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S&H Opera Report

TOSHIO HOSOKAWA Vision of Lear and Portrait Concert, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 31 Jan & 1 February 2002 (PGW)

Toshio Hosokawa
's economical chamber opera Vision of Lear (Munich 1998), about a bardophile Japanese office worker (Nicholas Garrett) having a nervous breakdown in a corporation undergoing radical restructuring, recapped the story of Shakespeare's King Lear, inevitably bringing back to mind Aribert Reimann's Lear, a notable success at Munich, ENO and on CD. Hosokawa (b.1955) relied on vocal declamation with falsetti etc, which at this British premiere sounded dated and his whole modernist idiom rather stale, although the strong cast of singers did all they could for it. Instrumental strengths lay in the use of Japanese techniques (half-blown winds, extended techniques for strings and harp, dominant percussion) by the 10 part Modern Band under Gregory Rose - rather generalised atmospheric music, its quieter subtleties swallowed by the Linbury's noisy air conditioning. The staging was sharply conceived (Mike Jardine) and directed (Harry Ross) with the lighting especially imaginative (Ben M Rogers). A brave enterprise but not an opera to join the repertoire.

The hope that a Portrait Concert the next day would provide a more representative overview of Hosokawa (whose second opera has been commissioned for the Salzburg Festival) was dashed by the similarity of the four refined chamber music pieces, presented with dedicated expertise by musicians of Modern Band and assistant conductor John Page. The intrusive air conditioning noise had wisely been abated for the few present, without compromising the sufficiency of air, but talking outside the studio disturbed ears tuned into this minimal music. Nor could there be any question of taking notes - the scratch of a pen would have broken the spell. For their greatest part, we heard elegantly crafted wisps of sound at the threshold of audibility - think of a lute or a clavichord in a large auditorium. Is it coincidence that the Honorary President of Modern Band is Salvatore Sciarrino?

Peter Grahame Woolf

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