Your clickable banner could be here: details
   
    If you cannot see an advert immediately above this line click here.


 

Editor: Marc Bridle

 

Webmaster: Len Mullenger

 

 

                    

Google

WWW MusicWeb


Search Music Web with FreeFind




Any Review or Article


 

 

Seen and Heard Opera Review

 

Birtwistle, Second Mrs Kong Soloists, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Brabbins. RFH, Tuesday, November 9th, 2004 (CC)

 

What a revelation. Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s imagination seems to know no bounds. In a pre-series interview at the QEH, Birtwistle referred to a compositional compost-heap he reaches into for ideas. Some compost.

 

That Birtwistle has long been fascinated by myth is common knowledge. Here is a slightly different slant. If Anubis the jackal-headed boatman is the stuff of ancient Egyptian myth, King Kong is very much modern (if nevertheless somewhat distanced from us in 2004). Birtwistle’s virtuosity is to unite ancient with modern and the fairly recent (Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring of 1665/6) in a never-never, post-death nowhere-land populated by a diverse set of characters. The result is astonishing in its richness. Under a lesser composer, this could simply be an excuse for quasi-philosophical comedy. And humour there is, too. But in his multi-layered exploration of, in effect, states of consciousness and of existence, non-existence and semi-existence, we move a million miles away from, say, the use of latter-day icons in the insubstantial music of Michael Daugherty. In Russell Hoban, another artist (a writer, here librettist) whose work regularly confronts myth, Birtwistle found the perfect mate.

 

The Second Mrs Kong was first staged by Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1994. It opens in archetypically modernist fashion (low, subterranean grumblings, although the scoring, which includes two muted tubas, is worthy of note). Matching this sound, the auditorium is dark. Anubis (bass-baritone Stephen Richardson) enters. It was a surprise to see surtitles in use, yet they did help focus. Anubis is ferrying dead across to an island in the World of Shadows - included in their number are Mr Dollarama, who remembers finding his ex-beauty queen wife Inanna in bed with Swami Zumzum and shooting them both (the shooting is repeated frequently, as if ‘stuck’ outside of time). At the same time, Vermeer (the painter) remembers the Girl with the Pearl Earring and Orpheus relives his backward glance towards Eurydice to elegiac musc.

 

It was wonderful to hear the consistency of excellence among the soloists. Roderick Williams was a lyric Vermeer; Andrew Watts’ clarion counter-tenor (mistakenly labelled ‘tenor’ in the programme) was of astonishing strength and 1950’s-clad Susan Bickley was, as always, strong and intensely musical as Inanna.

 

The second scene consists of a recollection by Vermeer of his first meeting with Pearl in Delft in 1664. Williams captivated the imagination, in moments of real sadness. We had to wait until now for Kong to arrive, here in the form of ENO regular John Daszak (most recently Aeneas in Trojans, to Susan Bickley’s Cassandra). A reminder of the Coliseum’s problematic acoustics, in the RFH Daszak sounded firmer, more confident, and rounder.

 

As Vermeer falls for Pearl (soprano Rebecca von Lipinski, pure-voiced, agile and innocent), Birtwistle elongates the melodic lines into endless melismas. In fact, while on the surface a reading of the plot might indicate the foregrounding of comedic elements, the sheer range of emotional reference is far more. Not only is there the erotically charged Vermeer/Pearl coupling, but also there is the infinitely touching sadness of Kong’s crisis of (non) existence. Who is he? Who was he? An idea - nothing more? It was here that the choice of Daszak was fully justified. His voice has a naturally plaintive quality that reflects the character’s existential disorientation. The duet between Kong and Pearl was heartrendingly beautiful.

 

The use of film/video was remarkably effective. A montage of the Six O’clock News, Mollie Sugden (as Mrs Slocombe in the comedy classic ‘Are you being served?’), Tom Baker as Dr Who and Birtwistle himself in his kitchen describing how to separate egg yolk and white by just using your fingers seemed to reflect the world of unexpected juxtapositions that Hoban and Birtwistle play with. Naturally the film of King Kong, and his shooting by planes and subsequent fall from the top of the building is there in all its glory. Pearl gives Kong a telephone number (020 7465 1665: I rang it, it exists although I didn’t like to wait around to see who answered. Of course, 1665 is the year of Vermeer’s painting).

 

The shorter Act II begins with the baleful song of the counter-tenor Orpheus as he and Kong cross the Sea of Memory to hunt for Pearl, encountering Doubt, Fear, Despair and Terror. The mimicking of rowing boats was purposely stagy and funny. I like also the pun at the Customs Barrier (Scene 2) where the head of Orpheus (he is freshly decapitated, by Despair) and Kong come up against a ‘customary’ sphinx called Madam Lena, Birtwistle’s Erda (the truly excellent contralto, Nuala Willis).

 

The call made by Kong (from a payphone handed to him by Martyn Brabbins) to Pearl (at the back of the stage) in Scene 3 leads to an affecting love-duet as they remember their feelings for one another. But Kong is confronted by Death of Kong (Stephen Richardson, previously Anubis, now sporting ‘DOK’ on his front), a confrontation that results in his realisation of the very reason of his being - he is an idea, and an idea cannot die. The close of the opera, a meditation on love that cannot be, is intensely powerful, its timelessness underscored by the ritual feel that Birtwistle so expertly gives the ending.

 

 

This performance was recorded by the BBC, for broadcast on Saturday November 13th at 6.30pm. Do try to hear it.

 

 


Colin Clarke

Back to the Top     Back to the Index Page


 





   

 

 

 

MusicWeb - The International Web Site Founder: Len Mullenger [UK], Classical Editor: Rob Barnett [UK],  Regular Reviewers:   Steve Arloff [UK], Guy Aron [Australia], Tony Augarde [UK], Terry Barfoot [UK], Melinda Bargreen [USA], David J. Barker [Australia], Rob Barnett [UK], Nick Barnard [UK], Robert Beattie [UK], Dave Billinge [UK], Peter Bright [UK], Byzantion [UK], Colin Clarke [UK], Dominy Clements [Netherlands], Michael Cookson [UK], Hubert Culot [Belgium], Evan Dickerson [UK], Gavin Dixon [UK], Robert J. Farr [UK], Christopher Fifield [UK], Göran Forsling [Sweden], John France [UK], Patrick Gary [USA], Pierre Giroux [CAN], Paul C. Godfrey [UK], Michael Greenhalgh [UK], William Hedley [France], Gary Higginson [UK], Neil Horner [UK], Robert Hugill UK], David Jennings [UK], Bill Kenny [UK], William S Kreindler [USA], Ian Lace [UK], Em Marshall-Luck [UK], Oleg Ledeniov [USA]Rob Maynard [UK], David A McConnell [USA], Kirk McElhearn [France], Robert McKechnie [UK], Ralph Moore [RMo] [UK], Dan Morgan [UK], Margarida Mota-Bull [UK], Glyn Pursglove [UK], John Quinn [UK], Carla Rees [UK], Brian Reinhart [USA], Donald Satz [USA], Mark Sealey [USA], John Sheppard [UK], George Stacy, Kevin Sutton [USA], Bert Thompson [USA], Simon Thompson [UK], Zane Turner [Australia], Steve Vasta [UK], Johan van Veen [Netherlands], Raymond Walker [UK], Derek Warby [UK], Brian Wilson [UK], Jonathan Woolf [UK] Leslie Wright [USA]. A complete list of contributors can be seen here




EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Past and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

MusicWeb International thank Naxos for the no-strings use of their server to mount the website.