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Love List:
Chamber Opera

by Jack Symonds, Artistic Director of Sydney Chamber Opera

Love List is our new Spotify series where we ask friends of the Opera House to curate a playlist dedicated to a subject of their choice.

This week, Sydney Chamber Opera's Artistic Director Jack Symonds introduces us to the chamber opera genre and beyond, in this playlist featuring key repertoire and some of the company's favourite works to perform.

Discover the unexpected side of opera in this Love List before tuning into Sydney Chamber Opera's performance of Janáček's hauntingly beautiful song cycle Diary of One Who Disappeared. Streaming on demand from Saturday 10 October, 8pm AEDT, exclusive to our digital season.

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Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, JW V/12: No. 11, Con moto "Tahne vuna k lesu"

"It was a pleasure to stage this strange, beautiful song cycle/pocket opera by Leoš Janáček at the Opera House. A titan of grand opera in the first half of the 20th century, Janáček's extraordinary music and sense of time is still enormously influential with composers today. Diary of One Who Disappeared is a small-scale work that perfectly exemplifies what SCO loves to do."

▷ Britten: Rape of Lucretia, Act II, Scene II: Lucretia! O, never again must we two dare to part 

"Benjamin Britten's Lucretia is arguably the first true 'chamber opera' in the sense that all the voices and small instrumental ensemble are treated as genuine chamber music - like a string quartet capable of all the intensity and range of much larger operas. SCO staged it in 2017 and this beautiful and tragic scene is achieved with only two singers, cor anglais and string quintet."

 Britten: The Turn of the Screw Op. 54, Act 2, Scene 2: The Bells (Governess/Mrs. Grose/Miles/Flora)

"More Britten, and another remarkable, economical scene from The Turn of the Screw with an ensemble cast and the accompaniment often reduced to a virtuoso tubular bells part! This is the opera that made SCO want to master and specialise in this repertoire."

▷ Henze: Scenes From "Elegy For Young Lovers"

"Henze was another dominant opera composer in the second half of the 20th century, and Elegy for Young Lovers is a chamber piece of rarefied beauty and translucent sound. This aria sits at its cold heart."

▷ Tippett: King Priam: Act II Scene 2: O rich-soiled land (Achilles)

"Tippett was able to achieve Britten-like economy and intensity in his granitic and wrenching version of King Priam. This is an aria Achilles sings to his lover Patroclus for just two gently intertwining lines of tenor and guitar. We can't wait to do this piece one day!"

Sydney Chamber Opera's Diary of One Who Disappeared. Image: Craig Wall

▷ Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse: Part 1: Prologue: The Court of Enquiry (Officer 1, Officer 2, Officer 3) 

"Skipping forward a generation, Maxwell-Davies's The Lighthouse is simply a superb chamber opera for three singers and virtuoso instrumental ensemble in the extreme. The opening of this piece demonstrates all its virtues of immediacy, pungency and drama. SCO performed this in 2012 in an unforgettable production by Kip Williams."

▷ Sciarrino: Luci mie traditrici, Act I: A respirar ritorno

"An utterly different sound world now: Sciarrino's hushed, skittering lines in Luci mie traditrici evoke the Renaissance world of Carlo Gesualdo seen through a new kind of Italian modernism. Unique in every respect, and high on the list for us to perform."

▷ Kurtág: ...Pas à pas - nulle part... For Baritone Solo, String Trio And Percussion, Op.36: 34. Asking For Salve And Solace

"Kurtág is simply one of the world's great living artists. At 92, he's still going strong and staging this profound Beckett song cycle in 2014 was a SCO highlight. The history of Western music is compressed into his tiny fragments of sound-memory."

 Glass: In the Penal Colony, Scene 2

"Philip Glass is one of the most recognised and recognisable living composers. We staged his Kafka adaptation of In the Penal Colony in 2012 and it was a key early success for the company."

 Romitelli: An Index Of Metals: X. Hellucinations 2/3, Risingirl - Earpiercingbells

"Romitelli's wild and blistering An Index of Metals received its first staging with SCO in 2015, continuing the company's long relationship with Jane Sheldon. This unclassifiable 'opera' is quite the ride."

Sydney Chamber Opera's An Index of Metals. Image: Zan Wimberley

▷ Adès: Powder Her Face (an Opera in two acts) Op.14, Act I, Scene 4: Nineteen thirty-six: ...mm..ah!...Room service?

"Adès's scandalous and addictive early opera Powder Her Face is now international repertory. This is its most (in)famous aria."

▷ Kancheli: Exil: 4. Psalm

"Out of the gutter, Kancheli's gravely beautiful song cycle Exil was SCO's first collaboration with theatre maker Adena Jacobs in 2013, and this tragic setting of Paul Celan encapsulates his trademark darkness and luminosity."

▷ Benjamin: Into the Little Hill, Pt. 2: VII. The Minister and the Stranger, His Head Lies On His Desk - Between the Family Photograph

"George Benjamin's Into the Little Hill is simply a modern masterpiece, which SCO performed in 2014. A retelling of the Pied Piper by post-dramatic iconoclast Martin Crimp, the two singers flicker between roles with tremendous virtuosity and the magical sound Benjamin conjures from 15 instruments has to be heard to be believed."

▷ Saariaho: La Passion de Simone: Final Station: Par ta mort, tout ce que tu avais dit

"SCO performed Kaija Saariaho's La Passion de Simone, an otherworldly meditation on Simone Weil, in 2019 and the spell this music casts is like no other. Every sung and played detail contributes to a sound that behaves almost like a living organism."

▷ Dusapin: O Mensch!: Der Wanderer 

"Dusapin is a leading living French composer who SCO featured in 2016 with two different stage works. O Mensch! for baritone and piano is, like the Janáček, a total distillation of song cycle and stage work and the perfect way to link back to the beginning of this Love List."

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