Wednesday, 28 January 2015

'Shadowtime' by Brian Ferneyhough : full score and recording

Shadowtime is an opera in 7 scenes composed by Brian Ferneyhough from 1999 to 2004, with a libretto by Charles Bernstein, dealing with the philosopher Walter Benjamin. Commissioned by the City of Munich for the Münchner Biennale, it was first performed at the Prinzregententheater on May 25th, 2000.

The duration of the opera is about 2 hours. The full score of the opera was published by Edition Peters in 2004 (with the catalogue number EP 7788).

The score simply contains a 'Contents' page. There are no information about the complete opera : orchestral setting, cast, plot summary, world première. The website of the publisher doesn't include any helpful information. Luckily, the Münchener Biennale website has online archives with details about every opera that has been performed there. There you can find the complete cast (singers and orchestra), as well as pictures of performances.

Here is a sample :

This opera has a very special story, considering the scenes have been performed separately before the first complete performance in Munich. The score reflects this story by giving various information before each scene. The scenes have been published separately before. So there is a double numbering of the pages : starting from 1 for each scene at the top, and 'complete' from 1 to 432 at the bottom. The second scene is an instrumental piece for which the detailed instrumentation is given on page 70. The third scene, a choral piece with a small chamber ensemble, was first performed in New York. The fourth was first performed in Belgium, and is introduced with a 'Performance Note' and a 'Composer's Note'. The fifth scene, as announce on the contents page, is printed in the landscape format.

I wonder if during a performance, the conductor has to turn the score himself at this point. Most likely each scene is a different book (as listed on the publisher website), already in the right direction.

The sixth scene was commissioned by the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris. It is scored for a reciter and a small ensemble. The last scene was commissioned for the IRCAM, also in Paris.

After the first performances in Munich, the opera was performed in Nanterre (near Paris), London, New York, Bochum and Stockholm (only 3 scenes). The London performances (at the Coliseum, English National Opera) were recorded by NMC and then published as a double CD.

CD 1 : scenes 1-3 (64'42)
CD 2 : scenes 4-7 (62'02)

For this recording, Jurjen Hempel conducts the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and the Nieuw Ensemble, with Nicolas Hodges (piano and speaker) and Mats Scheidegger (guitar). The vocal parts are sung by members of the chorus : bass Ekkehard Abele (Walter Benjamin), soprano Angelika Luz (Innkeeper), soprano Monika Meier-Schmid (Dora Benjamin), sopranos Anja Paulus and Silke Storz (2 children), alto Janet Collins (Henry Gurland), tenor Martin Nagy (Hölderlin), bass Andreas Fischer (Gershom Scholem), bass Guillermo Anzorena (Young Walter Benjamin).

It is a pity that the publisher didn't seize the opportunity of publishing the score for including as a foreword the complete and detailed history of composition, commission and performance, rather than compiling previously existing scores. These scores also had to be printed all on the same size of paper, and the first scene has been printed in so small a print, it is impossible to decypher the vocal parts and any information giving by the composer. I wonder if there has been any proof reading of the actual score, which is almost useless !

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