Posts tagged ‘Opera’

November 26, 2015

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti

No? Me neither.

Apparently, this short opera was written for a TV company, and is appropriate for the season of, erm, next month. So we (Northern Opera Group) are rehearsing it now for production in Leeds Corn Exchange next Friday / Saturday (4th / 5th December). Something like that. There’s a Facebook page and everything.

I’m told that this is supposed to be a chamber work, and that the orchestration was for a few string players – including just one contrabass. Which leads me to wonder why there are a few bits marked “divisi” (playable by one person easily enough), and, indeed, “2 soli” (not so easy to do on your own!).

From a double bass player’s perspective, it’s not that difficult, as long as you remember rule 1 of playing opera (“Watch”), and don’t have problems with counting alternate bars of 5 and 6 quavers (don’t panic – that passage is quite short).

There is just one bit that’s worth of some attention. Figure 65, bars 368 & following – a relatively rapid pizzicato passage that’s got just enough accents and accidentals and irregularities of rhythm to be not quite readable. This picture shows the bulk of the passage – there are a couple more lines, but they’re significantly easier.

Amahl - excerpt

That’s the extent of the musical problems. There are other issues with this work, though. I would like to point out a vocal cue at figure 128 (mercifully near the end of the opera), where the young boy Amahl says in a recit passage:

Well, I don’t know if I’m going to let you touch me… Oh… all right… but just once

And once you’ve seen that, it’s difficult to read some of the other cues without sniggering…

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February 11, 2013

Massenet – Cendrillon (“Cinderella”)

I’ve recently spent a week playing the bass part in Massenet’s opera “Cendrillon” for Leeds University Union’s OperaSoc. The plot should be familiar to all of you, as it is just another version of the Cinderella story…

There’s nothing much to worry the double bass player, unless you are doing this as part of a very small orchestra – there are places where the double bass part divides (albeit usually as a pizz & arco versions of the same note). However, if your band has only one cellist, then you might have to cover some of the lines where the cello part divides as well. There were points where I found myself covering three cello lines as well as the two basslines. Fortunately, there’s significant overlap!

The only other advice is my usual operatic advice: WATCH THE CONDUCTOR. Singers miss beats, or add in extra ones, and it’s up to the band to follow the conductor. Make sure, therefore, that you’ve got a good sightline between you and the conductor and put your music in it, so you don’t have to move your eyes too far between dots and beats.

 

Incidentally, what *was* Massenet on? In Manon, he had her singing about a table, and in Cinders, she sings about a chair. Was he some sort of furniture fetishist?

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April 16, 2012

Opera time again!

Well, to be more accurate, operetta, then musical, then opera.

Operatta – Gilbert & Sullivan – The Mikado

Leeds University Union’s Opera Society is putting on G&S’s Mikado next month.
Performance Dates: 2012-05-02 – 2012-05-05
Location: Riley Smith Hall, Leeds University
More details at OperaSoc’s website

Musical – Victoria Wood – Acorn Antiques, the Musical

I know very little about this, having just been approached to see if it’s a go-er for me. It is. Google tells me that it’s being put on by Cleckheaton and Spenborough’s Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society.
Performance Dates: 2012-05-16 – 2012-05-19
Location: Cleckheaton Town Hall
More information at CSAODS’s website

Opera – Massenet – Manon

Leeds Youth Opera’s summer production is Massenet’s classic opera, Manon. Not done this before – anyone got any tips?
Performance Dates: 2012-07-04 – 2012-07-07
Location: Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds
More information, as it becomes available, at Leeds Youth Opera Group’s website

March 3, 2012

Gilbert & Sullivan – Iolanthe

This week, I’m playing in Leeds Gilbert & Sullivan Society‘s production of G&S’s Iolanthe, at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds.

As with most G&S operettas, there’s not a lot to worry the bassists, apart from a few little bits. These excerpts are all from Act 1 (but one of them is repeated in Act 2, Sullivan being an eco-friendly composer, recycling material throughout…)

06a – Entrance of the Chancellor

The cello/bass department kicks off the fugue here – it’s brisk-ish, but the notes just don’t quite lie under the fingers.

This figure is repeated in Act 2 at the start of Number 7 (Recit & Song)

10 – Song

This next little riff occurs twice in each verse…:

11 – Recit

How are your scales?


Did you play a G at the end? Look again.

13 – Finale

The finale to Act 1 contains this passage to delight – it’s a long first half, and this is near the end of a long Finale. ’nuff said.

(While preparing this, I noticed that the last note of the first bar of the second line may be a C – it’s difficult to tell from the part – and I can’t remember what the Truth actually is…)

February 5, 2012

Vaughan Williams – The Poisoned Kiss

This is an opera that isn’t performed very often – I understand that the number of productions it has had since its composition is still in single figures, and the first non-UK production happened this month in New York. I’m not going to discuss the story here, because it’s utterly ludicrous, involving a girl brought up on poisons, and a boy brought up on antidotes… No, it’s making me cross just thinking about it. If you want to know more, then you could always check this version of the synopsis. As a reviewer of a recent production put it, “You have to wonder what Vaughan Williams was on when he composed [it]”.

Anyway, on to the music – mostly playable, but just a few little “moments”.

Overture

Here’s the first trickier bit, the main nastiness being due to a gratuitous tenor clef. I suspect that it used more ink to go into the tenor clef than it saved…

Me? Grumpy? Surely not!

And so into

Act 1

Number 5 – Ensemble

Moderato alla marcia? Hmm. Seems a bit brisk, but think of the Durham Light Infantry – their normal march step is quicker than most units’ quickstep, sorry, double time. The basic four-in-a-bar pulse stays the same between the 4/4 and 12/8.

Number 6 – Duet

Another brisk number… and, near the end, accidentals everywhere.

Number 8 – Ensemble

Starts out as a nice gentle Andantino, but then kicks into an Allegro, with a lot of semiquavers:

Number 13 – Finale

A couple of more interesting moments here. First off, a 3/4 section from Figure 57:

and the final chunk of the “Dance” starting just after figure 62:

Act 2

I’ve not highlighted anything of note in Act 2.

Act 3

Only one particularly tricky moment here.

Number 27 – Trio

There’s a sort of tango feel to this movement (see the tempo mark – “Tempo di Tango (molto moderato)”). However, just as you settle into it, there’s an unpleasant rhythmic kick in bars 6-8.

January 28, 2012

Two weeks, two operas

This is the busiest I’ve been on the bass for a while. I got asked a week or so ago if I would help out with Leeds University’s Opera Society’s production of Don Giovanni that runs next week, which is the week before I’m on a run of Leeds Youth Opera Group’s production of RVW’s Poisoned Kiss. Not much to say here – I’m not sure that I’ve yet played every note of Don G, and those that I have played have mostly been either under the fingers, or not too quick, but I do have a few things to say about Poison, which will get a separate post shortly.

LUU Opera Soc – Mozart – Don Giovanni – 1st-4th February 2012, 7:30pm, Riley Smith Hall, Leeds University. More details on their website.

LYOG – Vaughan Williams – Poisoned Kiss – 8th-11th February 2012, 7:30pm, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds. More details on their website.

October 8, 2011

Wagner – Tannhaüser

So let’s restart this blog with a few notes on Wagner’s epic opera Tannhaüser, which I had the pleasure of working through last month with the Northern Wagner Orchestra.

This is a relatively straightforward play when compared with other Wagner operas; it’s also a comparatively short double bass part, weighing in at under 50 pages!

To begin at the beginning.

Act 1 Scene 1

Bars 105 & 106 – just an awkward little fake arpeggio, then a few bars later an awkward pizzicato passage.  Not helped by the page turn during that two bar rest…

Act 1 Scene 2

The scene begins with a little riff that’s unison strings, and needs accuracy.

Over the page, and at the end of the page we see the following excerpt. It doesn’t look too intimidating, but, for some reason, I found it just didn’t want to lie under the fingers nicely.

A few pages later, we come across the following little bit of fun:

And then, a few bars later:

Moving on, Act 2 Scene 3 is borderline silent – lots of counting, though! A friend of mine said that it looks like a trombone part…

Act 2 Scene 4

This is the big march number. And we get the tune (albeit doubling with other heavies…):

Over the page, we come across a deeply deeply unpleasant quaver figure.

I hate five sharps plus accidentals.

Nearly there

Unfortunately, I’ve lost track of which Act/Scene we’re in at this point – however, I suspect these last bits are all towards the tail end of Act 2.  I don’t recall there being anything in Act 3 to worry about.  I’ve tagged these with page numbers from the part I was using…

Next page:

And the final excerpt for your attention:

There’s still an act to go, but I don’t recall anything in that final act being particularly unpleasant… …except for the stamina required. But that’s a standard problem for Wagner!

July 10, 2011

Eugene Onegin

Blimey.  It’s been a while…  I’ve been busy with “real life”, rather than music.  However, I’ve just come off a run of Eugene Onegin (from a reduced orchestral version, “Pocket Opera”?  something like that), and have a couple of bits to highlight.

Note that this is a combined cello & bass part.

Shall we begin at the beginning?

See that first note? Doesn’t look like much, just a piano pizzicato D that you could do on an open string, but that’s the only thing starting this opera off. You have been warned. We’re quite fortunate with this score in that the bass part is independent from the cellos in some quite critical areas; nor are we always doubling the bassoons, or filling in non-existent brass parts (though at one point, someone has inked in a 4th horn part to play!)

Not a particularly taxing moment, there. Let us move forward to the beginning of the second number, the “Chor und Tanz der Schnitter”, the bit where the strings come in after an unaccompanied chorus:

That’s a fairly brisk “Adagio” – about as quick as you can comfortably pizz.  (Ignore the double bar there – that’s me being lazy…)

That’s pretty much it for unpleasantness, at least in the version we did – there were a couple of small cuts, including one bit that looked horrendous for the cellists!

September 9, 2010

Tristan & Isolde – Act 3

There’s a fair few notes here…  and the passages I’ve picked out here are in because they really fly by!  The first few pages are there to lull you into a false sense of security.  Let’s just look at some of the more interesting tempo markings, in German & Italian:

  • Sehr allmahlich belebend – Animando molto poco a poco – OK…
  • Belebt, doch nicht schnell – Animato ma non troppo – getting a bit quicker.
  • Immer mehr belebend – Sempre piu animando
  • Bewegt – Con moto – things are really picking up now
  • Etwas gedehnt – Poco steso – OK, now you’ve lost me.
  • Sehr bewegt – Molto mosso.  erk
  • Sehr allmahlich langsamer werdend – Poco a poco ritard.  Just as well, ‘cos it’ll take you the ten bars at this tempo just to read the speed.
  • Massig beginnend, und schnell bewegter – Moderato cominicando e poi stringendo subito.

That little lot is just in the space of under 150 bars.  And I’ve missed a few out.

So.  The moral of this story is “watch.  No, I mean it.  Watch.  Watch until your eyes feel like they’re popping out, like Arnie’s were at the end of Total Recall.”

And, based on my experience of the last rehearsal, it’s all too easy to lose count in the few bars rest that you actually get…

And so, on with the notes…  nothing too bad early on in the scene.  However, over the page from the directions shown above, we get to bar 516:

A tricky little rhythm, but it only lasts for a couple of lines.

And a couple of pages later, we get this bit of out-and-out unpleasantness:

I like the tempo marking – “Etwas schleppend”.  Apparently that means “poco strascinante”, but I have no idea what that means either, beyond “watch!”

And then, at the bottom of that page, we have a few really quick bars, with a change of time signature every bar just so you can’t settle down:

A couple of pages later (nearly there!), we get this:  “Noch schneller”?  what?  You want more speed?  With another cockeyed rhythm?  Gah.

As for the remains of the piece…  well.

Act 3 – Scene 2 – the whole of the first page (60-odd bars) needs a look.

Act 3 – Scene 3 – most of the first 100 bars here.

You’ll just have to use the link I provided earlier to download the part and have a look for yourself, if you don’t believe me!

September 7, 2010

Tristan & Isolde – Act 2

And now, after a decent interval (and not too much beer – it’s a long night!), Act 2.

I’ve just gone through the part again, and I can’t see a single marking indicating that this caused problems.  Hurrah!

There are a few naughty bits in Act 3, however, and I’ll get to those shortly.