Opera The Mother of Us All; Four Saints in Three Acts Trinity College Opera Group at Spitalfields Market Opera, London
Wednesday 17 July 1996
Four Saints was premiered with an all-black cast in February 1934; The Mother of Us All in a Columbia University production in May 1947. The fact that both casts originated outside the opera house indicates the vitality Thomson wanted from his performers. Conventional bel canto here matters less than clear diction and rude energy. There was plenty of the latter in the Trinity College productions, but I can't say that Stein's texts were always sung with perfect clarity.
Stein herself was not particularly musical, once writing that "I came not to care at all for music, and so having concluded that music was made for adolescents and not for adults and having just left adolescence behind me and besides I knew all the operas anyway by that time I did not care anymore for opera." Maybe there's a lesson here for those in search of "Contemporary Opera That Works" - namely, that the ideal librettist doesn't like opera, and so doesn't want to write the perfect opera libretto but merely to provide functional text.
Trinity College staged the two works, on consecutive evenings, at Spitalfields Market Opera. The building has a provisional quality that is curiously attractive: outside, a five-a-side football pitch; inside, no stage, no pit, just a large space waiting to be filled with opera. Both productions managed that, although Emma Jenkins's staging of The Mother of Us All at times had rather too much of the end-of-term jape about it. Leah Hausman's more carefully choreographed Four Saints worked better: a passing reference to "St Nelson" Mandela was gratuitous, but generally the staging was well judged, and the repeated convulsions of laughter that seized the audience acknowledged the cast's greater success in getting the text across.
That's perhaps surprising, since the orchestra for Mother was a compact sextet, while Four Saints demanded 26 players. The latter's combination of trombone, accordion and harmonium produced a rugged churchiness, tunes and timbres emerging and merging with riotous abandon. Both scores fashion a workable modern idiom from elements that familiarity has never quite debased: church tunes, street songs, children's doggerel, patriot hymns.
Conducted by Nicholas Kok (Mother) and Gregory Rose (Four Saints), these productions gave us a bracing shot of American Modern, and the student casts clearly had a great time. College productions are fine things, and Trinity is to be congratulated for its enterprise; but, in these opera- saturated times, the audiences were not large, and large audiences are precisely what Thomson and Stein deserve.
n Robert Wilson's new Houston Grand Opera staging of 'Four Saints in Three Acts' is at the Edinburgh Festival, 29-31 Aug, Playhouse, Greenside Place. Booking: 0131 225 5756
Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandalbooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 4 Zayn Malik on Israel-Gaza: One Direction singer bombarded with Twitter death threats after posting #FreePalestine
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming August 2014
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Star Wars Episode 7: Simon Pegg hints at role
Guardians of the Galaxy - review: A superficial and half-hearted Marvel film
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
- < Previous
- Next >