Rocky road to the contemporary opera

TONY COOPER Glyndebourne Opera comes to Norwich Theatre Royal next month bringing with it a groundbreaking new work about sex, drugs and violence – taboo subjects, perhaps, but one that promises an exciting and action-packed show. Tony Cooper reports. Glyndebourne dates at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

TONY COOPER

As in life, you just can't afford to live in the past and rest on your laurels. The same goes for those working in the field of opera. You have to progress and companies have to nurture and encourage new talent. And Glyndebourne - being the progressive and enlightened company as it is - does this extremely well. It allows present-day composers to have their say and their fair share of the cake.

The company was proudly founded on Mozart but you just can't live on a diet of Da Ponte alone. It'll give you indigestion! Commissioning and being up to date with new ideas and practices is paramount to their existence.

And on a visit to Glyndebourne in the summer - in anticipation of their forthcoming visit to Norwich (November 8-12) - I was pleased to see a work from the traditional repertoire along with a revival of a work they commissioned in 1998. I was transported back to the 18th century and brought bang up to date with the present. The Time Machine was working overtime.


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And both operas I saw couldn't be more different. But they had one thing in common; they had the Glyndebourne stamp of excellence printed all over them. And it was good enough for me.

Now comes the test of another challenging new piece written especially for Glyndebourne on Tour by John Lunn, a composer more used to writing for cinema and television.

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You may not know his name but you've most probably heard (and liked) his music.

His credits are striking and include the films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, while his librettist, Stephen Plaice, is a regular television scriptwriter and wrote the screenplay for the Bafta-nominated short The Last Post.

Lunn's opera, Tangier Tattoo, is an innovative piece of writing and is described as an operatic thriller with a cinematic storyline and recounts the story of a young backpacker in Morocco who, unwittingly, throws himself into a steamy relationship with a US spy - with dire and drastic consequences.

The production promises an adrenaline-pumping evening fuelled by a cutting-edge soundtrack influenced by contemporary rock bands such as Radiohead. It also fuses a 34-piece orchestra with modern electronic forms and reunites the artistic team behind the critically-acclaimed Glyndebourne education productions: Misper - Misplaced Person (1997) and Zoë (2000).

The award-winning cast includes young opera stars Roland Davitt and Katherine Rohrer in the leading roles as well as seasoned performers such as Julian Forsythe, Omar Ebrahim and Jonathan Best.

Tangier Tattoo is a whirlwind love story set against the volatile backdrop of sex, drugs and violence. The scenario centres round young British backpacker Nick and American tourist Nadine, who witness a drug feud outside a café in which two European dealers are gunned down.

A bag containing the money for the deal ends up in their possession and they decide that they are going to have the time of their lives and paint the town red. But things don't go according to plan. They soon find out that life isn't that rosy and the people they're dealing with are no ordinary drug dealers either. And Nick also discovers that Nadine, to his horror, is no ordinary tourist.

The plot thickens!

But for those wanting the more traditional repertoire, the company is travelling with two delightful and popular works: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Rossini's La Cenerentola.

And on this tour it's the last chance to catch Graham Vick's acclaimed production of Figaro, first seen in the 2000 festival and last seen in Norwich in 2001.

The raison d'etre of Glyndebourne on Tour is to give young and promising singers and conductors an opportunity to progress their careers. They fulfil this role admirably. On this tour Thomas Rosner makes his Glyndebourne conducting debut with a young cast headed by Iain Paterson in the title role while the love of his life, Susanna, is sung by Anna Maria Panzarella. Jeremy Carpenter, a rising young English bass, sings lecherous old Count Almaviva.

Kate Royal sings the role of the long-suffering Countess. Completing the cast are Anne Mason (Marcellina), Amy Freston (Cherubino) and Harry Nicoll (Don Basilio).

La Cenerentola, however, gives Norwich audiences the first opportunity of seeing this starry production from this year's festival. Lynne Hockney is reviving Peter Hall's production for the tour.

Christine Rice sings the title-role of Angelina. She is a wonderful singer and received glowing praise as Irene in Theodora, seen in Norwich in 2002 as well as in the title-role of Carmen produced in 2003. The music director of Glyndebourne on Tour, Edward Gardner, conducts.

It promises a good week by a company that has always had Norwich on its tour schedule since starting out on the road in 1971. It has brought us a big taste of the Sussex Downs and Tangier Tattoo will, hopefully, find its way there in much the same way as Jonathan Dove's Flight and Harrison Birtwistle's Last Supper did.

Glyndebourne dates at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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