Five operatic originals to watch online online11:42, 2nd July 2020
Lockdown is gradually being lifted, but with live performances still on hold, opera companies are finding ever more inventive ways of keeping us stimulated, amused, moved and entertained. There’s a growing body of series of specially commissioned operas and newly released films that add to the pandemic’s creative canon. Visit the link below for our selection of recent online releases…
The Narcissistic Fish
Set in a restaurant kitchen where simmering resentments start boiling over among three protagonists, The Narcissistic Fish is a visceral exploration of the clash between class, gender and workplace pressure in 21st-century Scotland. With music by Samuel Bordoli and a libretto by acclaimed Scottish writer Jenni Fagan, the new opera is directed by film-maker Antonia Bain. The plot: a phone call during a busy shift at The Narcissistic Fish releases a dose of kitchen venom between the owner Angus and his brother Kai. As they argue over their dead father, talented and underpaid chef Belle has a revelation of her own. The knives quite literally out in this gritty, gutsy three-hander, sung in a colourful Scottish brogue (with surtitles), that draws you in on a small screen and introduces some superb new talent among Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists in the form of Charlie Drummond, Mark Nathan and Arthur Bruce.
Osman Bey and the Snails
A 10-minute operatic skit written by Nigel Osborne and produced over several continents as a tribute to human rights lawyer philanthropist Osman Kavala who has been locked in a Turkish jail for over 900 days now. A tireless campaigner against the erosion of civil liberties in Turkey, Kavala has been a perpetual thorn in the side of the Erdogan government, which has repeatedly tried to silence his protests. He was freed in a court ruling on 20 March this year for plotting to overthrow the government , but since then has been arrested three times[and acquitted twice. Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth stated that Kavala’s arrests and continued incarceration shows ‘how Turkey’s criminal justice system is politically manipulated, with detention and prosecutions pursued at the political whim of the president.’ The opera tells the story of two snails that arrived in Kavala’s salad while in jail, that he kept and cared for before being released earlier this year. The snails were given to Kavala’s lawyer for safekeeping and remain free, as far as we know; Kavala however is back behind bars.
In his notes about the short opera, composer Nigel Osborne says, ‘The true story of Osman and his snail-friends is like a fairy story, but it presents all of the truths about the loneliness of imprisonment in isolation and about Osman’s compassion and love of nature and beauty.’
‘Roxana’s Song‘ from Szymanowski’s King Roger
Kristian Lada has put together a short video together with Opera Ballet Vlaanderenlong and long-time collaborator Kasia Głowicka as part of his reimagining of how opera might continue in the times of corona. It’s beautifully shot in an industrial area on the edge of Antwerp. In the opera, Roxana is sweet-talking her husband King Roger into showing leniency to a mysterious, seductive and subversive young shepherd who has provoked the anger of his bishops and courtiers who are calling for his death.
Tragedy is a slow-burn, strangely absorbing fly-on-the-wall film that captures the twighlight zone that exists backstage at the opera, filmed during the a performance of La Traviata at Opera North, by artist and film-maker Lynne Marsh.
Marsh turns her camera on the hidden elements of the production, exploring the performance from the perspectives of stage managers, technicians, dressers and performers waiting in the wings. The shadowy workaday world backstage contrasts with the glare and glamour of the lights on stage, as the contrast between reality and fantasy comes under the gentlest scrutiny. With a duration of two hours (almost the full length of the performance of Traviata) the film has its longueurs: there’s a lot of hanging around behind the scenes during an opera. But there are also priceless vignettes, such as tenor Ji-Min Park as Alfredo in his off-stage cries of passion at the end of Act I, thanking the harpist Celine Saout before he disappears to his dressing room. Throughout it all, there is the cool, calm, reassuring presence of the impressive stage manager Abby Jones, who holds all the threads together and whom you would definitely want at your side in a crisis.
The film is available on BBC iPlayer until 25 July as part of BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine season:
Music Theatre Wales and the London Sinfonietta have just launched a new digital commission as part of a series called Homemakers. Amazon has been created by composer Alex Ho and theatre maker Elayce Ismail, joining forces for the first time. Their theme is a trip to the Amazon that takes an unexpected turn.
Ho and Ismail have never met in person. Thanks to Zoom, they now know a lot about the inside of each other’s homes – where the best signal is, what’s hanging on the back of that door just in shot, how well the sound of a reversing truck in London carries to Cambridge… Out of this virtual meeting, and sharing of lives and ideas, came Amazon. What started as a meditation on how time and of space changes in lockdown became a quest for connection to a world that lies far beyond our screens and outside our windows.
The One with the Skype Call
The Opera Story, a quirky British fringe opera company that has made a name for itself with a series of operas based on contemporary retellings of traditional fairytales. During the pandemic, the company has commissioned a series of mini-operas called Episodes currently available online, all inspired in very different ways by the world being in lockdown. The films are very short – around 2 minutes. Episode 1, The One with the Skype Call is our favourite, capturing to perfection the awkwardness and frustration of online communication (or lack of it).