How Glasgow found an opera hitNews
There have been critical cheers across the board – 5 stars in the Times, 4 in the Telegraph – for Scottish Opera’s revival of Osvaldo Golijov’s neglected opera Ainadamar.
It might well be the UK’s best contemporary opera of the year.
But how did it come about?
The hand behind the venture is John Berry’s. John’s fundraising organisation Opera Ventures has previously organised productions of Mark Turnage’s Greek and Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking The Waves in Scotland.
John is former chief executive of English National Opera. He has international backers.
ENO is floundering.
John Berry’s independently financed operas are flourishing.
Lessons to be learned?
Not in London, apparently.
John Berry was removed from ENO in 2015 after the ACE were so appalled by his constant artistic and financial incompetence that they reduced the grant by a third. He had many more million pound failures than he had successes. His Terry Gilliam Into the Woods nearly lost its west end transfer as it is so overbudgeted and poorly staged. He doesn’t have ‘international backers’ Norman – he has suspect Russian money and was still trying to get opera projects made in Russia after Putin invaded Ukraine- he is completely ethically questionable. Everyone who knows anything in the business knows Berry destroyed ENO financially with minimal artistic output that was good. Why ACE let the actions of this man define their funding level after he had been fired is appalling.
The only people who constantly advocate for ENO’s closure want their mission of “opera is for everyone’ obliterated so that only the rich and wealthy at the Royal Opera remain. ACE should stop punishing ENO for Berry’s incompetence immediately and raise their grant. I was at a brilliant Tosca performance last week- outstanding production -2000 audience there of all ages and background. The members of the ROH management constantly say privately that they don’t need the ACE’s 24 million pounds- they should give it back then! The ACE know all this – you are really foolish to think they don’t know the value of ENO Norman. It is the ACE who will be a disgrace if ENO goes.
The opera has been performed by Tanglewood, Santa Fe, Ravinia, Boston, Adelaide, Cincinnati, Curtis, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Granada, and Madrid, among others. I don’t think the Scottish Opera is exactly breaking new ground or taking some sort of novel leap.
Ainadamar is a good opera, but in general when it comes to new works, the opera world seems to rely too strongly on what was described in the early days of modernism as feuilletonism, titillations created by superficial transgressions and facile novelties. What Walter Benjamin saw as shallow misdemeanors to fuel journalist chatter. It increasingly seems that without this chatter, a new opera can’t succeed. As Karl Kraus wrote in a satirical poem in 1922, “In the beginning was the press, and then the world appeared.” And of course, we know that if there were any true transgressions, the press would remain silent.
I saw Ainadamar at Granada as well as Glasgow. In Granada, the audience already understood Lorca’s life and tragic death.They knew his family. They campaigned for a public holiday on the anniversary of Marianna Pineda’s death. So I was thrilled when the Glasgow audience responded so passionately to the piece.
It was an excellent production, and it should have been launched at the Edinburgh Festival. So much better than The Jungle Book or Burn.
Interesting that you got to see the reaction in both places. Many do not know that Spain has the second most mass graves in the world, behind only Cambodia. There are over 2000. Some of the mass graves are from the Spanish Civil War, but many are from Franco’s mass murder campaign which was called The White Terror. The goal was to create a country based on Franco’s fascist concept of “limpieza social” which he felt would create a country with a pure kind of conservative Catholicism. This led to the mass murder of liberals, leftists, Protestants, intellectuals, homosexuals, Romanis, Jews, and regional nationalists. The killing and mass burials of people viewed as enemies of the state began immediately upon the Nationalists’ capture of a place. The Roman Catholic Church legitimized the mass murder by the Civil Guard (national police) and the Falange as the defense of Christendom. Fortunately, three years after Franco’s death, Spain became a democratic constitutional monarchy and is today a relatively healthy democracy which is a testament to the Spanish people.
It was the company I was in as a singer, and for Scotland – as opposed to London, Britain or the UK – ground breaking. I shall get on a train from Leeds, 220 miles away, and see it.
Well done, John!