Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sweet Smell of Sulphur

I had the pleasure this afternoon of a *second* viewing of NYCO's (or should I say their remounting of Glimmerglass') production of Richard Rodney Bennett's Gothic Thriller The Mines of Sulphur.

I gotta say--I sort of love it. And what is it, exactly? Are we hearing 12 tone rows? Not really. But is it tonal? Definitely not. I suppose my mind naturally drifts to early 20th century Vienna...and a cue is taken perhaps from those swell dudes Schönberg or Webern, certainly from Berg. Regardless, this is HIGH drama with the music to match.

My fantastic musicologist friend Karen pointed something out to me today. Perhaps this speaks to the music as well as to the libretto. She said "you know, this really picks up where Lulu left off". Interesting right? Woman and new lover kill nasty old lover. (Chaos/Plauge ensue).

Listen. Where this piece fits in historically/musicologically I don't really know. Bennett certainly never did anything else like it (lots of film scores, etc), and I am not wildly familiar with similar works of the time. But its unsettling orchestrations undulating under soaring, nearly impossible vocal lines make for a feast for our overwhelmed ears...and for several terrific roles for a brave crop of singers.

Bravo in particular to:

Mark Duffin. This "opera hot" tenor has an actually hot voice. Bennett writes Bocconian as though he intends it to be the last role ever to be sung by he who attempts it. Mr. Duffin deftly handles the stratospheric gymnastics while NEVER compromising interpretationor diction. Bravo.

Jessie Raven. "Opera hot Mezzo". She will someday be like a less terrifying Dolora Zajick. Watch out and 'nuff said.

Kathryn Friest. She is the Rosalind COVER who also sang Suzuki in Madama Butterfly at City Opera last month. I saw her sing Rosalind last week...she was outstanding, especially considering the difficult score (with presumably far less rehearsal time than the sceduled principals).

So way to go, NYCO. We'll put a notch in the category of "obscure revivals that actually worked" and maybe...just maybe...forgive you for Ariane.


Karen said...

thanks for the shout-out, jon! what an honor. and bravo, alex: well-blogged.

in regards to the sulphur-lulu connection, the two operas do seem to inhabit similar worlds. i haven't quite worked out the similarities in musical language yet, but we can definitely compare plots and characters.

in the final act of lulu, we find lulu, her tenor-lover, and the mysterious old man (schigolch) down-and-out in london (there's also countess geschwitz there who doesn't really have a parallel in sulphur, unless you take jenny). it's almost like sulphur is an alternative third act to the lulu libretto that takes them somewhere else. as though lulu and her two men escape jack the ripper and find themselves in the moors of the west country, where they come upon an old, dilapidated mansion...

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