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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is a thread to debate about contemporary opera. The opera that is being composed in our own days.

Of course, the obvious question is: "what is the limit of our own days?".

For the sake of this thread, let's define contemporary opera as any opera written after 1980. This gives us more than thirty years, and is a reasonable time for a genre that tends to think in centuries.

Perhaps some TC members that are fans of Opera, are not very familiar with the latest new things in the genre. Or they are afraid only avant-garde Opera is being composed now. We will see that this is not the case, not by any means. There are new operas for (almost) everyone to enjoy, no matter what is our personal taste.



Philippe Manoury, (Tulle, 1952) is a French composer living in the US, with some important success in his career. He has been working with electronic music, as well as large orchestras.

In the field of Opera, his best known piece is K, premiered the year 2001, in Paris. This is relatively short opera, that was the recipient of several awards in France. It's based on Kafka's Der Prozeß (The Trial), and it's quite interesting:



This year Manoury has premiered his fourth opera, La Nuit de Gutenberg, in Strasbourg.



It seems rather nice as far as the instrumental music goes, but the vocal treatment can be suspected, something like the usual sprechgesang for the male singers, and the high coloratura roles for females.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xl...ry-opera-national-du-rhin-bande-annonce_music
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Pasatieri is one of the most prolific composers of our times. It's a little bit strange but he wrote seventeen operas between 1964 and 1986, and then nothing until the year 2007, when he premiered Frau Margot and The Hotel Casablanca. In this youtube we can hear about it:


His major success was The Seagull, premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 1974, based on Chekhov. We can hear this opera complete in youtube:

 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Ok, so you are a lover of traditional melody, and bel canto singing. You think contemporary opera is not for you. It's a kind of avant-garde noise, with people mumbling instead of singing, except for a few (out of tune) shouted high notes.

Well, there are many new operas that will somehow fit your description, and will reinforce your beliefs.

But then, there are others that you can, perhaps, enjoy.

Take for instance Laurent Petitgirard:



This composer premiered a very nice opera some years ago, Joseph Merrick, dit Elephant Man. The storyline is the unfortunate biography of Joseph Merrick, afflicted by neurofibromatosis, and abused like a freak in the circus. It's not based on the David Lynch's movie, it comes right from doctor Treves' memories and other contemporary documents, being compiled by Petitgirard's writer, Eric Nonn.

I bet most of the people loving traditional singing will like this beautiful choir:


Petitgirard's second opera, Guru, seems to be created in the footsteps of the first. It was premiered the year 2010 in Budapest, and we get a recording by Naxos.

It's a story about a charismatic and manipulative character that rules over a sect with apocalyptic inclinations comprised of 50 followers living in seclusion on an island. One recent adept, Marie (a spoken role, to underline her basic sanity), opposes him, but finally all people go suicidial except for her.

We can see here some information on Guru:



 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Some of the new operas are coming from Latin America.

Brazilian composer Jorge Antunes premiered the year 2006, in São Paulo, Olga. The piece is based on the life of Olga Gutmann, a German communist activist, that was the romantic interest of Brazilian leftist politician Luis Carlos Prestes. She was deported from Brazil to Germany, in 1936, while she was pregnant, and was murdered six years later, gassed in an extermination camp. After the war, she was made a model for revolutionary women, in the RDA.

We can watch the opera in youtube:

 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Anders Nilsson (Stockholm, 1954) is a Swedish composer that has written a couple of operas. One of them is Zarah, based on the life of the actress Zarah Leander, during her years in Germany and her stardom status in the Nazi period.

Though she is not very well know outside Germany or the Nordic countries, Leander was a big star back in the 1930s and 1940s. Her career was controversial because she was one of the main attractions of the UFA, the all-powerful German motion-picture production company, though Leander always said that for her it was just a job, and she never was a member of the Nazi party.

This is Zarah Leander singing in one of her movies:


The opera deals with the last years of Leander in Germany, until her return to Sweden in 1943. It was quite a success when it was premiered in Sweden, back in 2007. We can watch some scenes in youtube:


 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I love Boris Vian's L'Écume des jours (The Foam of Days), a novel published in 1947, after the Second World War, that tried to capture the mood of the times, using the absurd as a kind of cornerstone.

The Russian composer Edison Denisov, a big fan himself of Vian and French literature, wrote an opera in 1981 based on this material, to his own libretto. It was premiered in 1986, at Paris, and since then it have been offered in Perm (sung in Russian), and Stuttgart (sung in German). It's a beautiful and complex opera, and with Denisov's usual passion to quote from others' music in his works.

We can hear a fragment of the French version: http://www.musiquecontemporaine.fr/record/oai:cdmc.asso.fr:aloes:0024593?language=fr

and the trailer of the German one:

 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Some years ago, I watched Graciane Finzi's Le dernier Jour de Socrate at the Opéra Comique, in Paris, one of around ten operas she has written so far. More recently she has premiered Et nous le monde, with a libretto written between Jacques Descorde and the students of a 'lycée' placed in a troubled neighbourhood in the 'banlieues'. The students themselves recite the text while we heard Finzi's music and interventions from the Choir:

De ma fenêtre - http://www.goear.com/listen/f1ea83a/fasf-ga

In youtube, there are some fragments of Là bas peut-être:

 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Opera is one of those few genres that's only getting better.

Reimann, Birtwistle, and Saariaho are probably my favorite all-around contemporary opera composers, off the top of my head, but there are many great ones.

Funny, I'm just recently discovering Philippe Manoury... Have any of his other operas besides the 60th Parallel been recorded? I'd be interested to hear just about anything based on Kafka; I haven't been able to hear Reimann's setting of The Castle, but Poul Ruders has a nice setting of The Trial (interspersed with bits of Kafka's life).

Beat Furrer and Salvatore Sciarrino also seem to be really strong names in opera right now.

I've heard bits and pieces of Chin's setting of Alice In Wonderland, but it needs a recording asap! And Brett Dean's Bliss! And...and...(too many to name)

Etc etc etc
There is not an official, commercial release of any other of Manoury's operas, to the best of my knowledge. However, "Alice in Wonderland" has been released on DVD:



About Kafka's operatic adaptations, of which there are a few, there is one by Sciarrino himself!. It's 'La porta della legge':


Perhaps the more famous operatic adaptation is Glass's 'In the Penal Colony':


Arguably, the more succesful so far is André Laporte 'Das Schloss':



Personally, my favorite musical adaptation from Kafka it's not an opera, but 'Kafka Fragments', by Gÿorgy Kurtág. In fact, Dawn Upshaw and Geoff Nuttall have performed 'Kafka Fragments' in a staging by Peter Sellars, but it's not a work originally planned for the stage: :)

 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
The character of Faustus had always been a favourite for opera composers. Starting in the 19th century pieces like Faust, La Damnation de Faust, Mefistofele..., to Pascal Dusapin's Faustus, the Last Night, with Busoni's Doktor Faust in between.

One very nice work on the subject is the "Faust Cantata", by Schnittke, that was in origin just a part of an opera: Historia von D. Johann Fausten, that never materialized:


However, let's present in this post Giacomo Manzoni's Doktor Faustus, based on episodes from Thomas Mann's novel, selected by the composer, and premiered at La Scala, in 1989. This is the beginning of the opera:

http://www.goear.com/listen/d63edd2/f-ff
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Jonathan Dove is a British composer, quite experienced in the field of Opera, as he has written several pieces. One of them is a favorite of mine, Flight, the story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, for several years, later also used by Steven Spielberg as the basis for one of his movies.

We can watch Flight complete in youtube, from a Mezzo broadcast:


But arguably, Dove's more celebrated opera so far is The Adventures of Pinocchio:



It's based on the novel by Carlo Collodi. As you can imagine the plot is the creation of the wooden puppet 'Pinocchio' and some of his adventures on the way to becoming a real boy. It's a very nice opera, and suitable also for children.

 

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Discussion Starter · #23 ·
Exactly. Schnittke himself despaired of being able to complete his opera, and the recording you mention (I guess it should be Gerd Albrecht's) is incompleted, too. To the best of my knowledge the piece has never been staged with all the music available included, either.

About Mr. Kalitzke, I own this cd with his opera "Die Besessenen":



since a couple of years, but I must confess I have given it only a perfunctory hearing, so I would need to listen to it again to have a useful opinion.
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
schigolch , would you recommend any contemporary Japanese opera? What a shame that Toru Takemitsu never composed any opera.
My favorite contemporary Japanese composer is Toshio Hosokawa. He recently premiered at La Monnaie, in Brussels, his third opera, Matsukaze, based on a Noh theater piece, written by Zeami Motokiyo in the 15th century:

http://www.goear.com/listen/39b9069/m-hosokawa

A couple of brief fragments from his second opera, Hanjo, inspired in Yukio Mishima:


 

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Discussion Starter · #33 ·
Robert Ashley was one of the most personal voices in the American opera of the last 40 years.

His music, with an important electronic flavour, sometimes quietly repetitive, sometimes even surprisingly melodic, included a fascinating exploration of the spoken voice, in contraposition to the standard operatic singing.



Perhaps the best introduction to his work is this Atalanta, first part of an intended trilogy that includes contemporary characters like painter Max Ernst, jazz pianist Bud Powell or Willard Reynolds, a relative of Ashley.


This documentary on Ashley, filmed by movie director Peter Greenaway, is available on youtube:

 

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Discussion Starter · #34 ·
There are several contemporary operas based on the colourful character of Rasputin.

Of course, the more famous is Rasputin, by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, premiered back in 2003. It received some harsh reviews, based on the supposedly weak libretto, and a lack of novelties in the score. However, I personally think this is an interesting piece, and quite strong in terms of vocal writing. There is a DVD published:



We can watch in youtube to Matti Salminen singing the role of Rasputin:


In 1988 Jay Reise's Rasputin was performed in the New York City Opera. We can enjoy also some fragments in youtube, from a staging in the Helikon Opera, Moscow:


And finally, we have Nicholas and Alexandra by Deborah Drattell, with a libretto by Nicholas Von Hoffman, premiered at Los Angeles Opera, in 2003.

Drattell, following standard operatic logic, was thinking to cast Rasputin as a bass. However, Placido Domingo, then still a full-time tenor, wanted to sing the mad monk himself. Then, Tsar Nicholas was also switched from tenor to baritone, and sung by Rodney Gilfry.

There is no youtube, but we can listen to a fragment of the opera in the link below:

http://www.goear.com/listen/8003547/naa-naa
 

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Discussion Starter · #36 ·
Rautavaara's Vincent is a very nice opera to be sure:


However, Vincent Van Gogh had been a point of interest for other contemporary composers too. For instance, Bernard Rands, that explains here his own approach to the subject:


We have also The letters of Van Gogh, by Grigori Find:


But my favorite piece is one premiered in Amsterdam, back in 1990, to celebrate the centenary of Van Gogh's death: Un malheureux vêtu de noir (A Wretched Man Dressed in Black), by Jan van Vlijmen. that we can find complete in youtube (the title comes from a long poem by Alfred de Musset, that Van Gogh himself was fond to quote now and then):

 

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Discussion Starter · #39 ·
Well, I think it did. :)

Lear was written in the 1970s, and was hailed as a very important opera. Of course, I don't have this information available, but I daresay if we ran a survey between opera critics, most of them would prefer Lear over The Tempest. I certainly do. There is going to be a major production in Paris next year.

Also, there are other contemporary operas based on "King Lear". One of them is by Aulis Sallinen, Kuningas Lear, here is the overture:


And Alexander Goehr's Promised End:

 

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Discussion Starter · #42 ·
Yes, there is a nice recording of Arianna available, though I'm not a great fan of this opera. The experiment was interesting, nonetheless.

I prefer for instance Philippe Boesman's orchestration of L'incoronazione, staged under the name of "Poppea et Nerone" (not likely to convince HIP hardliners, however):


Boesmans, born in 1936, was the composer-in-residence at La Monnaie, in Brussels. There he had premiered other operas like Attitude (1979), La passion de Gilles (1983), based in the life of Gilles de Rais, a comrade of Joan of Arc, that was burned at the stake accused of being a heretic and a pedophile in 1440, Wintermarchen (1999) or the more recent Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne.

But my favourite Boesmans's opera is Julie, premiered in 2005, an adaptation of Strindberg's play "Miss Julie". It's an intimate piece, a chamber opera in one act and of a rather short duration. There are only 18 musicians in the pit, but the sound palette is spectacular. This is a sensual music, richly coloured, very easy to understand and with a good, albeit a little monotonous at times, vocal writing. There is a DVD available:




Incidentally, there are other operatic adaptations of the play. Like William Alwyin's:


Or one by the American composer Ned Rorem:

 

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Discussion Starter · #45 ·
Judith Weir (Cambridge, 1954) is a British composer and teacher, a former disciple of John Tavener. In her career, spanning now more than thirty years, opera had always been there.



My favorite among Weir's operas is A Night at the Chinese Opera, premiered in 1987 with a libretto by Weir herself. The action takes place in 13th century China. In Act 2 a performance of a real Chinese opera: "Chao's family orphan", is included on the plot. Chao, a civil engineer attending the performance, is trying to avenge his father that was falsely sentenced to death, only to be executed before reaching his goal.

Musically, the influence of Britten is paramount, as well as Stravinsky and sounds coming from folklore sources, mainly Scottish (Weir's parents were both from Scotland), of which Weir is particularly fond. The final result in this opera is really nice.


Miss Fortune is the last opera written by Weir, premiered in 2011, and was received with mixed reviews.
 

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Discussion Starter · #48 ·
Richard Danielpour is an American composer that premiered back in 2005 his opera Margaret Garner. The opera itself was received with mixed reviews, but the libretto was written by Toni Morrison herself, and the material was used before on her Pulitzer Prize winner, Beloved.


In youtube, there is available a documentary on the making of the opera:

 
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