littlesmackerel

Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Tag: Barrie Kosky

Le Coq d’Or

Composer Rimsky-Korsakov

The opera, The Golden Cockerel, was performed at the Adelaide Festival. The music is by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908). It was directed by Barrie Kosky. How could anyone have known, when programming this opera, of the present situation in Ukraine? Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the opera during the 1905 Russo-Japanese war – it is a political satire about Tsar Nicholas II, who was deposed in 1917 and assassinated in 1918. Tsarist censors forbad performance until 1909, so Rimsky-Korsakov died without witnessing a performance of this work. And further irony – the part of the Tsar on this occasion in Adelaide was sung by Ukrainian Pavlo Hunka and other lead characters, such as the tsarina he falls in love with, are Russian.

The ineffective tsar goes off to war

The music reminded me of Scheherazade, with melodies wafting like those from one thousand and one nights – many beautiful woodwind themes. The libretto was inspired by a Pushkin tale. The main focus is a stupid old tsar, who falls in love with the tsarina of one of the countries he wants to conquer – she makes fun of his bumbling love-making.

The one set was stunning. It reminded me of the Sorrento surf beach – no sea but what seemed like sand dunes with tussock grass, a driftwood-like tree at the top of which perched the silvery golden cockerel who warns the tsar when his country is in danger. I’ve never before seen a performance of this opera, but I expect that the chorus of soldiers is usually outfitted in colourful military uniforms. In this case, the soldiers wore horseheads – all dark grey. There was little colour, and this was effective reminding us of a sombre side as the tsar made his foolish and ultimately abortive attempts to rule. I was surprised that over the two hours (without interval) the set didn’t change. But I guess there was no need for anything more than an oppressive backdrop.

Saul

Saul, by G.F. Handel, directed by Barrie Kosky, a Glyndebourne Festival Opera Production was performed at the Adelaide Festival Theatre as a part of the 2017 Adelaide Festival.

G.F. Handel composed many operas as well as oratorios.  Saul was composed as an oratorio at a time when opera was a little out of favour in London. An oratorio is a large-scale, usually narrative musical work for orchestra and voices, typically on a sacred theme, performed without costume, scenery, or action. Handel’s oratorio of Saul was first performed in 1739. It is a dramatic telling of the consequences of David’s victory over Goliath. Saul, king of Israel, is jealous of David’s success and plots to have him killed but Saul, unhinged by jealousy, and his sons are killed in battle and David ends up as a popular leader of the Israelites. Handel’s work is normally sung in concert style with choir, orchestra and soloists. In Handel’s time it was conducted from the harpsichord. This drama has been taken by Barrie Kosky and retold as an opera – the music and words seem to be unchanged, but the spectacle is magnificent. Pretty much the first thing we see on stage is the severed head of Goliath, then the curtain swings open to a vibrant banquet that for some reason reminded me of a Rubens painting – although the participants were clothed – the choir, actually on the tables that are overflowing with flowers, food (venison and swans) and the people themselves.

saul-i

No staid chorus here, the colourfully dressed singers jumped off the tables and danced. The story has what are perhaps usual ingredients: victory, jealousy, triumph and happy young lovers (David ends up with Saul’s daughter). The music was interpreted in a light buoyant style using a full orchestra, but with none of the heavy stodginess that is sometimes the fate of baroque performance. As in Handel’s day, the conductor led from a claviorganum – a replica of an instrument used at the time. In the second part this instrument rose from centre stage, briefly reminiscent of old theatre organs. There were stark contrasts enhanced by the costume and scenery which, when jubilant was strikingly bright and colourful and when troubled, was stark black and white. The second part began stunningly with a stage covered by lit candles – for a while that was all you could see.

SAUL_Glyndebourne,
Director; Barrie Kosky,
Saul; Christopher Purves,
David; Iestyn Davies,
Merab; Lucy Crowe,
Michal; Sophie Bevan,
Jonathan; Paul Appleby,
High Priest; Benjamin Hulett,
Witch of Endor; John Graham_Hall,

The leading men stood out in their black present-day style suits. When mad, Saul, who suckled the sagging breasts of a hermaphroditic witch to evoke the ghost of Samuel, was totally white. In the final scenes everyone was dressed in black and white.

SAUL_Glyndebourne,
Director; Barrie Kosky,
Saul; Christopher Purves,
David; Iestyn Davies,
Merab; Lucy Crowe,
Michal; Sophie Bevan,
Jonathan; Paul Appleby,
High Priest; Benjamin Hulett,
Witch of Endor; John Graham_Hall,

One is tempted to say that in its presentation as an opera Saul came alive. But of course a traditionalist would say that the great music of Handel is alive anyway and doesn’t need enhancing. The music was totally respected. The Biblical story was interpreted in a way that would not be condoned by puritans. While, on the one hand, this production was completely faithful to the original, I nevertheless came away feeling that I had had a new, stupendous Felliniesque experience.

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