Thursday, August 14, 2008

Magic? What magic?

It's mystifying to sit through the kind of evening that gives contemporary opera a bad name and find that most other people are determined to enjoy it. Maybe that was for the picnics. Peter Eotvos's Love and Other Demons, which received its world premiere at Glyndebourne the other night, has garnered rather good reviews. It also has the distinction of being the first opera Glyndebourne ever commissioned from a non-Brit, and an extra mark for being by a Hungarian; the singing is glorious (Allison Bell and Felicity Palmer particularly), Vladimir and the LPO are on cracking form in the pit and someone had some fun filming the projections.

But...oh heck. First, the persistent 'lento' of the score mentioned by Ed Seckerson in today's Indy is probably a result of the same very basic libretto trap that scuppered Maw's Sophie's Choice and many others: the no-brainer that words take longer to sing than they do to speak. But worse: there could have been drama, and there wasn't. The Exorcist might be the scariest film ever made, but here we had an exorcism which was frankly ridiculous - a few stylised demons in gargoyle masks wandering rather decorously about, a nun smearing red paint on Allison Bell and Nathan Gunn (yes, we do see his pecs and very nice they are) slumping in a deck chair, maybe dead or drugged or asleep. But crucially, lacking musical drama and very short on imagination. It's a missed opportunity.

As for Gabriel Garcia Marquez - there is more magic in one paragraph of Marquez's prose, more richness of imagery and allusion, more imaginative flights of wonder and more magical music in his words, than in the whole opera.

Here are some alternative views from Andrew Clements in The Guardian, Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph and Andrew Clark in the Financial Times (closest to my response). And here's a fascinating interview with the composer by Fiona Maddocks in The Evening Standard.