Well Enescu is amazing, the show is fabulous, and I shall most definitely be seeing it again. The production is a co-production of La Monnaie, Brussels, and Opera National de Paris, and is generously supported by the Monument Trust, Richard and Ginny Salter, the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Friends of Covent Garden.
Perhaps because of this, his masterpiece is a patchwork of shifting voices, as Enescu masterfully interprets very different musical ideas through his own distinctive lens. Oedipe’s encounter with the Sphinx is the last in a series of events in Act II in which Enescu and his librettist Edmond Fleg show their hero taking the steps that bring about his own terrible fate. The appearance of the Sphinx is the climax of Act II and in many ways the centrepiece of the opera.
The Sphinx exerts her terror by setting everyone who passes by her a riddle they cannot solve. Oedipe determines to save the city and through agitated music wakes the Sphinx, to the horror of the Watcher.
It is one of the paradoxes or disappointments of operatic fashion that while a handful of works recognized as undeniably great become rapidly established as household names, numerous operas of real stature languish virtually unnoticed for many years after their birth.
From the start of Enescu’s career – to his frustration – he was known primarily as a performer. At the age of five, the prodigiously talented Enescu had become a student in Ia?i, capital of Moldavia. Enescu’s early years in Vienna proved essential in establishing him as at least potentially a composer, and as a virtuoso pianist and violinist. Paris was a centrepiece of composing talent, and Enescu knew all, befriended most and was admired in return. This is an edited extract from Roderic Dunnett’s article ‘George Enescu, Musical Polymath’, available to read in full in The Royal Opera’s programme book for Oedipe. The production is a co-production of La Monnaie, Brussels, and Opera National de Paris, and is generously supported by the Monument Trust, Richard and Ginny Salter, The Romanian Cultural Institute and The Friends of Covent Garden. Verdi was inspired by the wild passions of his four principal characters to write some of his greatest arias. Director David Bosch emphasizes the conflict between two worlds: the fragile, poetic world of the gypsies (with its fascination with the supernatural) and the brutal military world of Count di Luna. The staging is a co-production with Frankfurt Opera and is staged with generous philanthropic support from the Royal Opera House Endowment Fund.
4.48 Psychosis is the third opera by British composer Venables, following his ‘anti-opera’ Unleashed, based on recordings of gay men describing sexual encounters, and the ongoing chamber opera project The Schmurz. Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis was completed shortly before the playwright took her life, and since its premiere has been considered the equivalent of a suicide note.
Kane’s plays are powerful theatre works, but they also have extraordinary potency when read. Venables is the first person to hold the post of Doctoral Composer-in-Residence at The Royal Opera and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the first position of its kind specifically to support composers of opera.
The awards were held at the Savoy Hotel in London on 15 May 2016 and were hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny. Gianandrea Noseda, who conducts upcoming performances of The Royal Opera's Il trovatore, won the award for Best Conductor. Kunde performed live at the event, as did soprano Ermonela Jaho, who collected The Readers' Award – the only award voted for by the public. The new production, a co-commission between Aldeburgh Music, Opera North and The Royal Opera, will be preformed at the Lyric Hammersmith. Garrett performs the role of Val, the toilet attendant who works in the gay club, Pleasure. As well as the compelling subject matter, Garrett praises the work’s creative team, led by Liverpudlian composer Mark Simpson. Garrett explains that Pleasure, which is directed by Tim Albery, will appeal to newcomers and seasoned opera-goers alike as it is sung in English and lasts just 1 hour and 15 minutes. The production is a co-commission and co-production with Aldeburgh Music and Opera North, supported by a legacy from Ms D.
In this film, the rising composer discusses why his new work, set in a gay club and infused with elements of Greek tragedy, will appeal to everyone – including those who might not have seen an opera before.
The libretto was written by award-winning writer Melanie Challenger and includes a mix of acting and singing.
The production is a co-commission and co-production with Aldeburgh Music and Opera North, supported by a legacy from Ms D.


The creative team for the premiere of Pleasure includes director Tim Albery and designer Leslie Travers, each highly-acclaimed for their work in opera internationally – Albery’s previous credits with The Royal Opera include Tannhauser.
Pleasure is the third in a series of co-commissions between Aldeburgh Music, Opera North and The Royal Opera, begun in 2013 to commemorate the legacy of Benjamin Britten through chamber operas from a new generation of opera makers. Following the announcement last week that Russian soprano Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from Norma, the role will now be sung by Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva. Director of Opera Kasper Holten expressed his gratitude to the Metropolitan Opera, New York: ‘A huge thank you to the Met for releasing the brilliant soprano Sonya Yoncheva from her scheduled performances there as Mimi in La boheme. Sonya Yoncheva made her Royal Opera debut in Placido Domingo’s Operalia Winners’ concert in July 2012. A memorable production with striking images, and a writhing, exotic score superbly sung by principals and chorus alike. He was a consummate musician – a violinist, conductor and teacher who both championed and interpreted the music of his contemporaries.
From this rich fabric Enescu’s writing for the Sphinx emerges as the strangest and most unsettling music in the opera. When they fail to answer, she devours them, and leaves their blanched bones lying about her.
A monstrous crescendo marks its awakening but once she begins to sing her music is soft, slow and sleepy – wrapped in the sinuous, feline lines that characterize all her music. Alongside Kreisler, Ysaye and the later Oistrakh (all of whom were his colleagues and friends), he was one of the great violinists of all time. Both his parents were musical, and from his youngest days he was conscious both of the music of the Romanian Orthodox church and, more importantly, of the tradition of folk musicians (lautari). Some of the most pathos-ridden passages in Oedipe, especially the Shepherd’s pipe music, rely on this folk tradition. The young Enescu was already interested in composition, and wrote a piece he called Opera for violin and piano – he was already thinking dramatically. Following his graduation with honours in 1894, he progressed to Paris, to study with Massenet, Faure and others. Enescu wrote that ‘I was most delighted that in America I was received as a composer and conductor, and only secondarily as a violinist. The gypsy Azucena has vowed to avenge the murder of her mother at the hands of the aristocratic Luna family, and so has abducted their younger son. According to some sources he saw Il trovatore as a spiritual sequel, this time with a female protagonist trapped between love for her child and urgent desire for vengeance.
His score includes dramatic narratives, reflective arias, impassioned duets and fiery choruses – including the famous Anvil Chorus using industrial tools as percussion. The military setting complements the personal war between Manrico and the Count, rivals in love.
The five plays she wrote in her short life are remarkable works that challenge and transform the ideas of what theatre can be. But text plays an integral part in many of his compositions, from The Revenge of Miguel Cotto, a collaboration with poet S.J.
This has played into Venables’s longstanding interest in the interplay of written, sung and spoken text.
The studentship offers one composer every two years the opportunity to research and write a large-scale work, mentored by senior figures from each organization. American tenor Gregory Kunde, who will sing the role of Manrico in David Bosch’s new production, was named Best Male Singer. Audiences discover Val is mourning the loss of her son, who was taken from her by the authorities after they became victims of domestic violence. In the last decade he has gone on to cement his position as one of Britain’s most exciting musical talents, as both a performer and composer.
Simpson recalls how ‘one evening, as I stood pouring my heart out to a toilet attendant in one of the clubs, I suddenly started to see the world around me with a new sense of objectivity… This was a world where you could escape your own reality. Simpson recalls the experience of watching his first opera come to life in rehearsals: ‘I’ve never seen first-hand this level of detail going into the directing process.
Pleasure is a tight 75 minutes long, scored for just four singers and ten musicians – played by members of acclaimed contemporary ensemble Psappha, which gave the premiere of Simpson’s first piece when he was 14. Enescu accordingly creates an otherworldly soundscape, a malicious aura around the Sphinx in which the opera’s previous musical structures seem to warp and unravel. He was also a pianist of distinction, a second violin and viola player in chamber music and a sometime cellist. It was to Romania’s north east that Enescu returned time and again to recharge his batteries and draw inspiration as a composer.


The opera joins the story years later, when Azucena’s foster-son Manrico and the military commander Count di Luna have become rivals in love for Leonora. Work on Il trovatore took time (Verdi’s librettist Salvadore Cammarano died in 1852, and Leon Emanuele Bardare was brought in to complete the text) but the opera finally had a successful premiere on 19 January 1853 at the Apollo Theatre in Rome. It uses traditional operatic conventions but also subverts them, and demonstrates from start to finish an immense musical energy, reflecting the inexorable process of this drama of vengeance. Imagery of snow and fire unites the two very different worlds, and reflects the vividly drawn passions of the leading characters.
Controversial at their premieres, her plays are now celebrated as linchpins of British theatre, praised not only for the innovations they make but also for Kane’s unflinching exploration of depression and for her vibrant, beautiful language. Fowler commissioned by London Sinfonietta, to his settings of poetry by Simon Howard in numbers 76–80 : tristan und isolde and numbers 91–95, and by Sean Bonney in Socialist Realism. The play has no character list, no speech cues and minimal stage directions; this built-in directorial freedom ensures no two productions of the work can be the same.
His creative relationship with poet Melanie Challenger, librettist for Pleasure, began in 2008 when he read her collection Galatea; Simpson recalls how ‘up until this point I had never experienced the written word as viscerally as I had experienced musical sound’. It’s taught me a lot about how to approach the inner world of the characters and how to reflect this in the music I write… On a daily basis, I am confronted with just how complex the staging of opera can be.
The opera had its premiere at Howard Assembly Room in Leeds on 28 April, with Alfred Hickling writing for The Guardian ‘Simpson has pulled off a genuine coup’.
We are delighted and appreciative that Sonya will be able to join our excellent cast and creative team for The Royal Opera’s new production of Norma.
Finally, he comes to the gates of Thebes – his birthplace – and meets the Sphinx, a monster that has been ravaging the city.
Enescu’s monster is nightmarish, her music bewildering and malign, and her death shrouded in ambiguity. He begs the wandering Oedipe to stop his sorrowful song, terrified that he will wake the Sphinx.
Enescu gradually expands the music with exquisite control, as the Sphinx anticipates her conquest of Oedipe – ‘of all my victims, you will be the most beautiful’ – and exults in the power of destiny over both man and gods.
Her death cries are the balance of her monstrous awakening, slowly receding into silence; her final upwards glissando into death is continued in the unearthly sound of a musical saw. In conducting, he played a major role importing French music by his fellow students and his contemporaries to America.
Azucena has a secret that affects both men: will she tell it, or will she see her revenge through at any cost? Kane was insistent that her plays belonged in the theatre, and adaptations of her writing for other art forms are rare. These and other works also share a common thread in Venables’s fascination with violence – its allure, its power and its consequences. Kane’s text sometimes suggests a dialogue, sometimes intense soliloquy, frequently blossoming into passages of painful beauty; and, as with all her works, combines an upsetting and uncomfortable exploration of the human condition with sharp flashes of pitch-black humour. He went on write A mirror-fragment…, inspired by Galatea, and in 2015 they collaborated on the oratorio The Immortal for the Manchester International Festival. He took this kernel of an idea to Challenger, who wove from it a libretto that takes real-world grittiness and blends it with super-heightened reality and themes from Greek mythology. He will destroy the Sphinx, and in thanks the city will name him king and give him the hand of his mother, Jocaste, in marriage. As he points her out to Oedipe we hear fleeting rasps in the violins, flashes of horror against the slumberous sounds of murmuring woodwind. It is the perfect musical setting of her final words – ‘Only the future will tell you if the dying Sphinx is weeping at her defeat or laughing at her victory’ – words which haunt Oedipe through the celebratory coronation that follows. Philip Venables’s operatic adaptation of 4.48 Psychosis, Kane’s final play, is the first of its kind. For Venables, ‘it’s not about blood and guts – it’s about that huge conflict of wanting love and wanting happiness and not being able to find it’. We’re trying to re-create a kind of polyphony of inner voices – all those voices in your head.’ Venables uses his cast of six singers and 12 musicians to create new contexts for Kane’s text.
When the beautiful, unpredictable Nathan comes looking for answers, Val’s mystery begins to unravel.



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