It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
Julian Anderson’s Thebans at the Coliseum, London, absolutely justifies the ENO’s mission: opera, in English, and of national significance. Anderson is one of the most influential figures in modern British music.
Philip Glass’s The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden had its world premiere at the Barbican Theatre, under the auspices of the ENO. Van der Aa is a well respected artist, closely associated with the Nederlandse Opera. His Up Close, presented together with Pierre Audi’s Liebestod in 2011, won a Grawemeyer award. Sunken Garden is a huge leap ahead from Up Close, and also from the earlier After Life, also presented at the Barbican and in Amsterdam. Sunken Garden is altogether more ambitious, and successfully achieves van der Aa’s dreams of linking different art forms to create a Gesammstkunstwerk for the age of technology. It will divide opinion, however, as anything truly experimental usually does.
Drawing on the dark viciousness and bitter malevolence of Prosper MÈrimÈe’s ethnographical novella, Calixto Bieito’s Carmen rejects any notion of flamboyant exoticism and alluring eroticism, and presents us instead with a sordid twilight zone of sexual violence and brutal malice.
The ENO gave the British premiere of Bohuslav Martin?’s Julietta many years ago, so this new production was eagerly awaited. But what will audiences new to Martin? get from this production? It’s a myth that the English language makes opera more accessible. That just means audiences focus on words, rather than really listening or understanding.
Detlev Glanert’s Caligula at the ENO shows how powerful modern opera can be. Caligula was a tyrant, but this opera isn’t sensationalist.
When the ENO does really innovative work, it does so with style. Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz may have taken 34 years to reach London fully staged, but this ENO production made such a strong impression that it might be years before it will be forgotten.
John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer is on at the English National Opera, London.
The circumstances behind Mieczys?aw Weinberg’s The Passenger at the ENO, London, are extraordinary.