7 years ago

Volume 8 Issue 4 - December 2002/January 2003

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  • Toronto
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Ode to Joy, which has

Ode to Joy, which has been much used and abused. ~ra forces you tO confront and be accountable for the actions of the characters, to portray them vividly and not shy away from their blemishes. You can't cop out, you have to be the advcicate of the characters, with compassion and accuracy, and say what has happened. I admire Mozart in this way, because he's able to portray different characters so tnithfully. He subtly colours each character through technical means such as range, harmonic language, and ornamentation. It still sounds unquestionably like Mozart, but he is generous enough to allow his characters flesh and blood, and individuality. , STEENHUISEN: While you like it that opera takes you outside of yourself and into new musical problems, I'm not cenain that breaking new ground is at the forefront of your thinking. ROLFE: l!ltimately, then;!'s nothing new under the sun. A lot of pieces that sounded stylistically old have been put down, and I find that ridiculous. I'm curreritly very interested in the music of Kurt Weill; who suffered because of this. He wrote a lot of music that was accessible, and it was very well done. It's one thing to look at the newness of style, and another to look at the newness of what it's actually doing. Stravinsky is a good example of this - he changed suits many times in his career. Beatrice Chancy superficially sounds like a step backwards stylistically, compared to what I've writte~ before, but it's new for me. STEENIIlJISEN: There are two perspectives - new to you, and new with reference to the body of music that exists. The Janner may be a way into the laJter. ROLFE: It's a circular thing, not linear, especially now, because we have access to almost every period of music at once. It's difficult to define conservative and radical now, because they're less meaningful terms than they used to tie: It used to be a clear-{;ut polemical divide - you're either with us or against us, a la George W. Bush, but that thinking isn't applicable when there are so many simultaneous perspectives. STEENHUISEN: What is convention in music? 22 ROLFE: It's always been said that music is more. conservative than other arts, and that change comes more slowly in music, but I think the word convention is key when thinking about that. Music is an art formthat operates with conventions passed down through oral history. Playing an instrument is taught verbally, with physical examples. The mechanism of teaching is by word of mouth, and there is a conservatism about that kind of tradition. Things will.evolve more slowly as a result, or there may tJe more resistance to change, by the nature of the means of transmission. Ultimately, music comes from other music. There is also a stronger weight of convention because you're dealing with performers as well as composers. Getting back to opera, singers have the largest set of constraints. You want to write things that will make them sound good, not like idiots. The attitude of the radicals would be, "We'll let the singers catch up with us", which is the same as Beethoven saying "What do I care about your lousy fiddle when the spirit takes me?" That is the modern attitude in music. T)le question is how you deal with the physical constraints of the performance medium, which forces you to deal with convention. STEENIIlJISEN: On the surface, your music is ... I'll say more conservative than a decade ago, but underneath, it's actually much more subversive. ROLFE: I .think the best example for me is Schubert. He was an incredibly revolutionary composer in the way that you're describing. On the sw;face he's conservative, because it's a clear form, very classically balanced, .and with beautiful melodies, but he stretches his tonal structures over such a long period of time, and subtly does such weird things to the harmony that he . actually undermines tonality earlier than he is given credit for. In a wa"j. he's the predecessor to both Wagner and Morton Feldman. He's an example of a composer that is "acceptable", ~use everyone loves Schubert, there is always an attractive surface that is palatable to conservative listeners. It's beautiful music, but underneath that, there's a formal strangeness and alienation about the material that is quite modern, quite beyond how it appears. Another composer who comes to mind is Bernstein. He's by no means my favourite composer, but I respect the fact that he wrote pieces that were appropriate to the occasion. West Side Story is a great musical, appr~priate to.its venue. Kurt Weill also wrote music appropriate to Berlin in the 30' s, and then changed his style to adapt to New York in the 40's. He was really lambasted for that. Virgil Thomson thought it was a criminal waste of talent, but I think Weill was a hero to do that. He doesn't care about the 'surface, the style in which it appears. He's secure enough as a composer and not afraid to adapt his language at the risk of seeming lower class. I think that behind all this there's an unspoken issue of class, one which we "highbrow, highclass" composers often pretend doesn't exist. It's simply a snob vs. slob issue, and I didn't become a composer to conform to other people's expectations .of what I should write. STEENHUISEN: So why don't you call your operas "musicals"? ROLFE: f don't care if they're called musicals or operas. It's largely funding agencies, marketers, and producers who have the problem. In my mind, these distinctions are crippling for a creative artist. If they think they have to behave, and not do certain things, it's depressing. STEENIIlJISEN: An extension of this thinking is that you 're as likely to quote Grandmaster Flash, Jimi · Hendrix, or the Day-Glo Abonions as you are Bach or Beethoven. ROLFE: I tend to write music that comes from whatever's in my head. Currently, there are lots of nursery rhymes and kid's songs in my head. It's great' having a little child around, because she brings in all sorts of unlikely music and books. Just as certain types of minimalism can be very complex, it's also the case with some of these "simple" songs. STEENHUISEN: How did this broad spectrum cf music come to be absorbed into your music? ROLFE: It's taken me a long time to realize this, but I think being a composer is not about being consistent. hi Western culture, there is the expectation of consistent behaviour, probably stemming from our religious roots. Christianity evolved through central control. There is rio pope of music - Boulez probably wanted to be, but he failed, and a good thing, too. You have to really be stubborn. to continue on as a composer. . If it weren't a totally free field, to do what you see fit, I , don't think I'd bother. But freedoll] is also a very diffic1.1lt thing to deal with. I said that I like to work within constraints, but I like to choose those constraints, and not work within other people's constraints. In that sense, I'm a New World composer, .as opposed to a Euro~n composer. STEENIIlJISEN: Much of what we've been talking about is in relation to other music, and how it's something with which you confront yourself compositionally. Where are you in that? We've defined the $ources you absorb, but not the, core. ROLFE: I guess what's coming across is that I'm a relativist. That c~ be a bit of a euphemism - moral relativism is something a lot of rightwing American commentators go nuts about, but yeah, I think everything is relative, and I'm relative to my environment. I don'·t just mean 'Canadian music now, l mean the whole past and present, of music and music across the world. There's an evolving web, and I'm situated somewhere in it. I might hear a new piece of music which will really alter my environment, or I might write a piece which does the same. I don't have a strong sense of needing a core, or needing a polemical viewpoint and firm aesthetic grounding. I don'.t have a fixed point of view, and I don't want one. December 1 2002 - February 7 2003

ON by Christopher Haile December and January offer opera-lovers in Southern Ontario q,uite a varied bill of, fare. The greatest rarity is Opera Ontario's forthcoming production of Leo Delibes's "Lakme" . "Lakme" is one of many operas more familiar to North American audiences from excerpt~ ·or recordings than from staged performances. ThougQ. it has been staged three times in Quebec and performed in 1994 by Toronto's Opera in Concert, the enterprising Opera Ontario production will become the first fully-staged production of the work in. English Canada. Leo Delibes (1836-1891) is best known for his exuberant scores for two ballets, "Sylvia" (1876) and the ever-popular ~·coppelia" (1870). Among his 21 operas and operettas, "Lakme" is the only one that continues to be revived. It premiered at the Opera-Comique in Paris in 1883 and was soon in demand around the world. The libretto is based on the novel "Le Mariage de Loti" by Pierre Loti (1850-1923), a writer who travelled widely throughout the Near and Far. East: His later novel "Madame Chrysantheme" is the .ultimate source. for Puccini's "Madama Butterfly". Both works coticern an Asian woman who transgresses the strictures of her society by falling in love with a Western man . . In both the Asian woman fearing her beloved has left or will leave her commits suicide to end her grief and maintain her honour. Unlike Pinkerton in "Butterfly", the British officer Gerald in "Lakme", .though he vacillates, does not abandon his beloved and -as she dies they both pledge eternal love. Most people know the music of "Lakme" through ooly two excerpts, the much-loved "Flower Duet" and the colorarura showpiece "The Bell Song". "The Flower Duet" has become even more popular in recent years when British Airways chose it, as the theme song for a · series of commercials. But these are only two of the score's numerous felicities. The almost entirely_ Canadian cast stars Jane Archibald as Lakme, Stuart Howe as her- beloved Gerald, Anita Krause as her servant Mallika and the sole non-Canadian, American bass Alfred Walker, as Nilakantha, a Bralunin priest and Lakme' s father. , Quebecer Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts. · "Lakme" plays at Hamilton Place in Hamilton on January 25, 30 and February 1 and at the Centre in the · Square in Kitchener on February 7. It will be sung in French with English surtitles. This is the third· in Opera Ontario's series of. Orientalist Operas that began with "Madama Butterfly" in 2000 and continued with Bizet's "Les Pecheurs des perles" last year. We look forward to more such imaginative. prqgramming ih the future. (Before her appearance in "Lakme" Jane Archibald. has another engagement. On December 1 she will sing the title role in an Opera in Concert performance of Rossini's bel canto extravaganza "SeQiiramide". Sandra Horst will be both pianist and m~sic director.) The theme of East. meets West appears in different guise when Toronto Operetta Theatre presents the most popular of Franz Lehar's serious operettas, "The Land of ·Smiles" ("Das Land des Llichelns"), At; Opera Ontario:Lakme . December 27·-January 4. Here the genders of Westerner and Asian are reversed, as it is the Chinese Prince Sou-Chong who falls in love with the Austrian countess Lisa. Marcel Van Neer takes on the daunting Tauber-role of Sou-Chong opposite the Lisa of Tamara Hummel. The operetta's most famous number, "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("Yours is My Heart Alone"), is only one of its string o( musical pearls. The Canadian Opera ·company boasts an impressive line-up over the • COURSES: call 416-486-8408 e-mail: + MOZART's Mezzos and Sopranos 13 I 14 January to 3 I 4 February 2003 + STRAUSS's Sopranos and Mezzos 24 I 25 February to 24 I 25 March 200~ ·choose: Monday afternoon - OAKVILLE; Tuesday morning - BURLINGTON Tuesday afternoon - ARTS & LETTERS CLUB; Tuesday evening - U of T TOURS: call. Conference World Tours 416-221-6411 + Fourth Annual "VERDI'S ITALY" 1 7 May to 1 June 2003 • OPERA. CRUISE - from· Venice to Athens with lain Scott 25 June to 9 July 2003 • The Splendours of SICILY 18 October - 1 November 2003 23 '

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