Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Hugh Canning on ENO Caligula

Hugh Canning writes about the ENO's Glanerrt Caligula HERE. "Olympic-size success for home grown talent", (He;s writing for The Australian and direector Benedict Andrews is "home grown Australian talent". Now that's a pertinent observation, since elected governments go along with what the IOC wants.  "Bread and circuses", cynical Roman politicians used to say. Distract the populace and you can get away with anything. Dodgy governments like big public spectacles. And populations are still fooled.

Glanert's Caligula is political. While he was writing, he was thinking of Dimitri Shostakovich, who had to make compromises to survive a totalitarian regime. In Caligula, everyone makes compromises to survive. It's also savagely satirical. The Shostakovich connection runs fairly deep: think of The Nose where a nose flies around wreaking mayhem on society. You don't confront dictators and escape, but you survive by your wits. Tyrants don't understand humour. In the Soviet Union, satire was the weapon of the weaponless. After all, life's one big, bloody joke! One of Glanert's other big hits is Jest, Satire, Irony and Deeper Meaning (Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung) (2000), extracts of which were available on CD until quite recently.

Although I disliked the German production visually, the performances were so pointed that they brought out deeper levels in the opera than the London version does. There's now a recording of the original production, conducted by Markus Stenz with Ashley Holland in the title role. Get it here. Read a review here. Benedict Andrews's staging is more prescient, but the cast, though good, were a little too genteel. Perhaps it's  probably correct given that British audiences may need to be eased in gently. Peter Coleman-Wright's an excellent singer, and this is a difficult part, but he's too much the Elder Statesman  to create Caligula's maipulative cunning and manic mood swings. He's just too lovable!  And Caesonia was old enough to be Caligula's mother. His boundary-testing toddler tantrums become lethal because she iudulges him. Caligula and Caesonia aren't Darby and Joan but something very sick. Similarly, the relationship between Caligula and Helicon can be pivotal. Glanert pits Helicon's counter tenor against Caligula's baritone to make this clear. Helicon's a mirror opposite to Caligula, so when the balance is even the relationship's more acute. Take the time to listen to more Glanert and on his own terms. He's a much deeper composer than some realize. We need composers who can write music that's accessible and inherently dramatic.

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