2015 – a year of swimming pools, flying beds, glamping, science operas for kids, and finally, a chorus of dancing radishes.
Yes, I´ve been to Lyon, where the opera´s Christmas show – Offenbach´s Le Roi Carotte – defied all expectations by providing, astonishingly, a salutary and political lesson for all vegetarians: elect a carrot king, and you will end up as puree.
But one cannot but love an opera with lines like ”Tais-toi, legume affreux!” – surely one´s go-to insult for the New Year? In brief, the opera involves the witch Coloquinte, Cunegonde, Rosee du Soir – a captured princess – and everything from Ethiopian clowns to dragonflies. The story swerves from Pompeii and erupting Vesuvius, various escapades with a magic ring (much more fun than Wagner´s), the land of insects, and features a character called Pipertrunck whose identity I never quite figured. Laurent Pelly´s production relished every mad innuendo and as an insight into the whimsy of French humour, the evening was unbeatable. And ah, the sense of style: we had oysters at the post-performance party served with dainty little cartons of …. grated carrot.
Here at Bergen National Opera, awash with prosaic cups of coffee, we sit a little stunned by 2015´s achievements. Oliver Mear´s beautiful cruise ship Don Giovanni opened the year, full of unforgettable images of gorgeous costumes and sophisticated movement, with incredible refined singing from a chic young cast. Hanna Husahr, a heavily pregnant Zerlina danced on tables and Henk Neven, elegant to the last, plunged to his end in what surely must be the first swimming pool on stage in Grieghallen. And it was heated, much to the relief of Henk´s nether regions…
Our programme continued, merry with pop-up performances, children exploring environmental themes, a great show for teenagers with Don G´s three women exploring the vagueries of love, wonderful performances at our monthly Opera Pub from singers of every kind – a rare series of gathering which truly brings Bergen´s sometimes disparate musical community together – evenings at Grand Terminus Hotel where opera, champagne and dinner intermingle, talks, lectures and discussions, and our first festival Mimi goes Glamping, which certainly deserves a new paragraph.
Together with our great colleagues at Åmot Opera Farm, we decided to explore the up-market rock festival model – think Wilderness or Latitude – but instead, to build the festival with opera where all the lifestyle components: yoga, food, masterclasses, workshops, would create a weekend of intriguing activities. So August, in blazing sunshine, saw a weekend of wonder. Our marvellous Unge Stemmer – BNO´s young student singers in the thick of their overseas studies – played a critical role as troubadours, guides and a capella jingle singers, and a roster of international artists provided opera, cabaret, masterclasses and incredible generosity. Local producers and makers swarmed around, the air wafted with the scent of cheese and smoked fish, a grand old boat drifted sleepily on the fjord leaving a trail of soprano melody, and we swayed, late-night, to baroque violin, to silvery Sondheim, to Puccini.
Then back to Grieghallen, for our revival of Benjamin Britten´s Midsummer Night´s Dream in the mesmeric Robert Carsen production. 18 small boys and 2 little girls played the demonic fairies, a cast of utter beauty sang to perfection, and Puck, the bouncing, elastic, dynamo Miltos Yerolemou, stole everyone`s heart. True magic. Beds flew, imaginations took wing, hearts fluttered and a dusting of dark glitter lingered long after curtain-fall.
So let´s end with Puck´s closing words – good night unto you all, he says. Not night, but the evening of a year. On, now to the dawn of another, to more music to more marvellous sounds and sights. Our 2016 promises to be exciting. We hope the very same for you too, with happiness and success thrown in. Thank you to all our collaborators, to Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edvard Grieg Kor and all those who build, make, light and stitch.