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Music revolution! Mozart. Rossini. Whatever next?

Jack H CDean10 June 2014

After learning about the unity that could be achieved at the opera at my last UCL Festival of the Arts event, I was keen to actually experience an aria or two and learn more about the art form that had so compelled Nietzsche.

I was in luck. Will Bowers (UCL English), dressed in two-tone brogues and a pin-stripe suit, like a 1920s mobster who happened to specialise in the opera culture of the romantic period, led the event. Excerpts were sung by Carl Gombrich (bass, Programme Director UCL Arts and Sciences) and Emily Tsui (soprano, second year undergraduate, UCL Arts and Sciences) and Bryan Solomon (UCL Information Services Division) played piano.

Mozart

Mozart

Bowers spoke with elegance and insight about all things 1780s-1820s opera culture. Opera was often performed with “no narrative. It was all about the virtuosity of the performer”. The audience would drink and gamble. The performers would riff and improvise melody and rehearsals were non-existent. Opera existed in a realm of miscellany and elitist debauchery.

It wasn’t until 1789 that the British opera began to shed the shaggy raiments of its past. The Haymarket theatre burnt to the ground and with Britain’s chief opera centre in cinders there was an opportunity for a rethink. The information explosion of the following decade helped in democratising debate and  in siphoning opera into mainstream culture. The opera was a “complicated machine” and Britain was on the verge of a cultural renaissance.

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The Snowmaiden, University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2014

GuestBlogger1 April 2014

pencil-icon Written by Professor Mark Ronan, UCL Mathematics

Rimsky-Korsakov’s SnowmaidenA Spring Fairy Tale, like many Russian operas, is a series of tableaux, brilliantly realised here in a production by Christopher Cowell.

UCOpera, photo 2014 © www.johnreading.co.uk

UCOpera, photo 2014 © www.johnreading.co.uk

The simple yet highly effective designs by Bridget Kimak, atmospherically lit by Jake Wiltshire, gave a magical quality to the world of the Berendeyans, who have been in the grip of Father Frost for 16 years.

He has remained with Mother Spring to look after their child Snyegurochka — the Snowmaiden — rather than retreat to the northern tundra, but Snyegurochka, now fifteen wants to join the human world.

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University College Opera performs I Lombardi

newseditor21 March 2013

pencil-icon Written by Professor Mark Ronan, UCL Mathematics

After UCOpera’s production of a Rameau work last year, which suffered from over-ambitious direction that didn’t gel, I was unsure what this year’s I Lombardi would be like. I need not have worried — it was terrific.

Giselda, image ©UCOpera

Giselda, image ©UCOpera

Suits of armour and chain mail are expensive, so director Jamie Hayes has updated it to warring gangs from the 1960s, with guns and the occasional knife. I Lombardi meets West Side Story, but it really works, and Charles Peebles produced wonderful playing from the orchestra.

Early Verdi is so full of energy, and UCL have made a perfect choice for his bicentenary year. This is the opera that followed Nabucco, which starts a new run at the Royal Opera House on Easter Saturday, so here is an excellent chance to see the next collaboration between Verdi and his early librettist Temistocle Solera.

As an enthusiast for Italian unification and the Risorgimento, the story of Lombards fighting Islamic warriors formed an attractive background that would have resonated with Verdi’s audience, but the First Crusade no longer inspires us, so I applaud the change of location in time and space.

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