Do you like contemporary dance? How about an adaptation of a classic ballet revamped to the 21st century with a brand new score and an entirely different dance choreography? Would that be of interest to you? Then say no more. Akram Kham has provided the solution with his collaborative work with the English National Ballet’s (ENB) artistic director Tamara Rojo.
‘Don’t trip. Don’t trip and fall on your face.’ Tonight (January 16th, 2018), the Royal Opera House shall broadcast director David McVicar’s revived production of Rigoletto live to cinemas across the UK and abroad, and its conductor Alexander Joel tells me what he hopes won’t happen on his first Live Cinema event. ‘I’m excited, but the cameras won’t be on me anyway. I don’t like cameras on my face. They’ll probably film me for those first five seconds I come into the pit… and then the orchestra will start.’
Alexander Joel has performed multiple times at the Royal Opera House since his debut in 2013, conducting La bohème. He was invited to conduct again at the Royal Opera House in 2015 and 2016 for their productions of La Traviata and Carmen. He has also performed a wide range of pieces from operas, ballets and symphonies in various countries and worked with many international orchestras including the Vlaamse Opera orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, to name a few.
This post is divided into Part I and Part II.
Part I – My thoughts on Keith Warner’s production of Otello at the Covent Garden, 2017.
Part 2 – My thoughts on seeing the opera at the Covent Garden, then seeing it again for the cinema Encore.
Part I : Othello versus Otello.
Before I begin, I want to make something clear. Othello is the original theatrical marvel written by the Bard (Shakespeare) in 1601. Verdi’s own interpretation Otello came along after, which he composed with Arrigo Boito in 1887 after seeing a production of Shakespeare’s play in England, 1847. Despite the English playwright’s influence on Verdi’s masterwork sitting in the opera house being armed with information about Othello won’t heighten your opera experience much. For anyone who is a big Othello fan (me!), they will know that watching Otello should be treated as a different reading entirely. For example, compared to the original play, Desdemona and Emilia say a lot more and unfortunately their characters don’t get the chance to develop as much in the opera. For some reason, Verdi plays down Emilia’s realism. In act 3, scene 4 of the original text, Emilia says to Desdemona, ‘Tis not a year or two shows us a man: They are all stomachs, as we are all but food…’ Not a dime of this shiny humour or wittiness exists in Boito’s libretto. Secondly, the ending is very different. Justice is not served. Iago gets away with creating the chaotic bloodbath without getting his hands dirty. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why Verdi originally wanted to call the opera ‘Iago’.
For the first time, our ‘dreamy’ tenor Jonas Kaufmann performs the lead role of Otello. This was, and still is, ‘the highly anticipated event’ of the year in the opera world. Known as Verdi’s most mature and highly orchestrated piece of work, composed during the final chapters of the composer’s life, the Royal Opera House has returned to the opera after 30 years’ absence with a superb cast sheet of performers including In Sung Sim (Lodovico), Marco Vratogna (Iago) Maria Agresta (Desdemona), Frederic Antoun (Cassio) and Kai Rüütel (Emilia).
This year BP Big Screens will be showing The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite and Armand on 7 June, Verdi’s La traviata on 4 July and Puccini’s Turandot on 14 July. Hundreds of spectators can watch opera for free in the open at various venues throughout the UK including Trafalgar Square, Aberdeen, York and Newcastle. And with Jonas Kaufmann’s lead role as Otello being live streamed to cinemas from the Covent Garden on Wednesday 28th June (encore 2nd July), it may be a good time to rethink the value (or disvalue) of broadcasting opera on the silver screen, and whether or not it can develop new opera audiences.
Here is an article I wrote back in September 2015, which I didn’t get round to publishing online. (If you want my bibliography or list of references, I’d gladly share them with you.) I’m playing a bit of devil’s advocate with my suggestions, but I hope it gives readers an idea of the ongoing debate on whether it is an effective way of developing new audiences for a genre that is suffering from smaller audience numbers and losing confidence, particularly in the UK, due to cuts to their arts aid in a digital era where “being there” isn’t as imperative as it used to be.
Special thanks to Gate Picturehouse, the Royal Opera House and BBC Proms for offering information promptly, including Tom Nelson and Miranda Keys for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts and experiences of live broadcast. Continue reading