Posts Tagged ‘Jeanell Carrigan’

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.”