DP's blog: Follow Moses up the mountain!

Posted on Mon, 2013-04-08 11:49 by David Pountney

On the day when our exciting next year’s programme goes on general sale, I am sitting in the Austrian city of Linz enjoying some all too rare sunshine, about to open a new opera by Phillip Glass, especially written to a text by Peter Handke for the opening of a brand new opera house – not something that happens every day! A new opera house makes you think about what opera houses are for, and to look at our programme and see whether we are coming close to answering that question. I hope you think we are!

Opera can be a big, bold art-form and so should be a forum for large ideas. It’s an expensive art-form, so should offer more than just entertainment. We hope to give our audiences exciting visceral experiences, but also to leave them with the stimulus for further discussion. Let’s start with Donizetti: his three Tudor works open the autumn season. Here is the Italian tradition of opera at its most instantly enjoyable – iconic figures from our own history gleefully pillaged and transformed into vocal melodramas driven on by exuberant virtuoso displays of the art of singing. It is of course fascinating to see the way in which one culture takes and transforms the “truth” that belongs to another, but apart from that we have seen very recently how topical the role of regal women still is. Hilary Mantel formulated some very carefully expressed views about the way in which the media debases and trivialises the young women who are thrust into the limelight of a royal existence, but so sensitive was this topic that it ensnared both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition to knee jerk responses revealing all too clearly that they were reacting to the “mist” not the actual matter of what Mantel wrote. The leading ladies of our three Tudor operas would all have known the intimate co-existence of power and vulnerability, and no one was a more astute manager of the significance of appearance than Queen Elizabeth. An in depth experience of all three of these remarkable works will be an exploration with many resonances and facets.
Another side of female power and vulnerability are expressed in the second trio: Fallen women – in which sublimely tender and expressive music co-exists alongside quite uncomfortable aspects of voyeurism and hypocrisy. Are we enjoying the experience of watching these women fall from a safe distance, knowing that they will be punished for their misdemeanours by the end of the performance? And in any case, who are the guilty parties? The women who fall, or the men who push them? The power of music brings out Verdi and Puccini’s total compassion for these doomed leading ladies, their beauty both the source of their power and the fuel of their corruption, but the overall experience of seeing all three works – especially with the piquant addition of Henze’s very charming, jazzy version – inevitably forces us to confront the deeper issues behind such stories. That simply makes the journey even more rewarding.

The summer brings together an unmissable pairing: Moses und Aron and Nabucco – two operatic titans from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Nabucco was Verdi’s first big success, and brings to the biblical story Italianate religious fervour conveyed through the driving rhythms and soaring melodies of his unquestioning youthful passion. Moses und Aron deals with the tortured sense of inadequacy experienced by Moses as he is tasked with the religious leadership of his people, just as Schoenberg himself grappled with the development of a new musical language to express his re-found identification with his religion and his race – an identification undertaken under the harsh external pressure of mounting anti-Semitism. Faith is the heading under which we explore these two works – both statements about the power and meaning of religion – also a subject with uncomfortable topical relevance.

Alongside Faith we continue our series of British Firsts – bringing you up to date with new and unseen operatic gems – in this case a double exploration of the original horror story: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Gordon Getty contributes a subtle and nuanced 21st century view, to go alongside Debussy’s mist-laden Impressionistic version from one of the 20th century’s supreme musical colourists.
This is, as I have said, a big journey for us and for you, so right and proper it should end on a mountain in the desert! And I don’t apologise for that. If opera is still important enough to build new opera houses, it is important enough to take bold steps, and to invite vigorous discussion as well as sublime experience. Start climbing now!