Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray reviews

1 December 2013 | Comments (0)

It’s been a few weeks now since ‘Dorian Gray’ had its first two performances in Bratislava; there has since been a third performance. Some reviews have appeared, in the German/Austrian online publications Klassikinfo and Klassik, as well as a piece in the NY Times. We are expecting a few more reviews to surface, and the piece will continue to be performed once or twice per month over the next six months. One of our hopes, ‘our’ meaning the opera house, the publisher, the composer Lubica Cekovska and myself, is that the opera will interest other houses and companies and that other productions of ‘Dorian Gray’ will staged elsewhere.

Attending the final rehearsals and first two performances of ‘Dorian Gray’ was a wonderful experience for me. The National Theatre of Slovakia was very kind to me, wonderful hosts, and it was a huge pleasure to meet the singers, the other performers, and the orchestra.  The creative team, led by director Nicola Raab and conductor Christopher Ward, did a fantastic job – staging an entirely new opera is no simple undertaking, and staging a new opera in English in central Europe was an feat of collaboration and good will.

I learned a few things about writing for opera – one thing that was unusual about this experience is that Lubica and I went from writing the work to a full production; I think, normally, most operas are workshopped or semi-staged before a full production will be staged. We were lucky in that we had the story of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ to provide us with a backbone for the opera – the story is a great driver for the production. With hindsight, I think I would have tried to get a few laughs in there – comedy is tricky in opera, but there is potential for physical comedy, certainly within the first scenes between Dorian and Sybil Vane. The story is so grim – as one audience member said to me, things start out bad, and then get worse – but a few jokes are always welcome. Of course the original text brims with Wilde’s wit and verve, but that’s hard to convey in a libretto; all the text of the libretto comes directly from the Wilde, but another audience member said to me, you can never understand what singers are singing, no matter what language.  The singers did an incredible job with learning to sing the English libretto – but at the end of the day, nobody goes to the opera because of the libretto, because of the words… it’s probably one of those things that you don’t ever think about apart from when it’s done badly.

Again, it was one of the great experiences of my life – both being involved in writing it, and then seeing it performed. And, when so much of my life is engaged with the digital, it was fab to spend a chunk of time fully immersed in a distinctly analogue world.

Speaking of digital, I’m now in China. Actual China. I’m here, though neither twitter nor facebook function here, so I’ll be blogging a bit more than usual, I suspect. 

Dorian Gray - the opera

6 November 2013 | Comments (0)

Today I attended a full dress rehearsal of ‘Dorian Gray’ at the lovely old opera house in Bratislava. I wrote my libretto in 2009-11, visiting Bratislava twice to work with Lubica Cekovska, the young Slovakian composer who has written the score. When Lubica came to London in 2011, she had written a fair amount of the music already, and she played it for me then on her computer, via the music software Sibelius. (If you ever need to find an example of a realm where the digital is a pale imitation of the analogue, this is it: nothing can beat a live orchestra.)

Nothing can beat a live orchestra, and it’s not every day you hear a large cast of singers actually singing the words-what-I-wrote. I found it difficult not to feel overwhelmed from the moment the first notes began to play. The artistic team, lead by Nicola Raab directing, and Christopher Ward, conducting, are doing a wonderful job of creating a strong, clear, story-led production - the staging is dramatic and it changes accordingly as the story gets darker, grimmer, and more relentless. As Eamonn Mulhall, one of the two Dorians (the other is Eric Fennell - there are two casts) said during the press conference today, five people die in this story - it’s ‘very intense’.

It was a good decision to have the two Dorians, a tenor role, played by two native English speakers. Singing in opera in English is difficult, but the rest of the cast, mainly Slovakians, is handling it very well, thanks to the guidance provided by the young conductor, Christopher Ward. (Everyone working on this production is young, apart from yours truly… today I found myself described as ‘experienced’ - works for me).

I’ll post some pictures once I have time. The one of the big banner on the front of the opera house with my official Slovakian name, Kate Pullingerovej, emblazoned on it is especially good.

Here’s a nice piece about the production.