Playwright Mark Ravenhill and composer Michael Nyman have given a new spin to a classic opera, discovers Nicola Christie.
On the surface they don’t have much in common: Michael Nyman, composer of the “killingly popular” – his words – soundtrack to The Piano, grandee of the UK music world now trying to get his operas onto serious UK stages, and Mark Ravenhill, risqué playwright who brought Shopping and Fucking to our stages in 1996 and has continued to challenge audiences’ tolerance levels ever since. But Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea has unleashed in the two artists a rather extraordinary new venture that, if cared for properly, could fuel a surge in opera-going, and opera-writing, that could be very exciting.
A young composer reflects on the chance to interview Michael Nyman:
“Tonight (actually, very early tomorrow morning), I will be on the phone speaking to Michael Nyman. If I were a real journalist, this would probably be a fairly insignificant occurrence. But, I’m not. And, it isn’t.
Although I rarely share this fact with people, Nyman (I don’t feel familiar enough yet to call him Michael) was probably the foremost figure that drew me to instrumental composition.”
Read the blog: http://blogs.limelightmagazine.com.au/2011/03/30/a-phonecall-worth-staying-up-for/
By Nick Kimberley
The company’s next production is of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, premiered in Venice in 1643. It takes a sardonic look at the state of Rome under Emperor Nero, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on Poppea, the object of his desire. The production will be directed by controversial playwright Mark Ravenhill (Shopping and F***ing and Mother Clap’s Molly House)...
...Not that Ravenhill is seeking to replicate the baroque sounds that Monteverdi imagined (a matter of some conjecture, since no definitive score survives). In collaboration with music director Alex Silverman, Ravenhill has opted for a jazz-inflected trio of piano, saxophone and double bass. Hardly less radical is the decision to include an aria specially written for the occasion by Michael Nyman. That, though, is not so different from the practice of Monteverdi’s era: scholars believe that, while the opera is largely Monteverdi’s, several other composers probably made contributions, including the sumptuous love duet that closes the opera, casting a glowing light on Nero and Poppeaplayed by Zoe Bonner, who have schemed, connived and murdered their way to erotic ecstasy…
...Their climactic duet has worried Ravenhill, not musically but historically: “The original audience would have been more aware than we are today of the irony of the duet. They would have known what Roman historians tell us about this marriage: it wasn’t going to last. Poppea’s first child died young; then when she became pregnant again, Nero kicked her in the stomach, she lost the baby and died as a result.”
It was to bridge that gap in a modern audience’s knowledge that Ravenhill commissioned Nyman’s aria. Sceptics will probably wail that OperaUpClose’s whole project is a misguided attempt to second-guess operatic history. Others will find the results stimulating and refreshing. Yet Ravenhill insists that he’s not deliberately setting out to make Poppea fit with any notions of broadening opera’s appeal…
...The Coronation of Poppea is in rep May 5-9 at London’s Little Opera House at the King’s Head, N1 (020 7478 0160; kingsheadtheatre.com); Michael Nyman’s opera, Facing Goya, is released by MN Records in April.
By Mary Brennan
In so many ways, the eight dancers in this Canadian company really put their hearts into Onde de choc (Shock Wave).
In terms of technique there’s a feast of (seemingly effortless) finesse as they account for choreographer Ginette Laurin’s dazzling switchback of movement styles, moods and pace.
Then there are the facial expressions and gestures that hint at how language that describes extremes of anguish and ecstasy often has the heart as a motif: heart-stopping, hand on heart, heartache – these, and more, flit in and out of Laurin’s thoughtful reflections on how the body’s physical machinery interconnects with our emotional states.
Cue the actual sounds of dancers’ heartbeats, amplified in real time and fed into a soundscore created by Michael Nyman’s gorgeously looping melodic phrases and Martin Messier’s clever juxtapositions of footfalls, pulses and thrummings.
In sympathy with early Baroque singers, who could take the liberty to replace or add an aria more suited to their voice, or more to their liking, Michael Nyman has written an intervention aria, which precedes the exquisite finale duet, ‘Pur ti miro’. Sat May 14 King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, London, N1 1QN