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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL OPERA REVIEW
P. Jurado, La Página en Blanco: (World Premiere) Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, Coro Intermezzo. Conductor: Titus Engel. Teatro Real de Madrid 28.2.2011 (JMI)
Direction: David Hermann.
Sets: Alexander Polzin.
Costumes: Annabelle Witt.
Lighting: Urs Schönebaum.
Ricardo: Otto Katzameier
Aisha: Pilar Jurado
Xavi: Nikolai Schukoff
Marta: Natascha Petrinsky
Gerard: Hernán Iturralde
Kobayashi: Andrew Watts
Ramón: José Luis Sola
Production Picture © Javier del Real
While this was the world premiere of Pilar Jurado’s first opera and was commissioned by the Teatro Real itself, like
too many others that also had world premieres in
Madrid, I suspect that La Página en Blanco will soon sink into oblivion.
Pilar Jurado is a kind of musical Leonardo da Vinci. For this work she has not only written the score, but also the libretto and on top of all that she also sang the main soprano part. Not even Wagner went that far.
This means that the real protagonist of the opera is Pilar Jurado in herself in three overlapping roles and I will try to give my impressions of each of them. The plot explores the influence of modern technologies in our lives, and in this case, particularly in the composition of an opera. ‘The Blank Page’ is about the difficulties of getting down to work on an opera and the impact of technology on the creative processese. A componer is unable to write a note until a woman called Aysha comes into his life. She is the soprano who will sing in the new opera and she immediately falls in love with the composer, after which he is suddenly able to write his music. He is also helped by a kind of robot called The Cybersinger, which has been built by Xavi Novarro and which comes to the composer as a kind of alter ego. After some twists and turns, we discover that everything has been a plan devised by the rest of the characters to help the composer overcome a terminal state of creative block.
This is by no means an original idea of course and sadly the thin plot line is one of the main reasons why the opera doesn’t exactly bristle with interest. The score seemed to me much better than the libretto, although unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the music very much either. Having attended two unknown contemporary operas in the last 48 hours, comparisons between them became inevitable. Overall, Lorin Maazel’s music for "1984" just seemed better than Pilar Jurado’s and while neither of the two works could be called models of musical inspiration, there was still quite a difference between them. Maazel won hands down in my estimation but even so, despite the fact that the music in La Página en Blanco was not greatly to my liking - nor, apparently, to that of the audience - Pilar Jurado’s piece remains the work of a musician who definitely knows her job. And it turns out too that she is also a decent enough singer, a soprano with a nice enough, but not particularly distinguished voice.
The stage production was the responsibility of David Hermann and struck me as better when judged from an aesthetic point of view rather than as pure stagecraft. The stage presents a closed book, which reveals two levels when opened. On the upper level we see the composer’s workroom, surrounded by stuffed birds, and below that there is a kind of workshop of horrors, where the rest of the cast play out the rest of the plot. It’s supposed to be a "thriller" but I thought that David Hermann mostly failed to maintain the interest of this audience, or at least my own. Direction of the actors seemed particularly inadequate too, with the poor definition between the different characters.
Musical direction was entrusted to Titus Engel whose performance was the best
thing in the whole production. He seemed not only to know the score perfectly , but also to believe in it, and he drew an excellent performance from the orchestra. The chorus was also good, behaving like the choruses in Greek tragedies regardless of having to sing from the pit and from the upper floors of the house.
The opera is written in Spanish and plays to a Spanish audience so it is strange that 4 of 7 characters were performed by non-Spanish singers: although I must admit that their pronunciation was more than acceptable in all cases.
The protagonist, Ricardo Estapé, the composer of the opera whose birth is unfolding on stage, was played by German baritone Otto Katzameier, a singer with a less than perfect voice, although undoubtedly a good actor. Pilar Jurado herself, as I’ve already mentioned, played Aisha Djarou, the soprano who falls in love with the composer, and overall she was certainly acceptable but never wholly convincing. The Austrian tenor Nikolai Schukoff gave life to Xavi Novarro, the expert in new technologies, who creates The Cybersinger and he produced the best singing in the whole cast. Also good was Natascha Petrinsky as Marta Stewart, the composer’s wife who ultimately abandons him. Countertenor Andrew Watts was responsible for giving life to Kobayashi, The Cybersinger, an original and interesting character. Finally, Hernán Iturralde was quite modest as Gerard, the director of the opera house while José Luis Sola, as Ramón Delgado a journalist, went mostly unnoticed.
The Teatro Real was around 80/85 per cent busy at the beginning of the performance but after the break, occupation fell to levels closer to 50% and there was a stampede at the end of the opera. The final reception was fairly cool.
José Ma. Irurzun