Sunday, August 24, 2008
Dog Bites Soprano
New Glyndebourne Opera
The premiere at Glyndebourne of a new, commissioned opera by Peter Eötvöșa, a Hungarian composer previously known as a fine conductor mainly of contemporary works. Love and Other Demons is based on the novel of that name by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The action takes place in a colonial sea port in Columbia in the 18th century and it begins with an eclipse of the sun, during which Sierva is bitten by a dog (non-singing role) which gives her rabies and causes her to scream for most of the opera in stratospherically high notes way above the staves. The Bishop orders Delaura, his librarian, to exoricize her but before that happens she is sent to a convent and there are encounters with the Abbess, and a former nun who has gone mad. Whilst Sierva is possessed of demons Delaura is possessed with love for Sierva. Eventual exorcism and death of Sierva.
The production is elaborate and brilliant, by the Romanian director, Silviu Purcararete, even though at times it is difficult to make out what is going on. And the programme book does not help as the synopsis is inept. The libretto, by Kornel Hamvai, is in English although certain passages are written in a foreign tongue. Fortunately, there are subtitles which reveal often that English is not a language that the composer knows well. Some of the wording veers between naiveté and pretension. There is not much choral or ensemble music. The score is wispy and gestural, curiously neutral textures and orchestration for a composer who is a conductor. Musical content is in short supply. Most people I spoke to agreed that one observed and listened but emotions were not engaged.
Allison Bell took over the part of the Sierva from the indisposed advertised soprano and achieved wonders with her high lying vocal utterings. Nathan Gunn, Felicity Palmer, Jean Rigby and Mats Almgren were excellent respectively as Delaura, the Abbess, the Insane Nun and the Bishop, all serving the composer right. There was nothing in the music to frighten the horses and the duration was short.
It will be interesting to see if this opera survives or sinks without a trace. Last performance this season 30 August, I don’t think it will be difficult to get a ticket.