Sunday, 31 August 2008

Peter Eötvös at Glyndebourne

"It's like a very posh refugee camp":

That was the verdict of a fellow lawn picnicker on the penultimate evening of the 2008 Glyndebourne Festival Opera season. It was the last night of Love and Other Demons, a new opera by Peter Eötvös after the novel by Gabriel García Márquez. You can read more here.

My experience was similar to that which I had at the Royal Opera House in May, when I went to see Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new opera The Minotaur. Awe at the commitment and accomplishment of the cast and production team; bafflement at what they had to contend with perform.

Actually, I found the dramatic experience of Love and Other Demons a more coherent, well paced and so satisfying piece, eventually. I think the opera suffers from its libretto which often abandons dialogue and direction for poetry. By poetry I mean both evocative language and rhyme, respectively well suited and irrelevant for Eötvös broad, melismatic approach to his singing lines.

The cast was rather, um, asymmetric. Huge (ridiculously huge) vocal demands were made of those who were either good, like Nathan Gunn and Marietta Simpson, or brilliant - Alison Bell, John Graham-Hall and Felicity Palmer . Whilst I was principally in awe of Alison Bell's Lulu-plugged-into-the-national-grid lead role the biggest cheer of the evening was for Vladimir Jurowski which continued when he brought the LPO to their feet.

As for the music, well: inbetween the EKG-twitches of extreme tessitura in the score there's lyricism aplenty; there's a constant gravitational pull to harmonic centres, if not outright diatonicism (which makes listening easier, it helps to hold one's attention); the orchestration starts off with a distracting raft of novelties but calms down. In general, in fact, the opera seemed to acquire more formal delineation as it went on - there are unequivocal arias for the abbess, Sierva, bishop and Sierva's father Ygnacio to close the piece. A clearer sense of the transition from one scene to another earlier on would have helped crystallise the organic progression of the score. Otherwise the staging was fairly clear - imaginatively designed, populated and lit.