14 February 2020
I’ve been reading about Carmen lately, as I will be seeing it staged at the Royal Opera House next weekend. What really stood out to me was the story of its composer, Georges Bizet. His story is that of many successful people: repeated failures, over and over and over—yet he never gave up, and he never compromised.
Bizet was recognised as an outstanding pianist at a very early age and probably could have had a successful career as a concert pianist. But this is not what he wanted. He rarely played piano in public. What he wanted to be was a composer. Not just a composer, but one of original, genre-breaking works.
Unfortunately, the state-subsidised opera houses in Paris of the late 1800s preferred the established classical repertoire to the works of newcomers. They only wanted wholesome entertainment that would please the masses, not challenge them.
So, to earn a living, Bizet arranged and transcribed the music of others. Despite the long hours this type of work required, he still managed to write many keyboard and orchestral compositions in what spare time he had—most of which were largely ignored.
Finally, two of his operas managed to reach the stage (Les Pêcheurs de Perles and La Jolie Fille de Perth)—these were not successes. Several competition entries, including a cantata and a hymn composed for the Paris Exhibition of 1867, were also unsuccessful.
In June 1871, he was appointed as chorus-master at The Opéra, which was a much better day job. However, he either resigned or refused to take up the position as a protest against what he thought was the director's unjustified closing of Ernest Reyer's opera Erostrate after only two performances.
In 1873, Bizet began composing Don Rodrigue. He played a piano version to a select audience that included the Opéra's principal baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure, hoping that the singer's approval might influence the directors of the Opéra to stage the work. This was a success—until the Opéra burned to the ground and the directors set Don Rodrigue aside.
Still, Bizet got right back up and started working on Carmen, persevering though Opéra-Comique's management concerns about the suitability of this risqué story. Then early 1874, Adolphe de Leuven, the co-director of the Opéra-Comique most bitterly opposed to the Carmen project, resigned and the controversial piece was able to go into production.
And what a production it was. The orchestra had difficulties with the score, finding some parts unplayable. The chorus declared some of their music impossible to sing and were dismayed that they had to act as individuals, smoking and fighting onstage rather than merely standing in line as was traditionally done. Attempts by the Opéra-Comique to modify parts of the action which they deemed improper were ongoing. Bizet fought hard to retain his vision, though resolving all these issues delayed the first night.
Its breaking of conventions shocked and scandalized the audiences. Much of the press comment was predictably negative. The heroine was seen as an amoral seductress rather than a woman of virtue, the music had a lack of melody, and so on.
Carmen would go on to become one the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertoire. Musically, the "Habanera" from act 1 and the "Toreador Song" from act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias.
But to Bizet, Carmen was just another failure: "I foresee a definite and hopeless flop.” Bizet died suddenly of heart failure after the 33rd performance, unaware that the work would achieve international acclaim within the following ten years.
The music critic Harold C. Schonberg surmises that, had Bizet lived, he might have revolutionised French opera. I agree. I’m sure he would have.
15 November 2019
So exciting to get this in the post: a gift of original drawings from our friend and client, Brigitte. They are of costume designs from the musical Oklahoma. So gorgeous.
14 March 2019Hi MLE,I saw Mike Leigh's "The Pirates of Penzance" for the first time at the English National Opera almost two years ago and quite liked it. So, when I heard that Sasha Regan's version was coming to Wilton's Music Hall, I thought I'd go see how it compares. And I'm so happy I did. I loved it!The female characters are played by men, and this is largely what makes this version so memorable. It just works perfectly to emphasise Gilbert and Sullivan’s already funny libretto and overly feminine females and masculine males.The entire all-male cast is brilliant. To me, it was Alan Richardson as Ruth who stood out most. Her mouth says some things, while her face and body say something totally different. She is sensitive, ruthless and hilarious.The audience followed along with ease and enthusiasm, captivated from beginning to the standing ovation at the end. By comparison, I felt that Mike Leigh’s more traditional version was harder for the modern audience to properly appreciate, as it should.After the show, the energy of the happy crowd leaving the 160-year-old Wilton’s Music Hall made me wonder if this was what the original performances felt like, 140 years ago in New York.Yes, The Pirates of Penzance premiered in New York rather than London, which is odd, as Gilbert and Sullivan were Londoners and the script is very much British. There was quite a good reason for this. At the time, American law offered absolutely no copyright protection to foreigners. This lead to hundreds of American companies mounting unauthorised British productions that often took considerable liberties with the text and paid no royalties to the creators. Gilbert and Sullivan decided to open the production themselves on Broadway, and delay the publication of the score and libretto, so that others could not copy it. This was successful for about ten years, when they inevitably lost control of the copyrights again.Suzan
11 September 2018
I am so pleased to say that Brigitte's site is now live. Her work is amazing, Brigitte herself is absolutely lovely to work with. The gorgeous imagery is showcased in a fluid fashion that is easy to access for busy directors and agents.
Well, back to work after one of our busiest summers...
17 February 2017Hi MLE,
Creative Review design magazine complied a list of their Top 20 logos of all time, and it’s been really interesting to learn about these logos that have stood the test of time. I’ll share with you the main points of each one, starting with the National Theatre logo…Concept Development- Henrion himself, the founder of FHK Henrion’s London studio pitched a concept, but it was not chosen:- Instead the concept of one of his design assistants, Ian Dennis, was chosen. Inspiration was found in the “NT” on the cover of one of the trendy magazine’s of 1974, Avant Guard:
- The logo went through a number of iterations, luckily including the removal of a curved outline around the logo, because it was hard to reproduce in hand cut vinyl.- The official version just happened to echo the brutalist architecture of the National Theatre, though this was not intentional, as Denis had never even really seen the building as it was under construction at the time:Its Success- Practically, it is really great to use. It reads well and looks great in very small and very large sizes. Roughly square, it fits perfectly into landscape and portrait formats:- Over time, it was decided that the full name needs to be more prominent, so a much less memorable generic logo was created that is used most often:
Have a nice weekend!