Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ocean of Rain, another new opera attempts to swim upstream

In June, a new chamber opera by Yannis Kyriakides entitled An Ocean of Rain opened the Aldeburgh Festival. The reviews were not favorable, not the reviewers weren't willing to give the piece a chance, but that rather hoped for something more.

As Geoff Brown of the TimesOnline put it, the music consisted of "quirky on-stage acoustic musicians (the Dutch group Ensemble MAE) with jagged and bleating vocal writing, a sensitive wraparound electronic blanket and a heroine who never sings a note." Rachel Sloane of EADT was more enthusiatic finding it "Beautifully sung in the main" but "usually an orchestra accompanies and supports singers but, in An Ocean of Rain, the two scores ran parallel rather than in harmony." Rupert Christiansen of the Telegraph was the harshest critic, "...his electronic score...is a limp and exiguous affair, static in mood and entirely lacking in tension or development. The over-use of high soprano voices set my teeth on edge and rendered words inaudible, though a lot of the text is spoken over aimless instrumental accompaniment."

Kudos to Yannis Kyriakides for not giving up. Cryptic Productions brought the production to Glasgow in early October. Cathie Boyd, the director of this new production felt Aldeburgh wasn't the right place for this type of work. "The audiences at Aldeburgh in that wonderful hall at Snape Maltings are used to piano recitals, chamber music and orchestral works. So to open the Aldeburgh programme with a composer like Yannis Kyriakides, who wants to break all preconceptions of what opera is, was very daring. In hindsight it probably wasn’t the right place to open that work, but since then I’ve developed it, cutting scenes, adding music, so the journey is now quite different."

It is a beautiful story, and imaginatively set, but there are still problems with the music. The electro-acoustic style, amplification and split direction of the music make it difficult to follow and not emotionally involving. Kyriakides is breaking new ground, but losing the plot along the way. There is still a ways to go with this piece ready to float.

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