Entertainment » Music

Odyssey Opera Presents 'The British Invasion'

Monday May 25, 2015

Odyssey Opera, a Boston-­based opera company dedicated to exploring the full spectrum of adventurous repertoire, announced "The British Invasion," a month-­long opera festival of fully-­staged productions of works by English composers. From May 17-­June 20, Boston opera lovers will have the unique opportunity to choose from four evening-­length programs encompassing nine diverse operatic works, including the Boston premiere of Vaughan Williams' "Sir John in Love," a double bill of Walton's "The Bear" and Sullivan's "The Zoo," five compelling monodramas, and Adès' masterpiece of modern cultural commentary, "Powder Her Face."

"British opera doesn't play safe, and neither does Odyssey Opera," said Gil Rose, artistic director/founder/conductor of Odyssey Opera. "We look forward to sharing some of British opera's high theatrics with Boston audiences. Against a background of decline on the global opera scene, Britain started to produce operatic composers and dozens of successful works in the 20th century."

"This resurgence of the English language opera was remarkable. The floodgates of English opera opened in the 20th century and the genre has been taking strides ever since."

Credited with a major role in the early 20th-­century revival of a British musical identity, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was a central figure throughout six decades of British music before his death in 1958. The quintessential "Englishness" for which he is often cited drew on native resources like English folksong, rather than turning to foreign influences. Vaughan Williams' "Sir John in Love" (1928) has been hailed as a rare success in transposing Shakespeare to English-­language opera. Odyssey Opera brings the joyous, exhilarating, wry humor of this opera to Boston for the first time. "Music-Web International" praised "Sir John in Love's" music as some of Vaughan Williams' "most inspired, subtle, tuneful and colorful."

One of England's most important composers of the generation between Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten was William Walton (1902-­83). Walton's wit and sharp focus were a fresh addition to the English compositional tradition and inspired widespread admiration and affection. Odyssey Opera presents Walton's delightful one-­act comic chamber opera "The Bear" (1967) based on Chekhov's play of the same name. Walton's finely honed, faithful operatic adaptation perfectly matches the tone of Chekhov's original. For a double-­bill performance, Odyssey pairs "The Bear" with the one-­act "musical folly" "The Zoo" (1875) by Arthur Sullivan (1842-­1900). Best known for his comic operas as the composer in the Gilbert and Sullivan partnerships, Sullivan was praised by Welsh critic Ian Parrott as a uniquely "broad-­minded musician" who transcended the confines of the light, popular genre in which he worked. Alongside Sullivan's "Trial by Jury" and "Cox and Box," "The Zoo" has become a popular curtain raiser after long years of neglect.

For one night only, Odyssey Opera introduces audiences to a selection of the brightest stars among Boston's emerging vocalists in a special evening of monodramas by five great British composers of the 20th century. The program includes "Phaedra" by Benjamin Britten (1913-­76), "Ophelia" by Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-­2012), "Four Poems of St. Teresa of Avila" by Lennox Berkeley (1903-­89), "King Harald's Saga" by Judith Weir (b.1954), and "Eight Songs for a Mad King" by Peter Maxwell Davies (b.1934). Each of these works is a tour ­de­ force for a solo singer, sometimes inhabiting multiple roles.

Culminating "The British Invasion" festival is the fully staged production of "Powder Her Face" (1995) by Thomas Adès (b.1971). Hailed with numerous honors and extensive praise as a phenomenally talented young compositional voice, Adès has become a major figure in the contemporary music world. According to The New Yorker, "he has outgrown his status as the wunderkind of a vibrant British scene and become one of the most imposing figures in contemporary music." "Powder Her Face" is a sardonic, darkly comic opera with a libretto by Philip Hensher inspired by the life, times, and tabloid-worthy exploits of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, a.k.a. the "Dirty Duchess."

"The British Invasion" runs May 17, 20, 22-­24, 30 @ Boston University Theatre (264 Huntington Ave), and June 18-­20 @ Boston Conservatory Theater (31 Hemenway Street, Boston, MA). For tickets visit odysseyopera.org or call 617.826.1626.


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