Marx in London Jonathan Dove

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lennygoran
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Marx in London Jonathan Dove

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 10, 2018 8:33 pm

Jonathan Dove interview: the composer on his latest opera Marx in London

An opera about the father of communism? Jonathan Dove might make it more fun than it sounds
Hugh Canning

Jonathan Dove is our most prolific composer of opera: his new one, Marx in London, opening in Bonn next month, is, he says, his 29th. Perhaps best known for 1998’s Flight, about a refugee trapped in an airport — a story later turned into a film by Steven Spielberg — he is also a composer of songs and choral works prized by amateurs all over the world for their accessibility and melodic grace, and his love of traditional harmony.

He’s often dubbed a “minimalist”, but that’s a limiting description of his eclectic style. “I’ve certainly been influenced by minimalism,” he admits when we met last week. “It was liberating at a time when I was despairing of the music I was hearing in the late 1970s, and I thought, ‘Oh, there are new things you can do that have pulse and use diatonic harmony.’”

Yet his operas have an astonishing variety of shape, form and, especially, duration. “The shortest one lasts six minutes — it was written for the leaving party of Peter Jonas, Mark Elder and David Pountney at English National Opera. I was one of seven composers commissioned to write seven deadly sins. April de Angelis [the future librettist of Flight] and I made a little opera called Greed — and before that we’d done Pig, which was 15 minutes long.” By the mid-1990s, he had written chamber operas, too. But it was the three “community” operas he wrote for Glyndebourne between 1990 and 1995 that led to Flight being commissioned.

“That was my apprenticeship, if you like. One had a samba band, which made a huge sound in Peterborough Cathedral — we used the organ as well, representing Cromwell’s army marching, in Hastings Spring.”

The success of these shows encouraged Anthony Whitworth-Jones, then director at Glyndebourne, to commission Flight for the 1998 tour and the following year’s festival. “Anthony loved the idea of creating new work, and I think George Christie [Glyndebourne’s chairman at the time] enjoyed the theatricality of those shows and felt I had some feeling for theatre.”

The new opera “celebrates” the bicentenary of Marx’s birth, an event that seems to have passed in May without much noise in his adopted country, Britain, but clearly had to be marked in his native Germany. The libretto is by Charles Hart, lyricist on The Phantom of the Opera and Bend It Like Beckham. “I’ve known him for years, but this is our first collaboration. He has operatic experience — he translated [Berlioz’s] Benvenuto Cellini for ENO and made a version of Marschner’s The Vampire that was serialised for television.”

Flight’s success derives from its appeal as a rare operatic comedy, albeit one with a serious message and moving outcome. But, I suggest, Marx in London doesn’t sound like the subject for a bundle of laughs. “Well, I’m hoping it is, and on December 9 we’ll find out!

The idea came from a German writer-director, Jürgen Weber, who did a brilliant production of my opera Swanhunter in Chemnitz [known as Karl- Marx-Stadt before the fall of the Berlin Wall], where there’s a huge statue of the philosopher. He came to see Life Is a Dream in Birmingham in 2012 and mentioned that Marx’s life in London contained all the elements of farce — news to me.

“Marx came to London because he was booted out of all the other countries, and it was a bumpy life. I’d always seen him as something of an ogre figure — certainly as the scourge of capitalism — with ideas that changed the course of the 20th century. He was endlessly in the British Museum, making notes, but was always sidelined, particularly by his interest in his own afflictions. He suffered terribly from carbuncles and couldn’t sit down.”

It was the contrast between the public figure, the thinker and inspiration to people, and the private person who couldn’t really manage his own household, that appealed to Dove’s wry sense of humour. “Even though every day he is expecting the fall of capitalism and the rise of the proletariat, he seems to have aspired to a comfortable bourgeois lifestyle, spending more money than he had, and the bailiffs were always taking all the furniture away. He married an aristocrat, and, when he tried to pawn her silverware, the pawnbroker sent for the police, thinking it must have been stolen. Then there was the affair with the maid that produced an illegitimate son, Freddie [who never knew Marx was his father].

“In the opera, you get glimpses of Marx the thinker, when he has a dream of his communist Arcadia. As always, Engels comes to the rescue with his family money from factories in Manchester. So you could say Marx was bankrolled by capitalism,” he laughs.

A host of madcap characters appear in the opera: Engels is a Heldentenor, because he is like a Wagnerian knight in shining armour to Marx. And there is a chorus, sparingly used. “There’s one of workers in the communist Arcadia dream sequence, and one of intellectuals and anarchists in the Red Lion pub scene.”

Marx in London, like Dove’s other full-length operas, Flight and Pinocchio, took him a year to compose. Plans are afoot to stage it in the UK, but are not yet finalised. He has been prolifically busy on other projects, with a “handful of pieces” scheduled for the spring, including an accordion concerto for Owen Murray and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Yet it’s opera — and operatic comedy — that makes him tick. “I love the sound of an audience laughing, and I hope that’s what we will be hearing in Bonn. Having a fondness for telling stories, whether that’s in song or opera, has certainly shaped what I do.”

maestrob
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Re: Marx in London Jonathan Dove

Post by maestrob » Sun Nov 11, 2018 11:46 am

Marx was the Steve Bannon of his age: he never ruled, but he inspired the political ideas behind the Russian revolution, and ruined Russia, China and Eastern Europe in the end. I'd like to see this opera!

barney
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Re: Marx in London Jonathan Dove

Post by barney » Sun Nov 11, 2018 5:17 pm

Well said, Brian. Me too.

lennygoran
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Re: Marx in London Jonathan Dove

Post by lennygoran » Sun Nov 11, 2018 7:56 pm

barney wrote:
Sun Nov 11, 2018 5:17 pm
Well said, Brian. Me too.
Barney-so Marx was into the ME TOO movement-didn't know it was around then--he really was way ahead of his time! Regards, Len :lol: [fleeing]

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