Magazine article The Spectator

Colour and Energy

Magazine article The Spectator

Colour and Energy

Article excerpt

Love and Other Demons

Glyndebourne

I only caught up with Glyndebourne's newly commissioned opera at its penultimate performance. It was a courageous thing to put on a work by a composer as little known in this country as Peter Eötvös, and was rewarded at the seventh performance with a respectably full house. It isn't a difficult opera to follow or grasp, and though I was not especially impressed by it, in fact find it a weak piece, I have nothing but admiration for the élan with which it was presented, with the conductor Vladimir Jurowski giving a very strong lead.

The long programme note by Edward Kemp helps to explain what the central preoccupation of the work is supposed to be, though that is already indicated by the title.

The only trouble is that it might be, if not the name, then the subtitle of most operas in and out of the repertoire. As Kemp indicates, we tend to regard our own 'demons' as passions, while other people's get awarded less flattering names, such as 'obsession' or 'neurosis'. But the collection of demons in Gabriel García Márquez's novella from which this piece is adapted is an odd one: love as passion is present at the core of the work, but we also have, near the start, a dog biting the heroine Sierva during a solar eclipse, and her resultant state is taken to be anything from an infection to possession with devils, which means that she has numerous unfortunate contacts with Mother Church. There is a madwoman who certainly needs to be made to keep quiet, if not to be exorcised. The list becomes heterogeneous enough to make one wonder whether there is a subject there at all. And if one turns to the characters to provide the indispensable interest, they are not people who command any particular sympathy or, on the whole, antipathy. They are hardly drawn at all, apart from their relationship to the notional subject of possession, which is not one that exercises a powerful grip on the contemporary imagination, though if you are into Magic Realism it might do.

When it comes to watching and listening to the piece, by far the strongest impression is made by a brief but intense love duet, with Father Cayetano Delaura, the Bishop's librarian, hopelessly and of course sinfully in love with Sierva, who is moderately responsive. Their music surges and reaches a climax, something that the rest of the music could never be accused of. It helps that the performers of these roles are so striking: Nathan Gunn, the buffed baritone who is as impressive with his shirt off as Simon Keenlyside -- but should a priest be working out so hard? …

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