[kj] KJ Theatre

nicholas fitzpatrick gasw30 at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 27 09:37:05 EDT 2004

More press, this time an article by an opera director. Brief reference near 
the beginning to KJ music used on stage. Any info anyone?

>>>>Copyright 2004 Guardian Newspapers Limited
The Guardian (London) - Final Edition

HEADLINE: Saturday Review: Arts edited by Michael Nyman: Street sounds: 
Opera is elitist and boring, says Jonathan Moore. And it's time directors 
did something about it

'Would you like to direct an opera?" It was probably the most unexpected and 
bizarre question I had ever been asked. The person asking it was Hans Werner 
Henze, one of our most prolific contemporary composers. Opera a speciality.

I was in my mid-20s and had seen only one opera, Il Trovatore . I was on a 
school trip and I loathed it. The closest I had come to music theatre since 
then was directing plays with new music by Killing Joke or Test Dept, the 
industrial group who smashed out percussive rhythms using wrecked cars and 
machinery. My musicians were more likely to ask "How long do you want the 
white noise?" than "Do you want this in E flat?"

And here was Hans Werner Henze, plying me with vodka and asking me if I 
would like to direct an opera. I declined. He asked why. With the absolute 
tact of a drunk twentysomething, I replied: "Because it's boring, bourgeois, 
elitist, establishment, exclusive and has nothing to say to the man on the 

Henze smiled. "My dear, I agree with you. That's why people like you should 
be directing opera."

He introduced me to Mark-Anthony Turnage, a young composer who shared my 
love of George Clinton, Test Dept, Miles Davis and Bootsy Collins. He didn't 
want to work in opera either. "But when Henze asks," he said, "you gotta do 
it." That's how we came to create Greek , an opera updating the Oedipus 
legend to contemporary London. We hoped it would cause an uproar, a 
first-night punch-up like that inspired by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring . 
Instead, we got a standing ovation for 12 minutes. I was hooked. I had 
discovered an amazing art form - a powerful synthesis of music, acting, 
poetry, design and dance - and I wanted everyone to share it.

Friends in theatre couldn't understand why I had been lured by the siren 
song of this exotic - and elitist - medium. But I had realised that opera 
was, like beer, curry or football, an acquired taste. A football virgin 
watching second-division teams play a goalless draw in the rain wouldn't 
grasp the potential for sheer genius at a top-level European match. However, 
if what they saw was good, they might start to get interested and go again.

Opera is the football of the ruling class. The ruling classes like to think 
of it as their game. And it occurred to me that asking Mark and me - both 
from working-class families - to work on an opera was Henze's way of 
conducting a political experiment in social anthropology. People like me, he 
had said, should be directing opera.

I had become convinced of the importance of reaching a wider audience with 
opera. The challenge was to clarify and share this mad, exquisite art form. 
To reach people without oversimplifying; to employ complex semiology to 
express the profound philosophical truths of our time, but in a way that 
could inspire everyone. No pressure there then.

The ruling classes, however, enjoy the elitism of opera. As a result, the 
opera world is full of age-old rituals and little rules. I was breaking 
those rules constantly, without even realising it. One company warned me not 
to fight the system. My revolutionary act? I had asked if I could audition 
more than one singer for a leading role.

Yet singers can be directed in the same way as actors. Indeed, the best 
singers are sometimes the best actors. But there are also a lot of singers 
who just want to "stand and deliver". For them, the beauty of the voice is 
all and to hell with the staging. It's a director's duty to demolish this 

If a singer is to enter the stage masturbating while swinging from a 
chandelier and singing an aria, the director has to find a way to make it 
work. Opera has to be dragged into the 21st century with spiritual and 
intellectual rigour, with the energy of the streets and even the music of 
the streets. The challenge is there - all opera directors ought to accept 

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