Thursday 1 May 2008

New Opera

Scottish Opera seem to have had some success with their Five:15 project, pairing up 5 composers with 5 librettists and challenging them to come up with a 15 minute opera. Andrew Clark in this month's Opera magazine is most positive about the project, especially when compared to the contemporary opera programmes of our other opera companies.

What the Scottish project seems to have had is freshness, communication and craftsmanship, none of the 5 projects seems to have tried to re-think what an opera ought to be. Recent offerings at ENO, WNO and the Royal Opera House's Opera Genesis programmes have left me a little depressed by contemporary opera. Composers often seem to try to re-define what opera means, making the mistake of trying to rewrite the rules before actually knowing them. When they don't, the works seem to have been in danger of being workshopped to death. Workshopping seems to be the contemporary opera company's panacea which allows them to feel in control of the creation process. The advantage is that the composer and librettist can try things out and get the feel of a piece. The disadvantage, from a consumer's point of view, is that the dramaturg's get their hands on things and the results can often lack danger, be without the essential spark which makes a work come alive.

One opera company that does seem to get things sort of right is Tete-a-Tete, run by Bill Bankes-Jones. They have regularly put together evenings of tiny operas, which allow composers to try things out. Not everything succeeds, but they present their vignettes with vivid communication and freshness. Each summer they run an opera festival at Riverside studios, this enables composers and librettists to present fully fledged works or simply works in progress. We went to 2 evenings last year and saw a total of 6 works, being alternately challenged and fascinated by the pieces.

Having successfully produced works on this model, let us hope Scottish Opera can continue the momentum. I understand that they hope to build on the more successful works in the evening, but I do hope that in a year or two's time they re-peat the experiment, allowing another group of composers to try things out.

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