Driven mad by a disastrous love-life and the horrors of war, the German soldier Johann Christian Woyzeck was publicly beheaded in 1824 for the murder of his unfaithful lover after medical tests 'disproved' his defence of temporary insanity. His story gave rise to a play by Georg Buchner, a radical young medic who presented him as 'rationally' paranoid, ie the world really was out to get him. The opera which Alban Berg created from the story a hundred years later was predicated on the same assumption: for his Wozzeck, all encounters with his social superiors are humiliating beyond endurance.
Since carrying off an Olivier for their pocket Boheme, OperaUpClose have certainly fulfilled their initial promise. Their setting of Verdi's A Masked Ball in an IKEA store worked surprisingly well, as did their relocation of Tosca to Communist East Germany. After such exploits, shoe-horning a Twenties Traviata into the King's Head looked like a doddle. Director Robin Norton-Hale had placed the action in something resembling a railway carriage in Tsarist-Russia, but the costumes announced the flapper period loud and clear; the adaptation and translation was her own.
Among the things Frank Zappa had in common with his coeval Lou Reed was an interest in the music of the classical avant garde. But Zappa's involvement went deeper: echoes of Stravinsky and Schoenberg permeated many of his compositions, underpinned by the credo of the scientist-composer Edgard Varese, who enlisted ambient noise as part of his compositional armoury. Zappa followed suit, and into his 200 Motels he poured everything from his rackety life with his spaced-out rock band The Mothers of Invention.
Something of a beauty contest is likely to ensue when the same work is played on two different instruments, and there is a surprising overall winner when Andras Schiff performs Beethoven’s Diabelli variations on both a 1921 Bechstein and an 1820 Austrian fortepiano.
"Filth for filth's sake," fulminated the Royal Albert Hall in 1971, when cancelling its sold-out premiere at just three days' notice. "Have I got to listen to this?" bleated the judge when the song "Penis Dimension" was played in court during the subsequent breach-of-contract suit, and his pro-RAH verdict was as good as delivered.
As a celebrated multiple murderer, compulsive masochist, and creator of futuristically ear-challenging polyphony, Don Carlo Gesualdo (1560-1613) has fascinated composers from Stravinsky onwards, and they keep on coming. Salvatore Sciarrino’s Gesualdo opera The Killing Flower, now getting its UK premiere from Music Theatre Wales, focuses on the lurid climax of his life in which he murders his wife and her lover, on catching them in flagrante; Sciarrino’s libretto dramatizes the steamy events in cinematically terse, if over-literary, dialogue.
Pushed by his singer parents, Arcadi Volodos was initially a very reluctant pianist, and only decided to give the instrument a proper go in his teens. But then there was no stopping this single-minded Russian, and by his early twenties he was world-famed for his preternatural virtuosity. As an artist, however, he went for the slow burn, letting his Beethoven and Schubert privately marinate for years before playing them in public to acclaim.
Fiona Shaw's production of The Rape of Lucretia brings history full circle. Having formed a little opera company in the post-war austerity of 1946 to do new works as cheaply as possible, Britten wrote one for Glyndebourne with eight singers and twelve instruments. Its initial run was followed by a British tour – as Shaw's production will do.
Sir Simon Rattle has done nothing to scotch rumours that he is to take the top job with the London Symphony Orchestra when Valery Gergiev steps down in 2017, possibly leaving the Berlin Philharmonic earlier than planned: he went to Berlin in 1999 and was due to stay until 2018. (Years go by like bar-lines in the heady world of haute conducting.)
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