Juilliard School

By Dillon, Patrick | Opera Canada, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Juilliard School


Dillon, Patrick, Opera Canada


Peter Maxwell Davies's new -to-the-continent opera, Kommilitonen!, is that rare modern work that fully lives up to both its composer's goals and its audience's expectations. That s no mean feat, considering Maxwell Daviess high repute and his stated desire to ereate a relevant, stage-worthy, muscle-Hexing piece for advanced music students that would simultaneously enlighten and entertain. A co-commission of New York's Juilliard School and London's Royal Academy of Music (which claimed the works first performances in March 201 1), Kommilitonen!--fashioned in tandem with the composers hand-picked librettist and director, David Pountney--tells three alternating stories of student revolt: the anti-Hitler "Weisse Rose" movement of the I'MOs, James Meredith's integration of the all-white University of Mississippi m I %2 and the Chinese Cultural Revolution launched later that decade. As Sir Peter (an honorific I suspect he dismisses) writes in a program note, "I had to invent an American style ... a Herman style ... and a Chinese music of the period ... As the opera progresses, the contours of the musical phrases gradually transform, with all three styles coalescing in the final scene ..." And that's exactly what audiblv happens, with ingenious deployment of onstage bands, in-the-auditorium choruses and a great deal of in-your-hice sloganeering cannily designed to appeal to student activists of both the present and days-gone-by. It doesn't hurt that composer and librettist seem to have taken cues from Bergs wozzeck with a succession of terse, punchy, highly varied scenes that never wear out their welcome, clothed in music that uncompromisingly mixes sophistication and vernacular immediacy. …

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