Singing songs about sex

Sex sells... it's been a topic of this blog on several occasions and, oddly enough, when ever I write about it the number of hits I get dramatically increases. No, that's not the reason I'm writing about it now. Now it's a topic of both song cycles and opera - although Richard Strauss' opera Salome has the famous dance of the seven veils, so sex has been selling songs in opera for a long time.

Here are a couple of events in the news.

From the Moscow Times: Michael Nyman is a British composer of some renoun, prehaps best known for his film music, particularly in The Piano (1993). He is traveling to Russia to perform works from his recent CD releases, "Mozart 252" and "8 Lust Songs: I sonetti lussuriosi," this coming Saturday at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. 8 Lust Songs is a song cycle based on "16th-century Italian pornographic texts by a fantastic writer named Pietro Aretino," said Nyman, "These are very sexual, very sensuous, powerful, lustful songs — which I think might be interesting to sophisticated Russian audiences."

British Novelist Ian McEwan has finished his first libretto, and, you've guessed it, it's about sex and sexual obsession. The opera, For You, is a story of sexual obsession centering around an overbearing and arrogant composer who yearns for the thrills and passion of his youth. Michael Berkeley composed the music and is performing at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio until Saturday when it begins a tour to Cardiff and Durham. According to McEwan "What I've discovered and really confirmed to myself is that opera really likes loud colors and you need something bold, something savage, unpredictable, passionate." Translation: sex.

Not to lessen the accomplishments of either of these gentlemen, McEwan has received numerous awards and the author of Atonement which resulted in a major film with Keira Knightly. Nyman not only has numerous film score credits, but has written a book about the effects of John Cage on 70's composers, written music in a variety of genres (to include pop) and in 2000 finished his own opera, Facing Goya.

Review of For You

Overall the new opera is doing well in the reviews. Lynne Walker of the The Herald gave the performance 4 stars with comments like, "Whether in the substantial sextets, involving the entire cast, or in the skilfully-wrought passages of intimate dialogue, the six singers are uniformly responsive to Berkeley's shapely writing." and "Berkeley's stylish score more than matches McEwan's absorbing narrative." In her review in The Independent she gives it 4 stars saying, "There is no doubting Berkeley's ability to write elegant and often entertaining music, with witty references to some of his earlier works and an overblown pastiche of the protagonist's magnum opus, along with a cheeky snatch of Mozart's Magic Flute and an opening gambit emerging almost seamlessly from the band's tuning... For You is a dazzling and taut chamber piece which gives passionate way to Bergian lyricism while referencing both Britten and Richard Strauss in its airy, word-driven vocal lines."

Neil Fisher of The Times was not as nice, giving the production only 3 stars. "Berkeley’s palette — all fevered chromaticism, suspenseful ostinatos and fierce but eminently singable vocal lines — is a heady concoction. But it gallops harum-scarum around the words without helping us truly to invest in the characters. We pity or mock them. Who do we feel for?" Mr Fisher did warm to the score by the end, but still not sure if the libretto and music "belong to each other."


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