Thoughts on composing, teaching and performing music, by Fergus Black

A concert opera on stage with orchestra

Unstaged Opera

My wife and I have been to the opera. But we prefer to go to unstaged opera: that's when an orchestra gives an orchestral concert, but instead of playing an overture, concerto and symphony, they play an opera instead, with the soloists standing out front.

There are a number of reasons for this: one is cost: we went the other night to see Der Rosekavalier at Birmingham in May 2014, with an absolutely stellar cast. We sat in the middle of the stalls, and the tickets were less than £40. It was wonderful - surely the bargain of the year (1).

Another reason is that in a concert setting, you can get quite close to the singers. If it were up to me, I would sit in the front row, and look up adoringly at the soloists, but Mrs B. insists on a being a few rows back. It is still closer than we could be in an opera house.

We do, of course, have to mug up beforehand on the synopsis: in the show the other night, there were various remarks addressed to characters who were not actually on stage: since it is unstaged there is no need to show non-singing/speaking players.

We also rather like the voice. We like THE VOICE. I teach singing, so it is understandable. In a concert setting, one can concentrate on the voice, and appreciate the artistry.

Finally, and it is the main reason we go to Birmingham and the CBSO, is to hear Andris Nelsons and the orchestra. He is amazing: the way he balances the sound and shapes the music, both on a micro and a macro level, is breathtaking. He is leaving, unfortunately, in a year's time, to go to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Lucky them.

(1) Soile Isokoski, Alice Coote, FranzHawlata, Sophie Bevan in the main roles.

(2) Emphatically we do NOT prefer unstaged opera because modern directors muck around with the staging. I know other people hate that, but we actually quite like the extra layer of interpretation that a bold "Director's Opera" can lend to an already great work.

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