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Ezra Pound’s anti-Debussy opera to receive UK premiere

November 28, 2015 by norman lebrecht

4 comments.


Le Testament de Villon, an opera written in 1920s Paris by the American poet as a revolt against musical impressionism, can be seen in London next month as part of Igor Toronyi-Lalic’s contemporary music festival. The production is billed at the UK premiere of the original version, though the piece does not have much of a performance history.

Its rhythms are said to be more complex than Rite of Spring.

Igor writes:

Le Testament had its first complete premiere on BBC radio in 1933, Antheil converting the “two tins and washboard” into a small orchestra. Not that Pound was enthusiastic about the results: “The god damn bastard who sang Villon has no savagery whatsoever. Vegetarian.”

The music for Testament is gruff, untutored and wild, and all the more compelling for it. The ferocious aria of the ancient prostitute Heaulmiere, her lips withered, breasts shrivelled, hits you right between the eyes. Pound called it the “fireworks” of the piece. It wasn’t to be his only operatic attempt. He began two other operas, Cavalcanti and Collis o Heliconii. They were never completed.

Tickets here.

ezra pound

(c) Lebrecht Music&Arts


Comments (4)

  1. Eddie Mars says:

    Pelléas et Mélisande has been summarised as “Nothing happens. It happens for 2.5 hours”.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      These 2.5 hours are filled to the brim with events, with serious implications for the human condition, but all the blown-up extraversies of conventional opera turned outside-in, which means that deaf and blind people remain in their silent darkness. Together with Mozart’s Da Ponte operas it is the perfect operatic experience with music without one single weak moment.

      1. Alessandro Talevi says:

        Well put… P&M is the opera that sums up the human condition.

  2. James Vaughan says:

    Fascinating. I never knew he composed. Does anyone know of a recording of this, or of any other of his works?


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