For You

I had divided loyalties this evening. Tonight was a special showing of Blast-The Movie, a documentary film about an experiment involving several Cardiff astronomers. The movie has had pretty good reviews, so I originally intended to join my colleagues this evening watching it in Cardiff University’s Julian Hodge Building.

However, only last weekend I found out that tonight was also going to be the night for the Welsh premier of For You, a brand new opera composed by Michael Berkeley and with a libretto by Ian McEwan. As an added bonus, both composer and writer were going to be around to talk about the piece beforehand, so I decided to break ranks and go off to the Sherman Theatre to watch this new production by Music Theatre Wales.

The pre-performance talk was very interesting in describing how the work came about and how the collaboration between Berkeley and McEwan worked out in practice (basically words first, music after). I’d read something about this already and the opera has also been premiered in London so I’d read some of the reviews. The Guardian liked the music but was less keen on the words; the Times was uniformly positive.

So how was it? I actually thought the libretto was very fine indeed: the plot is simple but ingenious and there are some nice comedic touches to counterpoint the darkness of the overall feel. The music was what didn’t really work for me. I felt Berkeley’s score was far too dense and fussy. There’s so much going on in some passages that it subtracts from rather than adds to the text. The vocal lines often have to battle through the rest of the music like shoppers on a busy saturday afternoon on Oxford Street. Sometimes less is more.

In the opening scene the composer Charles Frieth is taking a rehearsal, with him on stage conducting the orchestra in the pit. The tuning-up sounds are carefully scored – quite a challenge for a composer, I think – and it’s a very clever opening. This idea comes back whenever there’s a particularly manic episode (usually involving the deranged Polish maid Maria), the apparent cacophony from the orchestra mirroring psychological disorder on stage. That works well too, at least the first time. But this device is used so often that it begins to irritate. If you’ve read my piece about Charles Ives you’ll realise that I’m quite partial to a bit of dissonance here and there but even I find repeated extended doses rather indigestible.

But it’s not all like that. Although it is variable, the music does have some lovely moments, including a cheeky quotation from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

The cast was pretty good too, especially since none of the characters are particularly likeable. Baritone Alan Opie was really good as Frieth and Amanda Collins sang wonderfully well as Maria (although she did overact quite a lot). The rest of the cast was solid rather than remarkable.

Overall, I’d say it was interesting rather than wonderful, but I’m definitely glad I went.

At the interval I went to the loo for a quick pee and as I was standing there answering the call of nature I realised that the composer was using the urinal next to me. That’s something you never get with Puccini….

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3 Responses to “For You”

  1. I didn’t get to see the production of “For You” – but I’m confident your impressions probably would match mine, just reading what you wrote about the music.

    I posted (and linked) references to your review on my own blog.

    Thanks,

    Chip

  2. telescoper Says:

    Chip

    Thanks for your comments. I think it’s fair to say the audience reaction was mixed, but only a few left at the interval. As I went to the gents I heard one of them say the music was “bloody awful”, but others seemed to like it much more than I did. It’s all a matter of taste.

    Peter

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    Your experience at the interval reminds me that Beecham was once asked whether he had conducted any Stockhausen, and he replied that he trod in some en route to the metting.

    Anton

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