A New Opera House for Nigel to Visit

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A New Opera House for Nigel to Visit

Post by Ralph » Fri Mar 25, 2005 7:04 am

From The Telegraph:

Wonderful, Copenhagen
(Filed: 24/03/2005)

Rupert Christiansen admires the very model of a modern major opera house

Despite the underlying gloom about opera's long-term prospects as an art form, its material condition has never looked better.
Copenhagen Opera House
Prominent isolation: Copenhagen Opera House

Spectacular new theatres have been opening around the world - Cardiff, Dallas, Valencia, Shanghai - facilitating more comfortable and economical performance. If an audience for the future isn't secured, it won't be for want of trying.

The latest wonder of the opera world sits in prominent isolation on an island at the headland of the port of Copenhagen.

It's a monument to the beneficence of the Møller family, the power behind the Maersk conglomerate, which has paid £230 million for Danish architect Henning Larsen to build what from across the bay looks like a box with its top floating off. In its location and appearance, it self-consciously evokes the building that started the trend 40 years ago - Jørn Utzon's billowing white marvel in Sydney Harbour.

But, unlike that inefficient masterpiece, Copenhagen's is the very model of a modern major opera house. Its size is moderate (about 1,600 seats); the auditorium is tiered and horseshoe-shaped, with adaptable acoustics; and a flexible studio space is attached.

Everything backstage is controlled by fingertip technology. The front of house is illuminated by three dazzling chandeliers designed by Olafur Eliasson, famous for his light installation at Tate Modern. It all symbolises openness and accessibility.

As yet, the atmosphere in the place seems a bit sterile, more conference centre than fun palace; the place needs a weathering and a battering before it can warm up. It's hard to find the box office, and there isn't enough to eat. Transport is also a problem. But there is no doubt that Copenhagen now boasts one of the great opera houses of Europe.

The charming but outmoded theatre in the city centre will continue to be used for smaller-scale works and remains the base of the opera's sister ballet company. This doubling-up means a lot more tickets to sell - 150,000 a year - but this is something that the company's impressive 32-year-old artistic director Kasper Bech Holten is determined to regard positively, as an opportunity to reach beyond opera buffs.

Apart from a complete Ring cycle and novelties such as Thomas Adès's The Tempest, he is programming operetta and classic musicals, as well as an Elvis Costello project, based on the letters of Hans Christian Andersen.

The new house opened in January with Aida, in which Roberto Alagna made his debut as Radames (and a much-publicised fuss about the dust on stage).

Now comes the première of an opera by the most distinguished living Danish composer, Poul Ruders, and the English librettist Paul Bentley. After their success with an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, they have turned their attention to Kafka's The Trial. I wish I could be more enthusiastic.

The plot weaves episodes from the novel into a depiction of Kafka's disastrous romance with Felice Bauer. This confuses the dramatic focus by forcing parallels between the novel and real life, doing Kafka's imaginative genius less than justice. Almost perversely, some of the most obviously operatic scenes and images have been underplayed or excluded - Josef K's visit to the cathedral, for instance.

Even more crucially, neither Ruders's energetic and vivacious score nor Francisco Negrin's bluntly clichéd production ever establishes the note of imperturbable normality that makes Joseph K's experience so comic and horrific.

It's all too broadly farcical and grotesquely expressionist: the score brays and whoops, the stage is commandeered by commedia dell'arte zanies and characters walk around on stilts or wear grotesque animal masks. There's no quietness, no menace, no aural contrast between the reality of Felice and the dream of Joseph K.

Ruders is basically an extrovert composer who likes to play all his cards at once and give the orchestra its head. In the early scenes, the effect of the tumult is invigorating; pretty soon, however, you wish he'd held something back and allowed the score to grow suggestively towards a climax.

Johnny van Hal sings Joseph K with untiring vigour, and Marianne Rørholm and Gert Henning-Jensen stand out among a hard-working cast called upon to sing multiple roles. Thomas Søndergard conducts an orchestra which relishes Ruders's instrumental exuberance to the point of drowning the singers.

I hope Elvis Costello gets to see Proces Kafka, because it provides some object lessons in How Not To Do It.


Post by Guest » Mon Mar 28, 2005 7:09 am

Ralph, it was nice of you to think of me. But the chances of seeing me in Copenhagen are rather like those of seeing a snowdrop in hell. I'm not tempted at all by the north: small towns with small-town architecture, bad weather, a provincial cultural heritage, no cuisine, no wine...


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