"Ariane" and "Alexandre bis" double bill premieres at the Guildhall School in London
London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama premieres today a production of two Martinů’s one-act operas: Ariane and Alexandre bis – the latter opens in a UK premiere. In an evening of "delightfully surreal French opera”, the double bill is conducted by Timothy Redmond and directed by Rodula Gaitanou, and you can see it in the Silk Street Theatre just next to the Barbican until 6 June 2016.
Ariane (1958) is based on a drama by Martinů’s well-tested source of inspiration and personal friend, the French playwright Georges Neveux. After Juliette, he made his second excursion to the dream world of Neveux's heroes with Le Voyage de Thésée. Here Martinů, whose early stage had been marked by a strong influence of impressionism, once again set out to give musical expression to scenes conveying a wealth of symbolic statements. "I knew he looked like you," Ariadne sings as Theseus kills... whom? Minotaur? His own double? Or himself? While the Theseus of Neveux's play harks back to the world of Greek mythology, the musical, and more specifically operatic analogy of such retrospection could be sought at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, and indeed, the early baroque model quite visibly underlines Martinů's conception. In fact, the singing bravura, on which especially the part of Ariadne in this opera hinges, was, according to the composer’s wife, inspired by the art of Maria Callas. Martinů, who completed Ariane within a single month (between May 13 and June 15, 1958), did not live to see its 1961 premiere in Gelsenkirchen and in Brno.
Listen to singers Elizabeth Karani, Milan Siljanov and Josep-Ramon Olive about preparations for the opera.
Set in Paris, Alexandre bis (1937) was written when the city was at the centre of Surrealism, a movement that considerably influenced the composer and is reflected in the opera’s curious subtitle, ‘The Tragedy of a Man who Had His Beard Cut’. "Sometime in late 1936 I had a phone call from the cultural attaché of the Czechoslovak Embassy in Paris. He informed me that a certain composer in his country intended to write a comic opera to mark the 1937 World Exhibition and was looking for a short and frivolous libretto," says André Wurmser, the author of the libretto. "Martinů later told me of a great wish of his, which was to set to music a text where a part would be reserved for a cat. Well, unfortunately I was not in a position to supply anything like that. At the very best, I could offer a text where he might make sing an oil painting mounted in a gilded frame." "An oil painting," Martinů repeated, "an oil painting, that wouldn't be too bad!" Here, Martinů showed virtuosic ease in the application of neoclassical means of structuring the various attributes of situational comedy in the musical rendition of the opera's characters, interspersing the individual scenes with brilliant recitatives and well-proportioned spoken dialogues. The fact that it had to wait relatively long before being presented to the public was due to World War II. Premiered in Mannheim on 18 March 1964, the production was soon followed by the opera's first staging in Martinů's native country; only a few weeks later, in fact, on 22 May 1964, when it was premiered by the Brno Janáček Opera, under the baton of Václav Nosek.
Ariane and Alexandre bis
Written by Bohuslav Martinů and performed by Guildhall School Opera singers
Ariane: Libretto by Bohuslav Martinů after Georges Neveux’ play Le voyage de Thésée Alexandre bis: Libretto by André Wurmser
Timothy Redmond conductor
Rodula Gaitanou director
Simon Corder set & lighting designer
Cordelia Chisholm costume designer
Victoria Newlyn choreographer
31 May 2016 - 6 June 2016 / 19:00 Silk Street Theatre, Guildhall School
More information and tickets here.
(Text: Guildhall School, Jaroslav Mihule and IBM)