Saturday, February 25, 2012

'Klinghoffer' opens tonight John Adams came to London a day early and English National Opera held a Friends event at which artistic director John Berry interviewed him about his life and work. I went along to listen.

A thoroughly entertaining discussion: although he must have been extremely jet-lagged, the jokes flowed free and fast, if with serious points behind them. Audience member: "Was there any moment in your career when you felt able to say to yourself, 'Now I am a successful composer'?" Adams: "Possibly last Tuesday...but by Wednesday it was all gone."

The production, by Tom Morris - of War Horse fame (and more) - promises to be much more naturalistic than some of the other stagings over the years. Except, of course, for Penny Woolcock's screen version, which was shown on Channel 4 some years ago. It was filmed aboard a ship and the performers had to be shown how to hold and fire Kalashnikovs. "That was a bit too naturalistic for me," said John Adams. "Oh," said John Berry, "we're doing that as well."

Fascinating, also, to learn that originally Adams had planned the story of the hijacking and murder to occupy only the first half of the opera, with the second half a political black comedy featuring Margaret Thatcher and co. But when he began to compose the opening chorus, he realised that he had something altogether more serious in hand.

He was frank in describing his working relationship with Alice Goodman, the librettist, as stormy - "it made the Israeli-Palestinian situation look like a love-fest!" - and gave us a taste of the most difficult line of poetry he's ever had to set. It's in the captain's scene, when he reflects on the pleasures of being alone with the waves and time to think, though couched in somewhat different language. Listen out for it.

Interesting insights, too, into Adams's background and the attitude during his upbringing towards his hopes of becoming a composer. When he started out (he has just turned 65) it was, he thinks, almost impossible to contemplate a career writing music full-time; that situation has changed considerably over the decades. Nevertheless, he remarked, his parents never tried to push him towards a proper job like law or medicine; they wanted him to be an artist. He says that he always feels strange writing his occupation as "composer" on landing cards at airports, et al, and wonders if the immigration official will say "Composer?...just step over here a minute, sir..." - but for one occasion in the UK when the guy said to him, "Oh, I love Harmonium..."

One audience member asked him what he would have done had he not been a composer. Adams looked momentarily stumped - he eventually said that he enjoys writing, has a blog, has written a book and writes book reviews for the New York Times "because it's fun", so could have contemplated "something literary". But I think it's clear that his vocation as composer is so much part and parcel of who he is that he couldn't really imagine life without it at all.

Full production details and booking here.

I took along my CD of Klinghoffer for him to sign. And, dear reader, though I blush at such immodesty as to tell you what followed, the great composer then thanked me for the piece I wrote in the Independent the other week and said that it was the most eloquent article about Klinghoffer he had read in years. Dear reader, this does not happen every day. I guess that must be how Julius Korngold felt when Brahms got in touch (though hopefully any resemblance stops there). Here is the article again, in case you missed it.

And here is a trailer from ENO in which director Tom Morris talks about the work - followed, below, by extracts from, and reactions to, the dress rehearsal.