House music: Andrew Clements' watching and listening highlights

This week, Opera Harmony’s new socially distanced mini-operas, streaming from a scaled-down Salzburg, and the Proms revisits BBCSSO’s five-star Vaughan Williams

After the deluge of performances, from concert halls and opera houses, that was made available online in the first months of the Covid emergency, there’s much less new appearing now, maybe because, except in the UK, musical life is getting back to some semblance of normality across much of Europe.

Some projects conceived at the beginning of lockdown are only now coming to fruition, though, and one of the most ambitious is Opera Harmony’s series of 20 mini-operas, involving more than 100 opera makers and all written, composed and realised at a distance – sometimes a considerable distance – since March. The pieces are being released in weekly groups of five throughout this month; the first went online last week and another five will be available from 11 August.

Opera Harmony No 3, Divas Furloughed
Opera Harmony No 3, Divas Furloughed. Photograph: PR

Technically, all of the initial batch are extremely polished, and given the constraints, that’s a major achievement. But as you might expect, the musical results are variable: one of the five is fatuously self-indulgent, and two more inconsequential and unmemorable. Only two manage to create something genuinely of value. How Does a Building Sing?, with electronic sounds by Felipe Alram and video by Ted Bosy, may not be an opera, and is hardly music theatre either, but it is a genuinely imaginative fusion of sound and screen that manages to say something worthwhile. The Den, by Christopher Schlechte-Bond (music), Fiona Williams (text) and Jen McGregor (director) is a witty take on lockdown, in which two children (Jennifer Clark and Brittany Hewitt) take refuge from their obsessively cleaning mother to plan a way of defeating the pandemic.

Aušrinė Stundytė in the title role as Elecktra in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Strauss’s opera .
Aušrinė Stundytė in the title role in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Strauss’s Elektra. Photograph: APA-PictureDesk GmbH/Rex/Shutterstock

As a welcome reminder that there is some live music-making going on, the Salzburg festival has gone ahead with a scaled-down programme and is streaming some of its performances. At the moment, though, only one of the festival’s two fully staged operas seems to be available; that’s Krzysztof Warlikowski’s striking production of Strauss’s Elektra, spread across the vast expanse of the Felsenreitschule stage, with Aušrinė Stundytė in the title role and Franz Welser-Möst conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. There are concerts, too – Andris Nelsons conducting Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, for instance, and a cycle of the Beethoven piano sonatas from Igor Levit in eight recitals, four of which are already available, including fascinating performances of the Waldstein, Appassionata and Les Adieux sonatas.

Igor Levit performs during the international festival in Granada, July 2020.
Igor Levit performs during the international festival in Granada, July 2020. Photograph: Pepe Torres/EPA

But there are still compelling archive performances to be discovered, and my latest is Flemish Opera’s 2017 world premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s Infinite Now, with a text in five languages based partly on Erich Maria Remarque’s first world war classic All Quiet on the Western Front, and partly on a Chinese novella, Homecoming, by Can Xue. Performed as a single 150-minute span punctuated with blackouts and fierce outbursts of grinding metallic sounds, it’s sometimes gruelling, sometimes uplifting, but never ever dull.

The week ahead

Other than more of Levit’s Beethoven series, it’s hard to discover what else from Salzburg will be streamed, though if Christof Loy’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte eventually makes it online that should be well worth watching. Meanwhile, among this week’s BBC Proms offerings, the rerun of Andrew Manze’s 2012 performance of Vaughan Williams’ Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra stands out.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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