Music

thumb

Review: AntiMidas or, Bankers in Hades, The Opera

, , Comment Closed

The collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy, the unemployment and emigration that followed, the cuts in vital services and payments, the boarded-up windows, the ghost estates, the buddleia that sprouts where dreams of riches or steady employment died, not to mention the commitment made in our name, and enforced painfully in our daily lives, that speculators must be winners – all of this seems to have triggered seething anger, resentment and cynicism, but no flaming of popular resistance, no widespread demand for political or social transformation.

Late last year, it was reported that an opera about the banking meltdown was about to open in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Dublin. Was this to be the unlikely spark that would light the flame? Would Dublin on the twelfth of December 2013 be like Brussels on the 25th of August in 1830, when (so the story goes) the patriotic fervor voiced in Daniel-Francois Auber’s opera The Mute Girl of Portici (La muette de Portici) – set in Spanish-ruled 17th-century Naples  -  so stirred certain members of the audience that they rose up spontaneously and (after a lively bust-up with more conservative elements) poured out into the streets, lit the flame of resistance, drove the Dutch out and so created independent Belgium. Sadly, this heart-warming story is a little too good to be true. The audience participation, as it were, was in fact pre-scripted by the revolutionaries and the conclusion of the opera can be read as arguing that popular revolution needs guidance from a wiser and socially superior leadership.  Nonetheless, it is very likely that some ordinary citizens unsupplied with revolutionary scripts were spontaneously moved and, rising from their seats, did join the revolution. What’s more, by leaving before the last act, it was as if they were, in the words of James H Billington, ‘in search of their own ending’.

In the cold or watery light of January 2014, it is clear that AntiMidas, or, Bankers in Hades, the opera that played for three days in December has not triggered a revolution or significant social unrest. So, if we didn’t have the excitement of incipient revolution, was there excitement of any other kind at the Samuel Beckett Theatre in December when Trinity-based Evangelia Rigaki’s opera played? Happily, there was. Let’s set aside matters of definition (who can say what is or isn’t opera today?) and focus on the pleasures that were on offer. What we witnessed was almost cartoonish – a morality tale or parable in which the incarnation of the lust for gold, AntiMidas the supremely arrogant money-maker, was hurried towards his fall by an alliance of powerful enemies to a cackling commentary from a chorus of Media.

Read Post →

AF_thumb

The Alma Fetish, a New Opera by Raymond Deane (Music) and Gavin Kostick (Words)

, , Comment Closed

The Alma Fetish is a new opera by Raymond Deane (music) and Gavin Kostick (text) which will be conducted by Fergus Sheil in the world premiere performance at the National Concert Hall on Tuesday 17th September. This is the second opera presented by Wide Open Opera after our acclaimed Tristan und Isolde last autumn. 

It’s a totally new opera, based on a bizarre true story, concerning the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka and his love affair with Alma Mahler (wife of Gustav Mahler). As Alma was mourning the death of her husband, she was swept off her feet in a passionate affair with the younger artist. It didn’t last, however, and Alma, eager to move on, suggested that Kokoschka should go and fight in World War One. Grievously wounded, he returned to Vienna and was too depressed to return to painting. An inspirational thought struck him and he commissioned a life size doll of Alma, subsequently living with the doll as a partner – eating meals – going for a ride in the carriage – even taking the doll to the opera! His mood lifts and he returns to work. Everybody credits the doll with his “recovery”. He dislikes sharing the credit, and at a party he “beheads” the doll, while raucous students dismember her, throwing limbs in every direction. In a haunting postlude, Kokoschka meets Alma in a café in Venice, twenty years later. They reminisce and move on….

Read Post →

12_cat_thumb

An Anarchist Noel Coward? The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010

, , Comment Closed

Music Review: The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010

And then the ‘political songwriter’ label can mislead into the belief that I’m writing songs in order to change the world… I have to point out that after fifty years of writing songs, the world’s in a worse state now than when I started, although I don’t blame myself entirely for that. - Leon Rosselson

Why is the English singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson, now almost eighty years old, not a “household name”?

In the entertaining, informative and argumentative liner notes accompanying this 2011 set of four CDs he repeatedly muses on how, in his own words, he “failed to become rich and famous”. Concerning the celebrated title song, World Turned Upside Down, he writes: “Some people think it’s a folk song. Or that it was written by Billy Bragg. Which is, I suppose, fame of a sort.”

Success, he tells us, “should have happened in the 1960s… There was the folk boom, the singer-songwriter boom.” At the same time, however, “my songwriting style didn’t fit comfortably into the folk bag. Or any other bag, if it comes to that.” And anyway, “the alternative culture was big business, the musicians were bought into superstardom by lucrative record contracts, …the message ‘liberate your minds’ turned out to be both politically safe and eminently saleable… The guerrillas had simply, without their even realising it, been incorporated into the regular army of the enemy.” His songs The Ugly Ones (“the fetishizing of the beautiful people”) and Flower Power = Bread (from the fateful year 1968) savaged ‘60s values, thus ensuring that Rosselson would not be thus incorporated but also, perhaps, that stardom on 1960s terms would elude him.

Another factor that may have militated against Rosselson’s popular success is the self-confessed absence of love-songs from his output (“love, a word that has rarely passed my songwriting pen”). Instead, he has specialised in what he calls “relationship songs” entailing “a sideways look at love, sex, marriage, relationships and angst…”, here represented by Do You Remember?, Invisible Married Breakfast Blues (inspired by Brel and Prévert), Let Your Hair Hang Down, and the wonderful Not Quite, But Nearly. Jacques Brel’s example taught Rosselson that “[y]ou could write songs by pretending to be someone else, by adopting a persona.” Here the feminist principle that “the personal is political, the political personal” provided the rationale, but perhaps in an age when “letting it all hang out” was the order of the day this approach was too oblique.

Read Post →

18-12-2012 21-14-10thumb

A Musical Celebration of Subversion

, , Comment Closed

In 2009 the British National Party took to promoting English folk music on its website. One particularly favoured song was Steve Knightley’s Roots:

When the Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It's in their blood, below their belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?
Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They're never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
They need roots…

Although Knightley was dismayed by this “betrayal” and “violation” of his “invention”, he should have realised that such imagery is in perfect harmony with the discourse of fascism. In 1934 the Nazi musicologist Fritz Stein maintained that “as long as it remained undiluted and true to its German roots, folk music was an essential means of gaining respect abroad.” Furthermore, the juxtaposition of “they” and “we” in Knightley’s verse, although purportedly privileging the “Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts [sic]”, is in fact a careless gesture of exclusion.

One consequence of the BNP’s opportunistic advocacy of English folk music was the foundation of Folk Against Fascism (FAF). Describing itself as “neither left-of-centre nor right-of-centre”, this organisation (which appears to be moribund at present) claimed to be “simply a coalition of people who care passionately about British folk culture and don’t want to see it turned into something it’s not: a marketing tool for extremist politics.”

Both of these well-meaning responses leave something to be desired, and that something has now been provided by the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow , “a collective of singers and songwriters: Frankie Armstrong, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Reem Kelani, Sandra Kerr, Grace Petrie, Leon Rosselson, Janet Russell, Peggy Seeger, Jim Woodland plus one socialist magician, Ian Saville.” With no feeble nod to being “neither right nor left”, this collective claims to be “part of the resistance to a capitalism that functions only on behalf of the wealthy, that aims to shrink the public sphere and privatise public services,… and that is destructive to the planet.”

Many of the 30 tracks of the collective’s new double album, Celebrating Subversion, deal forcefully with such specifically British issues as Thatcherism, Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s views on “the benefits lifestyle”, the dismantling of the National Health Service, the occupation of St Paul’s, the sinking of the Titanic (as metaphor for “the practical outcomes of capitalism”), looting during the 2011 London riots, British arms exports, the Peterloo Massacre, and the suffragette Emily Davison, martyred just a century ago.

Read Post →