Culture city Coventry gets £5m from Lottery

Culture city Coventry gets £5m from Lottery

The Arts Council is giving £5m  to Coventry for its year as UK City of Culture in 2021.

Abramovich and Chelsea to sponsor new Holocaust galleries

Abramovich and Chelsea to sponsor new Holocaust galleries

Roman Abramovich and Chelsea FC are to sponsor the Imperial War Museum’s new Holocaust galleries, opening in 2021.

Shell turns back on National Gallery

Shell turns back on National Gallery

Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company, has ceased its sponsorship of the National Gallery after  12 years.

A Wound in Time - Poet Laureate’s Armistice poem

A Wound in Time - Poet Laureate’s Armistice poem

Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, has today released a sonnet commemorating the centenary of Armistice Day, 11thNovember 1918.

MY STORY:  Diplomacy, diversity, outreach – museums’ modern challenges

MY STORY: Diplomacy, diversity, outreach – museums’ modern challenges

Following a career in the United States as a corporate lawyer and a management consultant, Tonya Nelson has recently become director of museums and cultural programmes at University College London

FEEDBACK:  ‘Remarkable’ Derby is richer than you think

FEEDBACK: ‘Remarkable’ Derby is richer than you think

Reader Mike Wheeler responds to a recent TaitMail

Our schools’ missing component arts

Our schools’ missing component arts

The Time to Listen report on cultural provision in schools was launched at the House of Lords this week by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Tate, and it raises alarm bells on arts provision in schools. In a special feature, drama critic Michael Coveney sums up its message

TAITMAIL      Goodbye to all that

TAITMAIL Goodbye to all that

By Patrick Kelly

In recent years the European Capital of Culture award seems to have gone to cities that most Brits would find hard to place.  It’s as if the EU was playing a Continental version of the game where you have to name the more obscure London Underground stations.

Theatre’s local heroes

Theatre’s local heroes

The Theatres Trust annual conference this week heard that partnerships with local authorities are providing successful community theatre projects in the face of austerity. Simon Tait reports

Liverpool to invest in musical heritage

Liverpool to invest in musical heritage

Mayor backs improvements to city centre locations

A third of theatres may close without £1/2bn upgrades

A third of theatres may close without £1/2bn upgrades

More than £550m is needed in the next five years to upgrade our theatres, or a third may be forced to close, according to new Theatres Trust research.

Scotland fears European arts exodus

Scotland fears European arts exodus

Survey suggests EU nationals may leave after Brexit

Clare O'Brien to run Mall Galleries

Clare O'Brien to run Mall Galleries

Clare O’Brien, director of Chiswick House, is to be the Mall Galleries’ new chief executive.

Uphill road to broadening art audiences

Uphill road to broadening art audiences

Research for Art UK shows that bringing young and black and multi-ethnic (BAME) people to art is a daunting task, against competition from social media.

Jubb stands down at Battersea Arts Centre

Jubb stands down at Battersea Arts Centre

David Jubb is to leave Battersea Arts Centre after 14 years as artistic director and CEO.

 Rights of Man and the White Hart, Lewes…

Rights of Man and the White Hart, Lewes…

Thomas Paine and his seminal work The Rights of Man are in the spotlight at Lewes in Sussex this weekend, and particularly at the White Hart Hotel.

V&A focuses on photo history with new centre

V&A focuses on photo history with new centre

The history of photography with some of the most iconic images ever taken as well as the earliest equipment are at heart of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new Photographic Centre.

Borland’s ghostly tribute to WWI

Borland’s ghostly tribute to WWI

A major, though-provoking sculpture by Turner nominee Christine Borland to mark the end of the First World War was unveiled at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow today.

OPERA Making progress

A new opera company is a collaboration of practitioners and friends determined to pare away the mystique and present the art for its audiences. Simon Tait met OperaGlass Works

I t’s not unheard of for leading cultural practitioners to take their artform by the scruff of the neck and shake it into a modern context – in lm Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D W Griffith did it almost a century ago to create United Artists so that actors and directors could have more control of what they did rather than working to the diktats of a larger corporation – but it’s rare. More often groups of actors/ singers/writers/dancers/musicians will gather in a pub, complain about their lot, vow to change, and in the cold light of day prefer to stick with job security.

OperaGlass Works, however, is very likely to change the way we appreciate opera for ever, with a philosophy that might well adapt to theatre and other performance. And it has been created not by a group of callow hopefuls, but a team of senior practitioners in the midst of successful careers. OperaGlass Works’ first production is Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, opening at Wilton’s Music Hall next month.

The team is taking no pay for its work, and has been compiling its plans over time, with the company formed a year ago. There are no offices. They meet in coffee bars around Lon- don and in their homes. And the key, they say, is that they are all friends who have worked together before, and who each brings their own set of contacts and skills. Between them they have raised every penny of the £100,000 it is costing to produce the opera.

Selina Cadell is familiar to television viewers, most recently in Doc Martin with Martin Clunes in which she plays Mrs Tishell, but less well known is her role as head of drama at the National Opera Studio, as a coach at the Royal Opera House and English National Opera, and a director of both opera and drama.


 

Eliza Thompson is a composer, music director and producer, who works in lm, television and theatre, and has often worked with Cadell as co-producer.

Laurence Cummings, harpsichordist, conductor and early music specialist, is the music director of the London Handel Orchestra.

The lead character of Tom Rakewell will be taken by the young tenor Robert Murray who has sung with every major opera company in the country.

The set is designed by Tom Piper who is perhaps the most sought-after set designer in the country, and is the former associate designer with the RSC who helped create its new museum. Costumes are by Rosalind Ebbutt who created the costumes for the cur- rent ITV blockbuster Victoria.

OperaGlass Works is what it suggests: a transparent organisation that gets to the “bare bones” – Thompson’s phrase – of the art form without dispensing with the magic. We meet in a coffee house in Haverstock Hill near the private house being lent by a patron for a fundraising concert performance of the opera for which they are preparing.

We have wonderful opera in Britain now, but the way it is produced with lavish sets and costumes adding noughts to the ticket prices leads to the adjective “elitist”, Cadell says. It is almost as if the audience is being al- lowed to witness performances rather than being performed to.

“Great opera houses have historical productions that have gone on for many, many years, which I think actually constrains casts, they’re not really part of collaborative process” she says.

“They y in and do two days’ rehearsal, they don’t have a particular bond with the company, they don’t necessarily want to pick up the hand- kerchief where so-and-so picked it up before, but they don’t really have the time to find their own way through. That’s one element, having worked in opera for 20 years, that needs changing. Singers need to be more empowered to discover their own projects and make them happen.”

Another problem that needs to be addressed is that word “elitism” she says. “It’s ridiculous because music speaks to something that has nothing to do with the brain and needs to be free of those constraints. Along with elitism comes money, so we also feel that what we want to do is bring exquisite opera to small spaces at lower prices to a new audience. There are lots of opera companies around and they are good, but we’re talking about bringing quite famous people, a rather stellar cast”.

Thompson adds that there is another way of putting on opera. “There’s quite a lot of pub opera and country house opera, but this is something different again, perhaps more in the strain of theatre productions, smaller scale, very well done, and the key is that it is a collaborative exercise”.

Stravinsky’s 1951 opera The Rake’s Progress is the composer’s attempt to bring the 18th century into the 20th, with a libretto by W H Auden and Chester Kallman, and based on Hogarth’s series of paintings now in the Sir John Soane’s Museum.

The company chose Wilton’s for its intimate nature, and because Thompson and Cadell had collabo- rated on Congreve’s The Way of the World there two years ago – they considered a Shoreditch church, but would have had to provide the front-of-house, an extra expense. The 19-piece orchestra is the young play- ers of the Southbank Sinfonia whom Cummings will conduct from the harpsichord in 18th century style, playing on-stage. Ebbutt’s costumes are not period, certainly not elaborate, but are elegantly suggestive of the early 18th century; Piper’s set is spare but subtly descriptive. The production will run for six nights, and ticket prices will range from £15 to £23.

The company’s approach is to strip the opera of its mystique to make it more tangible for the audience, as Murray, who plays opposite the Royal Opera House’s newest star soprano, Susanna Hurrell, explains. He was introduced to 18th century music by Selina Cadell at the National Opera Studio, and has since made it a speciality. But the modern script has been a challenge.

“It’s slightly off centre” he says “but it seems to suit everything we’re trying to do. You need to really engage with the words so you can get it over to the audience. A com- mon misconception is that you need to put a modern spin on an opera to give it a contemporary feel, but as we’ve delved into exactly what was written and committed to it – it’s amazing how many stage directions there are to do with engaging with the audience – we’ve found the way into the work without updating it. That’s very important, and it can be tricky.”

Eliza Thompson underlines the point. “There’s a slight sense in conventional opera of the Emperor’s New Clothes, adding new layers to something that really doesn’t need them. What might be new is that we’re not doing anything to it. I hope we can engage with the whole score and embrace it – have these doors to the work open rather than closed, and what that enables is on-going choice, a live feeling.”

Rake’s Progress is at Wilton’s November 17-25, go to www.wiltons.org.uk/ whatson/362-the-rake-s-progress

 

 

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