Last year around this time, I went to the Royal Opera House in Stockholm to see their recurring anthology project ”Short Stories”: three short operas by three composers, a project with the aim to inspire composers to write more full-length operas.
This year’s triple threat consisted of Ada by Christofer Elgh and Sigrid Herrault, about English mathematician Ada Lovelace and what appeared to be her troubled relationship with her parents; Morfar, kom ut (Grandpa, come out) by Kristina Forsman and Ann-Sofie Bárány, about an older man who allows himself to plumb the unexplored dephts of his sexuality; and Bagatelle by Martin Virin, about the fake electors plot in the most recent U.S. general election.
All three of the stories were interesting in their own right and were told in quite different ways. Ada was surreal, almost like a dream, with meandering music that didn’t seem to have much progression or momentum, most of the time. It was simply but beautifully staged, though, with Ada’s parents – Lord Byron and Lady Byron – dressed up like marble statues come to life.
Morfar, kom ut was billed as ”the comedy of the evening” by the presenter at the opera, which I ultimately felt was a rather misleading nominator after I had seen the opera myself. Sure, it was the most comical of the three, but simply labelling it a ”comedy” was insultingly reductive. It was a funny story, and the four singers played their roles brilliantly, but it was also poignant and touching.
Grandpa Gunnar was played as genuinely sweet and, well, grandfatherly. His lover, Gábor, appeared larger than life, flamboyant but in a nuanced manner, not at all like a caricature. The grandchild, Greta, even called Gábor out on his mannerisms by at one point telling the mother, Gunilla, that Gábor ”acts like an opera singer”. Touché. The singer who played Greta also delighted me by playing an eight-year-old with believable mannerisms (and great writing by the librettist) and without overplaying it. The frustrated, overworked mother Gunilla, was also played both for laughs but also with an honest core that made her part more than just comic relief.
I thought that composer Kristina Forsman’s music for Morfar, kom ut was colourful and varied, with sufficient room for the singers within the orchestration. She had no memorable melodies or arias in a more traditional sense, but the score consistently fit well with the narrative.
I also quite enjoyed Bagatelle by Martin Virin, who wrote both the music and the libretto. The plot centred around a mother and her teenage daughter living in Michigan, watching the electorate certification process on television. This setup gave Virin a natural opportunity for the mother to tell her daughter (and by extension us, the audience) about the U.S. election system – clever.
Virin’s dialogue was well-written and flowed naturally in the music, again composed in a sort of arioso fashion, like Forsman forgoing any distinctive melodies or singable themes, but still writing interesting and quite fitting music. Virin had a handful of clearly recurring musical ideas that I picked out, but nothing that I found too interesting or memorable after only seeing the opera once. I liked his narrative structure as well; at the peak, the story cut to where the ”alternate” (read: fake) electors try to force themselves inside the Lansing, Michigan capitol building. Finally, it cuts back to the mother watching TV at home, clutching her pillow, musing on what will happen in the near future…
I am really happy I took the chance to go see this year’s edition of Short Stories. It has been an annual project for a time but will apparently continue bi-annually, the next triptych set to premiere in 2025. Who knows what we will get to see and hear then!
In other news, I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have two different concerts coming up this summer. One of them I discussed briefly in that earlier blog post: I am reuniting with bassoonist Sebastian Stevensson and pianist Henrik berg, this time in Härnösand Cathedral, on July 26th – save the date! Sebastian and Henrik will perform sonatas for bassoon and piano by myself and Charles Koechlin, Henrik and I will perform my two Tranströmer Songs, and I and Sebastian will premiere a brand new duet for voice and bassoon! Again, July 26th – save the date!
The other concert I did not discuss earlier is July 19th, and while I don’t have a leading role I look forward to that concert just as much as the latter one. Last year, I subbed in with renowned baroque ensemble Ensemble Villancico for a concert trip to Spain. That trip is one of the most fun and exciting musical experiences I’ve had in a long time. So I was thrilled when they asked me to sub in again this summer, doing the same programme as last year, but this time at a Swedish venue.
On that note, Ensemble Villancico recently released a brand-new album that features not all but most of the repertoire we will be performing. If you need an injection of joy in your life, you could do well worse than firing up your music streaming platform of choice and checking out ¡Fiesta Barroca Latina! – I particularly recommend the songs Venimo con glan contento or perhaps Oigan, escuchen, atiendan.