured, as did these performances, Stuart Skelton in the title role, it’s clear that many of the SSO’s regular subscribers are not keen on vocal works.

I relented just a week ago when it was convenient (because I was going away) to swap my ticket for the Saint-Saens organ symphony, Chabrier’s Espana and Susan Grahame singing Canteloube – a concert which I’m sure I would also have found enjoyable.  I still had to pay extra, which is a bit outrageous in hindsight given how few seats had really been sold.  Not, I might add, that the online booking site disclosed the full picture.  They certainly play their cards close to their chest!

On Tuesday, a friend alerted me to a bargain offering buried (with very little fanfare indeed) in an email from the orchestra that I had not bothered to read, and I picked up my box W seat for Thursday’s performance for $49.  I even (haste dictated it: my chosen seats were disappearing) swallowed the booking fee, which at $8.95 really sticks in my craw.

Given the state of the house on both nights, I don’t think the SSO was trying hard enough to shift the tickets.

Lyndon Terracini of Opera Australia will doubtless consider his antipathy to mounting Britten productions vindicated.  I won’t say he has been proved right – more that he will have had his prejudices confirmed.

I’m glad I went and it was worth going twice.

 

Whiteley

July 28, 2019

On Wednesday to Opera Australia’s Whiteley.

This was a new opera about the Australian artist, with music by Elena Kats-Chernin and libretto by Justin Fleming.

I’m not really a big fan of Elena Kats-Chernin’s cross-overish style, but obviously it has a following.  The music was effective and there was some striking orchestration. There were a few rather awful bits (cf the fight music in Lohengrin – plenty of composers can write banal music for a dramatic purpose) and quite a lot of what Harriett Alexander has called K-C’s chugging basslines where the basses render an orchestral translation of the bass guitar.  The opening of Act II channelled John Adams for a while.

When you have an opera about an artist, the visuals have to be a big thing.  Here they were mostly deployed on the new video screens.  The most exuberant bits involved Whiteley’s youthful trip to Europe (I loved the train) and his ecstatic encounters with canonical works of Western art – especially Giotto’s St Francis Feeding the Birds.  The depiction of Christie’s murder victims (not on the video screens) via Whiteleys works on this topic was haunting. Whiteley’s more “mature” art (did he ever “mature”?) in the second half was dealt with in a relatively more restrained way. Perhaps it was not to be tampered with.

The problem with a biographical opera is how to arrange the material into a dramatically satisfactory form.  Probably it cannot really be done without a greater sacrifice of truth than Justin Fleming managed in this case. He just had too many facts from Ashleigh Wilson’s authorized (by Wendy) biography to pack in.

Apart from the art, for which Fleming managed a fair conspectus, the other two themes jostled for attention.  These were, on the one hand, Whiteley’s various drug addictions, and on the other hand (the opera downplayed the intersection), Wendy, his love and muse.

Summarised like this, neither is really so extraordinary.  Artists have addictions and they have muses and often both.

Though it might be thought of as commonplace, I personally would have rather had more of the addiction thing and less of Wendy.  That probably wasn’t possible given Wendy’s role as the surviving custodian of brand Whiteley.  As it was, there was lots of Wendy but still she didn’t have all that much to do other than to be beeyoutiful (as Whiteley, Leigh Melrose, who was terrific,  made particular sport of the Australian oooo vowel) and endure BW’s waywardness.  Wendy’s own heroin phase passed with little mention.

By the end I was rather sick of the Whiteley family.

Whiteley’s post-Wendy partner (merely billed as “Janice”) got very short shrift. That’s what happens when you lose a court case and are now dead.

If the opera were to be revived/revised I would cut down the Fiji sequence.  Yes, I know it was meant to be a set-up to the Whiteleys’ (rather underwhelmingly realised) expulsion, but it just went on and it felt a bit too saccharine.

Apparently, K-C already did a major rewrite of the score because as it first came out it was too much like a musical.  The musical language she found was eclectic and hit a credible easy-listenish operatic spot.  It is not music that would drive the public that Lyndon Terracini craves away. The problem for me is that I am out of kilter with that public, which apparently (as Lyndon T will readily tell you) isn’t even interested in Benjamin Britten, let alone the post-expressionism of Brett Dean, whose Bliss was OA’s last mainstage new work.  K-C’s music may not frighten the horses as that did but I can’t really say it draws me in either.

The bums on seats thing is the curse of modern classical music and modern opera.

The uncomfortable truth is that, from an economical point of view, opera is probably a dead form.  That’s not to say it isn’t still alive in terms of performance and interpretation, but when it comes to writing new works, the numbers are all wrong.  My own view is that its death probably goes right back to WWI, which is as good a point as any to pinpoint the shakeup between the economic position of the audience and the performers.  New and popular operas continued to be written and mounted into the 20s (eg, Jonny spielt auf, and Puccini’s later works) but they were living on borrowed time.  Meanwhile, spectacle and music could by the 30s be found at the movies (mass produced) or in blockbuster musical theatre (more popular music and more cost-effective to mount, especially once amplification entered the picture).

Alternately, you could say rather than a “dead form” that opera is a “mature market.”  New entrants have to compete against an enormous back catalogue.  We tend to forget that the operas in the established repertoire which we see to day are but a tiny proportion of the many operas which emerged – especially say in the period 1820 to 1920 – and have since disappeared without much of a trace.

It’s a big ask to predict that any new work will ever join the “pantheon” of established works, or even to hope it will be staged more than once or twice.

Richard Anderson, as Whiteley’s friend, Joel Elenberg, was totally unrecognizable without his beard. I suppose it was covered with the chin equivalent of a bald wig. The alternative possibility, that all his beards have been fake, is just too mind-blowing to contemplate.