Three Economical Operas

By Kratochvil, Matej | Czech Music, November-December 2002 | Go to article overview

Three Economical Operas


Kratochvil, Matej, Czech Music


While the major opera houses just keep ringing the changes on established repertoire and hardly ever giving contemporary composers a look in, new developments are taking their own paths. One such path could be seen on the 9th of December at the NOD scene, part of the Roxy Club complex, when three operas were presented during one evening. Two were Czech, and one American, and two were on Russian themes. All three composers were economical in terms of the length of their operas, numbers of performers, stage design and costumes. Each opera fitted into twenty minutes and used three singers.

The original plan had been to create three operas on the same theme -- Anton Chekhov's short story The Doctor. For his opera Vratch [Doctor in Russian] Ivo Medek took from the story only the basic outline and characters: the sick child (Tomas Krejci), the mother (Marketa Dvorakova) and the doctor (Petr Matuszek), who in the course of the action discovers that he is himself the child's father. A third figure appears in the shape of a dancer, but his wanderings about the stage seem rather unconnected to the rest of the piece. Medek invests the tragic story of the dying child with elements of bizarre humour, for example when an adult singer climbs out of the covered children's cot. The text (apart from the end) is sung in Russian. It is unclear whether the singers sung with an obtrusively "Czech" accent on purpose, but I believe that a singer like Matuszek must be capable of better pronunciation. The music, performed by members of the Ars Incognita, Marijan and DAMA DAMA ensembles brings together the typical app roaches of the last fifty years, underlining the impact of the and only at a few points lingering to play with an extract of text. A major role is accorded to electronically processed recordings of different voices, which shift the whole thing onto the level of a surrealist dream.

The American composer Martin Herman chose the same story for his opera The Doctor, and in some respects it is his work that reveals the most obvious signs of a desire "to be like a real opera." The singers, (Jacqueline Bobak: the mother Paul Berkholds: the doctor, Katti Prescott-Terray: the son) perform in historical costumes and their approach is more traditional, with a minimum of truly dramatic action and more concentration on the singing. This time it is the instrumentation that is not traditional. All the parts -- partly played live, partly programmed -- pour out of a synthesiser (although a version for traditional instruments apparently exists as well), and it is in fact these synthetic sounds, offering little in the way of contrast, that are the most debatable point about the opera. …

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