Sunday, 11 November 2012

Voting for your favourite rarity? I don't think so

One of the obvious "secrets" about the cleverness of X Factor is that it allows the audience to tell the money-men whose records they would buy and in this context, in haughty taste-police fashion, I would compare it to turkeys voting for Christmas. As consumers we are seemingly happy to be duped by such processes but an argument persists that such public complicity results in a race to the bottom; where taste and motive are never challenged and where anything "new" will never see the light of day. Formulaic, lowest common denominator acts rule supreme. Alternatively, if someone does emerge onto the scene who has originality, the X Factor will find a procession of people who ape the style of that particular singer; so an endless stream of girls trying to sound like Adele or Amy Winehouse, vocal ticks and over-souling included, cover our screens on a Saturday night. It is, though, a successful formula and one wonders why opera houses and theatres have never tried it although I should add at this point that I am somewhat glad we don't as a rule, but there is something to be said for discussing repertoire with audiences.

On the one hand, if you put a season to the vote, you would be likely to get a long list of Verdi, Puccini and Mozart operas (because they are generally very good of course) but conversely, we are often sent lists of rare and unusual works that opera goers would love us to put on the stage. It is part of our purpose, we believe, to offer audiences something different, challenging perhaps and OHP claim a proud history in one particular aspect of the late Italian repertoire. Yet when we sit down to consider a season, we are not in a position to cast aside financial considerations and cannot indulge our own private obsessions with one work or another.

It happens all the time; talk, examine, make a few forecasts and then place the work back on the long term planning board. It took us ten years to believe Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre Re was a goer. There is a lovely story around that particular opera and sometimes things happen that convince you that your choices are good ones. It was in the season of 2005, I think, and during one afternoon, James and I had decided to finally press 'go' on the Montemezzi for the 2007 season. Later that evening, at the first night of one production or other, Tim Ashley of The Guardian was chatting to us in general terms about rare repertoire. "There is one opera", he said, "that you will never do but which I think is a masterpiece. Montemezzi's 'L'amore dei tre Re'". James shot me a look as if to say "Have you been talking to him?!" But neither of us had ever discussed the piece with Tim before and what we had thought was a risk was suddenly turned into something that felt right and, having revealed to him the nature of our decision that very day, Tim was as astonished at the synchronicity as we were.

True to say, we have always taken 'risks' but now we are in a position where many of our productions don't feel precarious anymore; that takes years to develop and it is pleasing in a way to report that some of our patrons have declared our forthcoming season, which contains I gioielli della Madonna, to be a little "safe".

How lovely it would be to have certainty in your audience figures before committing to expensive rarities. The odd thing is that we tend to be quite secretive about the works we are planning - for generally good reasons - but I don't think I am giving anything away by printing the list below. It is not a list of "works in the pipeline" or anything remotely close to being a display of works we WILL be doing. Indeed, I am not sure that both James and I have even discussed some of them together. But some are operas that hover in our discussions much of the time, that are given thought and examination. One or two have come very close to being produced but have then fallen at the final hurdle. One (I am not naming it) even got as far as being afforded a place on James's hallowed wall of cast lists before being unceremoniously removed when some last minute hurdles we felt unable to surmount were revealed. That, we like to think, is the discipline we have always been able to show in our production choices; we don't have money to burn after all and sometimes you just have to take it on the chin. That is also why we always include the infamous line that "management reserves the right to change the advertised programme" !

So for no reason in particular, I print below a random list of works that have in the past, or will in the future, feature in our thinking. Or won't at all. A few we have already presented and would be new productions or revivals. You won't be surprised to see that they are Italian and there are naturally other better known works from across the repertoire being considered. These, though are from our speciality rep. From time to time one notices that other companies take them on; Wexford are doing L'arlesiana now (a piece we have already created twice in separate productions) and Teatro Grataciello in New York, a company renowned for such revivals, has just performed Montemezzi's epic La Nave.

This last example demonstrates some of the problems with such works and why we don't see them. In 1943, Allied bombing of Rome destroyed all of the orchestral parts and only one full manuscript survived. Someone has to be bothered to read it, consider it and then preach far and wide in its favour. Since becoming utterly entranced with
Montemezzi's more famous L'amore dei tre Re, I have been fascinated by it, especially as the composer himself ferociously proclaimed it to be his masterpiece. Now, new parts have been drafted and the score is available for hire. But the mysteries around the work have been somewhat clarified; it was generally thought, for example, to be a very long piece (I had read it was over four hours long) but Teatro Grataciello's performance clocked in at two and a quarter hours. And Opera Today's review proclaimed that the music is "magnificent from start to finish". It went on to give a full description that offers a mouthwatering prospect for the curious and adventurous operagoer;

"Almost all the critics of the opera in the past agreed, whatever their other objections, that Montemezzi's orchestration and treatment of the choir were extraordinarily impressive, and the New York performance showed they were right. The orchestration, clearly akin to that of L'Amore dei Tre Re, is Wagnerian, yet the Wagnerianism is refracted through an Italian sensibility, with a gripping nobility, sweeping, cinematic quality, lyrical voluptuousness, and restless play of instrumental textures. The sheer lushness of the score was beautifully brought out by Israel Gursky's passionate conducting of the Teatro Grattacielo orchestra."

My point being that there really are some gems sitting on shelves in archives and to be able to reveal them should be a longing of all of us in the industry.

So, all or none of the below may happen and I am stopping short of saying that anything with 500 votes or more gets a show. Naturally, when time comes to thoroughly examine a piece for the stage, we may well decide it doesn't stack up and it will vanish again. But there is no phone-in although perhaps a premium rate voting line would supply the funds for one of them?

Guglielmo Ratcliff (Mascagni)
Iris (Mascagni)
Zaza (Leoncavallo)
Risurrezione (Alfano)
La nave (Montemezzi)
Isabeau (Mascagni)
Siberia (Giordano)
La cena delle beffe (Giordano)
Adriana Lecouvreur (Cilea)
L'arlesiana (Cilea)
Il piccolo Marat (Mascagni)
Sakuntala (Alfano)
L'amore dei tre Re (Montemezzi)