United Kingdom A Series of Compelling 20th Century Operas (RJ)
Britain’s leading touring opera company takes to the road in October with the innovative Aurora Orchestra to present a programme of operas which are in turn entertaining, thought-provoking and challenging.
People who have served on committees to choose a Carnival Queen may pick up a few ideas from Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring, a satire with undertones of melancholy which has become recognised as a classic, comic depiction of English village life. At the start of the composer’s centenary year, ETO’s new production, conducted by Michael Rosewell and directed by Christopher Rolls, includes many experienced and award-winning singers including Jennifer Rhys-Davies, and Mark Wilde in the title role.
Across the River Elbe from the historical Czech town of Litomĕřice is the village of Terezin where Joseph II of Austria built a fortress he named after his mother. In the Nazi period this became Theresienstadt concentration camp, many of whose occupants were later despatched to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. A number of musicians were held here, including the composer Viktor Ullmann who wrote a short opera The Emperor of Atlantis to a libretto by fellow prisoner Sonja Lydon. The opera was first rehearsed by inmates of the camp, all of whom perished when transferred to Auschwitz before the premiere.
Ullmann’s opera has been acclaimed in performances around the world as an extraordinary testament of wit and humanity in the face of barbarity, and will be ETO’s second offering this autumn in a new production by James Conway, now in his tenth year at the helm of ETO. The Emperor of Atlantis is conducted by Peter Selwyn and will be paired with a poignant staging of J S Bach’s cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ Lay in Death’s Bonds), arranged for the first time by Iain Farrington for Ullmann’s unusual orchestra.
ETO will also be performing The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, which is based on a real-life account of the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on the Flannan Isles in the Outer Hebrides. The piece describes both the suspenseful, cramped conditions of the lighthouse, and the claustrophobia of the court hearing at which the relief keepers give their account of the incident. This is the first time the opera has toured the UK; it is directed by American stage director Ted Huffman and conducted by Richard Baker.
Ted Huffman says: ‘It’s an honour to direct Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse this autumn for ETO. The opera presents a unique series of challenges because it is built considerably on atmosphere and suggestion, giving me both great freedom and the feeling that sands are shifting beneath my feet. As is the case with most good ghost stories, I believe that the frightening thing about this story is not what the dead might be getting up to but rather what the living might be capable of.’
James Conway comments: ‘This is no normal season of operas, but a sort of touring festival of approachable, intimate, theatrically compelling operas from the last century. It has every chance of being a performance that changes your ears and your eyes – even your life.’
ETO’s Autumn 2012 Season opens on Thursday 4 October 2012 at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The tour will continue to Cambridge’s West Road Concert Hall, the Exeter Northcott, the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells, the Harrogate Theatre, Theatre Royal in Bath, Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Aldeburgh, Malvern Forum Theatre, Malvern Priory and the Buxton Opera House. For full details see www.englishtouringopera.org.uk.