David Pountney in Conversation: Musorgsky, Janáček - & more

David Pountney in Conversation: Musorgsky, Janáček – & more

This season Welsh National Opera commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution by presenting alongside each other three great operas of the 19th and 20th centuries: Musorgsky’s powerful, unfinished historical epic, Khovanshchina (in Shostakovich’s version, with Stravinsky’s finale); Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular, heartrending tale after Pushkin, Eugene Onegin; and the searingly compassionate From the House of the Dead by Janáček; a Czech composer with strong Slavophile leanings, who created his libretto from Dostoevsky’s semi-autobiographical novel about life in a Siberian prison camp.

Each of these revivals, but especially their juxtaposition, promises to yield intriguing insights into key periods of volatile Russian cultural and political history. Khovanshchina and From the House of the Dead are directed by WNO artistic director David Pountney – who celebrates his 70th birthday this autumn – and will be conducted by recently appointed WNO music director, Tomáš Hanus; one of the Czech Republic’s – and now Wales’s – most lauded conductors. Eugene Onegin is directed by James Macdonald and conducted by Ainārs Rubiķis, and will feature the acclaimed Swansea-born soprano, Natalya Romaniw, as Tatyana.

The season forms part of R17: an ambitious programme put together by arts organisations across Wales to reflect on the Russian Revolution, exploring Russia’s extraordinary cultural history and legacy. Ahead of the Khovanshchina opening night  this coming Saturday, 23 September, David spoke with Steph Power about the strikingly complementary sensibilities of Musorgsky and Janáček – and much more.

 

Steph Power: First of all, many congratulations on your birthday!

David Pountney: Thank you!

It’s a year of anniversaries – 100 years since the Russian Revolution! But also 10 years since you first brought Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina to WNO, and 35 years since the premiere of your production of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead. That was part of your great cycle of Janáček operas of the ‘70s and ‘80s [in co-production with Scottish Opera] which did so much to establish WNO’s bold, innovative reputation. So could we look forward, to talk about the Russian-themed season with that in mind, and in particular the staging of the operas in tandem?

Yes of course.

House of the Dead will actually be the premiere of a new edition, by the renowned Janáček expert John Tyrell – who happens to be based in Cardiff – which he also worked on with the late Sir Charles Mackerras. Has the edition brought anything new to your view of the piece – or perhaps the libretto, which you translated?

Well of course it’s full of all kinds of details that are riveting to musicologists and scholars! And it’s particularly extreme, in a way, in the case of this piece because Janáček died before he really had a chance to revise it. We’re doing it in English which is perhaps not that authentic. But you know, Tomáš [Hanus – conductor] was telling me that, when we did it first in Savonlinna [Finland, July, 2016], he found reading my English helped him to understand the Czech: because it’s such an extremely collage version of Czech, which incorporates all kinds of bits of Russian and Ukrainian and various foreign bodies. And it’s written in such an abbreviated, staccato fashion that’s sometimes extremely difficult to understand.

So there are quite a few instances where what I’ve done makes a narrative line clear, and is not what’s actually written in the text. John Tyrell and I have agreed to let it stand because otherwise the audience finds it impossible to follow: you know, these stories where one person is speaking for three other people, and randomly passing between them without any of the sort of helpful ‘he said, she said’ kinds of things. It’s tough work.

Then of course there are elements where the orchestration is extremely sparse, and you can discuss whether that’s really what Janáček wanted, or would he have actually filled it out and given it a bit more oomph if he’d had a chance to revise it, having heard it? But he never did, so there are those retouches in the score, some of which you think, do you really want to take that out? It’s not a hundred per cent clear, actually. But at least you can say all the decisions are now made on the basis of having as near as possible to what Janáček actually wrote. And you can then decide – as you decide with any composer – whether he didn’t get this bit quite right. Because composers don’t always get everything right!

No – they don’t!

You know, this thing about music being some kind of sacred language is rubbish! It’s material to work with.

Yes! Especially, somehow, in opera, with text and dramaturgy, staging and so on! It’s amazing to think that Janáček wrote From the House of the Dead around the time the young Shostakovich wrote The Nose. I’m just pondering the Russian connections generally.

Absolutely! And what I would say is, one of the greatest achievements of this season is bringing together the Musorgsky and the Janáček. Because they really are like father and son: I mean, the whole attitude of Musorgsky and his language. We don’t know really how he would have orchestrated it, but his dramatic sensibility, his use of the chorus; just in so many instances he’s so closely linked with Janáček. And yet Janáček actually didn’t hear Boris Godunov until the last ten years of his life – very late! There’s a fascinating thing in John Tyrell’s two-volume biography of Janáček, where he lists the pieces that Janáček encountered, and the dates – it’s extraordinary. So this exceptional stylistic closeness of two musicians to one another actually is not the result of any study, or of being taught by, or a follower of; it’s purely instinctive.

There seem to me to be many things in common – I mean tackled very differently, obviously – but there are extraordinarily common roots: the approach to story-telling, for instance, which is not linear necessarily, and involves these great outbursts of passion and feeling within scenes that are juxtaposed musically, as well as dramatically.

Right. I mean of course there’s a lot of marvellously original dramaturgy in Khovanshchina, and it’s really a brilliantly figured-out piece. This whole use of the Scribe at the beginning as a way of conveying information, for instance: somebody dictating a letter to a scribe – and then the chorus arriving and demanding to have read out to them what something says on a pillar. So you get their illiteracy, but you also get the message that’s on the pillar, which is quite important. Nobody else was writing operas that were doing that kind of thing.

And with Khovanschina the libretto is sourced from historical documents which, again, had not been done before?

No, absolutely not before – and in fact, as I point out in my programme introduction, it’s not until you get to the 1980s that other people start doing pieces that are, if you like, docu-operas – like Nixon in China [John Adams]. That’s something that emerges 120 years later!

The supposedly sprawling nature of Khovanshchina has been criticised as a fault, but I think it’s actually a strength.

It’s absolutely a strength.

And I feel the absence of Peter the Great is actually a strength too – because it makes you pay attention to all these different strands, where the story’s told in a kind of shifting kaleidoscope. I don’t know how you think about that in terms of structuring the piece on the stage?

Well, it’s in the tradition of the great war epics – and it’s linked very closely to another piece which is about to arrive through your postbox, which is of course Verdi’s The Force of Destiny! [David is directing a new production for WNO in Spring 2018] – translating what is a political discussion, really, into this wide-ranging, as you say, drama of collage. And it’s much more extreme in House of the Dead: that really is a cinematic collage of a piece. No, I agree with you, I think the libretto is masterly, and the invisible presence of Peter the Great is a fantastic dramatic idea, actually. In a way he has his spokesperson in Shaklovity, who speaks for him. These really are the most tremendous operas.

David Pountney in rehearsal for Khovanshchina Credit: Olivia Richardson

There’s something about the crowd scenes, where the crowd becomes a character – or characters – in its own right.

Which is totally invented by Musorgsky of course! He’s the first person who gives the chorus dialogue with one another: ‘Hey, brother, what’s going on over there?’ – ‘What’s that?’ – ‘How did that come here?’ – ‘What’s written on that?’ – ‘I can’t read – can you?’ – ‘No!’ It’s brilliant! I don’t think anybody did that anywhere else.

The chorus actually question each other – they’re not a single unit.

No, they’re having a dialogue as they do in Boris. You know that whole passage from Musorgsky about the black soil?* This is a genuine attempt to get close to the attitude of the people: putting that on stage and into music. That’s very fundamental. There was this whole thing that Vladimir Stasov, his mentor – dramaturg I suppose we would now call him – was furious because all the main characters in Khovanshchina turn out to be the aristocrats (although we don’t really know where Marfa came from). Because Stasov wanted it to be more about the people. But the people are there, and represented in those dialogues. And House of the Dead is again very much about a collective of very humble people.

There’s a complete lack of sentimentality in Janáček’s depiction of them. A sense that everything about humanity is present in that prison camp – just as it is with the people and the aristocrats in the Musorgsky. Different aspects of human behaviour in the face of tyranny.

Yes. I mean, with Janáček, his pieces are incredibly compassionate. He wasn’t a very compassionate man himself – but nobody’s perfect! [laughs]

Ha ha, no! How does Eugene Onegin stand in relation to this? Tchaikovsky wrote it during that 12-year period in which Musorgsky wrestled with Khovanshchina, but it presents quite a different view.

Again, one of the thrilling things about juxtaposing these three operas one alongside the other is that, however dear Onegin is to Russian hearts, it is a European piece. It’s written, from Pushkin’s side, with a very European sensibility – and it’s all based on English authors: it’s based on Byron and it quotes Richardson and so on. And of course that’s why there was such sarcasm between Musorgsky and Tchaikovsky – that as far as they were concerned [the Kuchka: ‘The Five’ or ‘Mighty Handful’, of whom Musorgsky was one], Tchaikovsky was selling out to a western European model.

He makes up a kind of trio with Brahms and Dvořák really in defining European symphonic language. And of course there are plenty of Russian and Czech roots exploited by Tchaikovsky and Dvořák, but nonetheless the form of what they wrote is a European form, and the sensibility of Pushkin’s verse – which is not really matched by Tchaikovsky actually; this ironic stance of elegant observance of all these foolish human beings doing silly things. Affectionate laughter, really, at all the characters; that’s not something that Tchaikovsky really understood.

No!

He gives it the full welly of romantic passion! But then irony is very difficult to do in music.

And irony was not exactly Tchaikovsky’s thing!

Absolutely not his thing! He really represents Russia looking west. Prince Golitsyn in Khovanshchina would have applauded Onegin and supported Tchaikovsky, whereas Khovansky would have preferred Musorgsky, you’d think.

Yes.

Khovanshchina: Dosifei – Miklós Sebestyén: credit Clive Barda /ArenaPAL

 So that dilemma of Russian life is encapsulated in those contradictions. If you think where Russian opera came from, it came from an entirely Italian model: I mean, Glinka is kind of Italian opera with a Russian accent, basically. And so suddenly you get this terrific turning away from that, and a real attempt to forge an individual Russian voice, which Musorgsky achieves brilliantly. But it is very much about deliberately turning eastwards. There’s a funny link with Cardiff actually: you know what the Great Gate of Kiev was?

No – go on!

I mean the famous chorale march in Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – it’s called the Great Gate of Kiev, so you inevitably think of some magnificent ruin. Not at all! The Gate of Kiev was a design for a recreated medievalist gate in the 19th century style – so it was exactly like Cardiff Castle or Castell Coch, or like the Château de Pierrefonds in France – that huge fort which has been reconstructed according to late 19th century understanding of medieval architecture. It’s a fake! – Or I think perhaps better to say it’s a political gesture: the celebration of this medieval gate is saying, no, we don’t want all this Italian architecture that we’ve got in Petersburg, we want to go back to Russian things. And that’s also what Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is; it’s actually saying no to French ballet, and going back to Scythian, pre-Christian, really ancient pagan Russia and saying this is where the heart is. I don’t think Stravinsky was himself actually interested in that thinking, but that’s where that idea comes from, to go to that kind of subject matter – it’s a follow-on from Musorgsky.

Regarding that east-west dichotomy, it’s fascinating to read Janáček on Onegin – he wrote a review of it.

Oh I don’t think I’ve ever read that.

He loves what he calls the thematicism of the piece, which he says comes from the orchestral writing, and he loves the way that Tchaikovsky ‘pays attention’ to Russian folk song. But he’s very critical of the vocal writing. He says that Tchaikovsky writes for every character as if they’re the same – they all sing kind of sweetly, with little differentiation of mood or approach, and regardless of what they’re going through.

That’s very interesting. It’s true, actually!

It is true – I listened to it with new ears having read that! His opening line is ‘Sweet, noble music.’

Right!

Then he goes on to dissect how that’s not always a good thing! But it’s fascinating that what he admires about the piece are those ‘western’ aspects, if you like: the way Tchaikovsky brilliantly brings out the kinds of things that western listeners would perhaps look out for, in terms of motivic development and so on.

But, thinking of characterisation, Marfa has just popped into my head! She is an extraordinary character with, unlike the others, no basis in historical fact.

An extraordinary character! No, she was invented by Musorgsky. Well I guess they were stuck because the only other woman character in the piece could have been the Czarevna but they couldn’t put her on the stage, so what to do? [Onstage portrayal of the royal family was forbidden by the authorities.] But of course it’s absolutely fascinating in that it picks up on the whole mystic aspect of Russian culture; mystic – and erotic gypsy, so she sometimes launches off into quite purple Persian pornography music! Which is quite surprising because you think at some moments that she’s this messianic religious figure, but she turns out to have all these kind of magical properties.

Khovanshchina: Marfa – Sara Fulgoni; Prince Vasily Golistyn – Mark Le Brocq; credit: Clive Barda/ArenaPAL

She’s a kind of prophetess?

Yes. I don’t know whether you remember this, but in the production she’s often at a point in the set for a long time and just emerges into a scene without making an entrance. So we very much picked up on her ecstatic magical-mystical nature.

To me the two aren’t necessarily a contradiction at root, but on the surface it does point up a clash between that and the ideas of the Old Believers, with their rigid religious orthodoxy.

Well in fact that argument is included in the piece: because there is this dry old bitch called Susanna, who attacks Marfa exactly for being hedonistic! But I think it’s really interesting that they got in there just what a seriously unhealthy brew this mixture is of religious fundamentalism and mysticism – and with everybody’s testosterone levels rising or falling: it is like life inside a cult; that’s what it’s like, with people deliriously in love with the leader. There’s a moment right at the very beginning of the piece where Marfa kisses Dosifei’s hand and passes out because she’s in such a hyped-up state. Now, of course, we’re incredibly familiar with these deeply unpleasant aspects of cults and religious mania of one sort or another.

And it’s incredibly complex: one’s instinct might be to try and make black and white sense of all these different factions, but isn’t the whole point that it isn’t black and white?

I think that’s absolutely right. I wrote to Stephen [Walsh – see below*] at some point and I said, whose side is Musorgsky on in this piece? And he wrote back and said he’s on nobody’s side, he’s just observing them. He loved to observe these characters and their different power bases and I think that’s absolutely right. He’s not proselytising for anyone.

Janáček doesn’t do that in House of the Dead either.

Absolutely not, he tolerates all these grotesque murderers, characters, penetrates them and gives them a voice. But he doesn’t judge them.

But it could have been an opportunity for overtly political comment: another composer might have stood on a soapbox.

Yes I wonder. I don’t know Giordano’s Siberia, do you?

No I don’t. There’s a thought – in the light of Andrea Chénier it would be very interesting to see what he does. There have been huge debates about nationalism in Russian music. Writers like Richard Taruskin, for example, have pointed out how myths have arisen as a result of Russian imperialist, then Soviet, propaganda on the one hand and a western insistence on viewing Russian music as ‘exotic’ on the other. Was Musorgsky trying to politically nation-build do you think, or was he simply an observer?

He’s definitely celebrating a unique national characteristic in his music. I think we should distinguish between the music and his interest in the different characters. He’s quite objective about the different characters. He doesn’t select any one of them as being the favoured one. But the whole decision to write about that period, and to write about it with language that attempts to go back to absolutely specific Russian language is a political statement of course, about not going the Tchaikovsky direction. About not being western but being deliberately eastern. So the music is a political message if you like.

You once said to me about Janáček’s use of speech melody, that it’s as if he’s getting inside the DNA of the people and using that dramatically. Do you think Musorgsky does something similar?

Well I think when I spoke about that I was also referring to the kind of cellular nature of Janáček’s music.

Which is not the same in Musorgsky at all.

Not the same in Musorgsky. But I think you can say that he’s looking into the identity of the people and there is that amazing passage where – I think it’s in that same, extended black soil passage – he talks about the people and what their lives are like. All this debate goes on in Khovanshchina between all these people but, beneath that, there are the people – and the people are still here, as he puts it. ‘We’re still here, we haven’t moved. We’ve had reformers, we’ve had nationalists, we’ve had communists, we’re still here with our bottle of vodka and our leaking roof.’**

And I think that’s also what Janáček is saying in House of the Dead. These people actually reflect the nature of society. So inside the house you find a mirror of the outside world; you go inside to find out what the outside is really like. And all those people in the house of the dead are below the horizon of politicians or rulers or princes or anybody – even civil servants; they’re below the sightline of anybody who talks about politics or society or anything like that. They are just the abject people, but they reflect – they’re still here! – they reflect the reality. They all voted for Brexit!!

Yes!! They’re still here – and what a reality!! Is Janáček’s writing – his speech melodies, cellular structure – perhaps a way of digging into the Moravian soil? He doesn’t broach issues of national identity in subject terms, but perhaps it’s there in the close relationship of his music to the spoken language, folk song and so on?

Yes it’s fascinating isn’t it that – apart from Šárka, which is a bit obscure let’s face it – well maybe that one scene in The Excursions of Mr. Brouček – he doesn’t really deal with the issue of national identity. You’re right, he encapsulates it, rather as Musorgsky did – which it what makes them such bedfellows. He encapsulates it in the musical language that he develops from the speech rhythms and all these little cells of music. But he never talks about national identity really in his pieces. House of the Dead is a Russian piece, Kat’a Kabanová is a Russian piece. Vixens don’t really have nationalities do they [re: The Cunning Little Vixen:]? They just have that disgusting property of wandering across borders without filling in a form!

Yes, how dare they?! And who would ever think that even people might dare to do such things?! Of course, to say all these issues have contemporary relevance on all sorts of levels is perhaps an understatement! Thinking closer to home for a moment, in all your long association with WNO – perhaps especially since 2011 when you became artistic director – Wales has been grappling with not dissimilar issues of national identity and nation-building. From that perspective, how have you viewed Wales’s ongoing project if you like, to form a vision of itself in artistic terms?

Well I would say simply that the opera is a great forum for ideas about the state of society. And it’s no accident that there is so much emphasis on national identity, freedom struggles – you can go back to William Tell [Rossini] – so many operas, even some comic operas, deal with this kind of identity. So it’s not probably a space in which one should specifically discuss Welsh identity – because in a way opera’s quite a clumsy medium to be able to do that with – although I think we will have a lot of fun with our exploration of a great Welsh character next year, Lady Rhondda! [The world premiere, in summer 2018, of an all-female cabaret-opera on the life of Welsh suffragette, Margaret Haig: Rhondda Rips It Up! by Elena Langer.] I don’t think opera discusses politics on that kind of day-to-day level, but it is full of political ideas and political sensibilities – I think that’s very much the point of it.

As exemplified by Khovanshchina.

Indeed.

I can’t think of another opera that features such political discourse on that scale – so directly at any rate.

I think Don Carlos [Verdi] comes pretty close.

Ah, yes. And also quite similarly extraordinary in its orchestral writing – the Inquisitor having such an enormous presence through the orchestra as well as the voice – so many parallels there.

Yes. And again, neither composer would have known anything about the other I don’t think. Though Julian Budden claims that Forza [The Force of Destiny] was strongly influenced by Boris Godunov. I don’t agree – I can’t imagine that’s true.

Hmm no – but that’s a fascinating idea. I’ll have to look it up.

It’s a fascinating idea. He thinks that Verdi saw Boris – well perhaps he did at some point. But he’s saying those scenes with the chorus and Trabuco, and those rather low-life comedy scenes, were inspired by the use of the chorus in Boris. But to me, I think it’s more that Shakespeare would have been a more appropriate influence. And of course you can say that also Khovanshchina is a very Shakespearian opera in the way that it moves, the way that it discusses all these issues: it’s like one of these Wars of the Roses pieces.

Yes – with the chorus itself almost having soliloquies.

Right.

It’s not just a simple case of ‘the chorus are the people’ but he’s using them dramatically to point out the wider impact of that more intimate group of conspirators and co-conspirators. The people move this way and that – trying to navigate the machinations of these individuals ‘above’ them.

Well I think one of the most titanic demonstrations of the role of the chorus in any opera is this huge sequence which starts out with the Strelsy, waking up with a terrible hangover – it’s a comedy scene really, where they’re all saying ‘Jesus – bring me some more drink!’. Then it’s followed by their wives turning up, shouting and telling them what bastards they are – and then they reply by getting this guy to sing a folk song about busy-body gossip women. So this is all pure comedy. And then the Scribe turns up and says, do you realise what’s going on? There are these soldiers who are invading Strelsy quarters and so on, and they suddenly become really frightened and burst into this sort of ‘woe, woe’ – very intense. And so these kind of funny people have turned tragic. And then they say, wait a minute, we should call for the boss – we should ask him what’s going on. The leader comes in and he’s completely decrepit – and they end up being almost sacred: we know that the Strelsy have been evil bastards, but it’s suddenly as if at the end of the scene you get the SS saying, oh God what are we going to do now? You feel sorry for them. The music has taken you on that huge journey.

Khovanshchina: Prince Ivan Khovansky – Robert Hayward; Persian Slave – Elena Thomas: Credit: Clive Barda/ArenaPAL;

Musorgsky was only 42 when he died. Just think what he might have done!

And how did all these people do it?! It’s amazing – with no formal musical training, any of them. I mean Musorgsky was an army officer for God’s sake. Borodin was a professor of chemistry – it is extraordinary.

Quite often you read about ‘The Five’ being self-taught in a kind of finger-wagging way as if to say, ‘well of course that explains why their musical grammar wasn’t very good’. But maybe the whole point is that they were doing something different! Stasov’s an interesting character – he seems to have had a very clear vision of what he wanted.

Yes he was the sort of Kenneth Tynan of 19th century Russia! One of those actually very rare kinds of figures – a sort of parallel figure to Diaghilev really. There are not many. I was trying to think whether Prince Albert might be a candidate; that kind of person, pushing a big – not necessarily in the arts – but a big philosophical agenda. Maybe Keynes, people after the war.

How do you see the opera ecology currently? People have been predicting the death of opera for so many years it’s become such a bore – and I personally think there’s exactly the opposite going on, with a great flowering of the genre.

Oh a tremendous flowering. Certainly the most creative period in opera in my lifetime. A lot of it is below the parapet – there’s a huge amount going on, mostly in London I have to say, but a huge amount being created by young people in garages and basements and wherever.*** Really enterprising stuff, a lot of new writing going on, a lot of desire to create new pieces. This is all rather outside the framework of the main companies, although we’ve also seen, at the upper scale if you like, remarkable pieces: Written on Skin, The Tempest, this new version of Hamlet that’s just come out – these fantastic, really viable new pieces [Composers: George Benjamin, Thomas Adès, Brett Dean]. I have to include Figaro Gets a Divorce in that [Elena Langer’s acclaimed 2016 WNO commission] – a really viable piece.

Absolutely it is!

But it’s quite difficult to see that the people who are in charge of opera are really up to responding to this. So maybe they’ll be just pushed aside and it won’t be about the main companies any more.

So it becomes much more of a grassroots phenomenon?

Yes.

With people not seeing opera as some kind of sacred cow, dependent on certain rigid perceptions of the form, but actually seeing it as ‘works’ in the sense of material – malleable, not fixed?

Right.

Well, actually that sounds very exciting! In terms of the work that you yourself have done so far – big question, given your achievements in so many operatic arenas! – what are you most proud of in terms of the impact that it’s had on the art form?

Well I think I’m much more excited by the new pieces I’ve helped to create. That’s much more important than the productions I’ve done. And you know most of them have been bad! Because that’s the nature of creating opera – it’s incredibly difficult and complicated, and successes are few and far between. And they always have been, it just has to be like that; it’s a deeply experimental process. And that requires incredible faith and courage on the part of the people who are overseeing opera, to allow that to happen. Because if you don’t, you’ll stifle the art form. That’s unfortunately all too easy.

Yes it’s not just about money is it?!

No, and I think it also relies on the curiosity of the audience to some extent.

Have you found that audiences have changed in Wales over the years? Are they more or less curious?

I think at the moment they’re much less curious. And I would say it’s as though the great tradition of WNO’s highly experimental, bold past has been totally forgotten. I can’t imagine getting away with programming a Janáček cycle now. And you can’t separate that from the state of the economy. The economy governs a huge amount of personal decision-making, perfectly obviously. So if opera’s a deeply discretionary spend, and you hear that many people are still not earning the same money that they got in 2008, how many of those are supposed to be buying opera tickets? It’s a bit illusory isn’t it? And also I think recession very typically makes people cautious and makes people want easy hits, sort of escapist material. So yes, I think audiences outside London are very cautious and very conservative.

Wouldn’t it be great if people said: wow, life is short and we’ve got no money – let’s go and spend what we have on a new opera! Let’s see what’s out there and exciting and really going to push the world on.

I suppose that spirit is out there. Perhaps it happens in other genres – maybe cinema, to an extent.

I wrote to you recently about WNO’s Magic Butterfly VR project and you said something fascinating regarding future possibilities for collaboration between opera and VR; about how some computer games are almost like reimagined contemporary operas. So there are exciting things happening there – with digital technology new doors are being opened.

Yes – and people are very busy imagining those possibilities!

That’s great to hear – and I look forward to hearing more! Many thanks for talking with me.

Pleasure!

 

* ‘Not for the first time I begin to plow the black earth … not the fertilized but the raw earth, thirsting not to know the people but to become their brother: terrible, but good! … The black earth’s power will become manifest, when you plow it to the very bottom. One can plow the black earth with tools wrought of alien materials. And they did plow Mother Russia at the end of the seventeenth century with such tools that she did not immediately recognize with what they were plowing, and how the black earth expanded and began to breathe.’

Musorgsky, in a letter to Stasov, 1872. Musorgsky and his Circle: A Russian Musical Adventure, Stephen Walsh (Faber, 2013, Ch.20, p.273)

** We’re Still Here is the title of National Theatre Wales’ current site-specific performance piece, telling the story of the people’s fight to save the steel industry in Port Talbot.

*** Like, for example, Silent Opera’s Vixen, performed recently at The Vaults (Vauxhall, London).

Header photo: credit Richard Hubert Smith