Alan Cooper Reviews: Demimondaine


Friday, 28th October, 2016

Demimondaine is a short opera by composer, pianist and conductor John Frederick Hudson currently majoring in post graduate composition at Aberdeen University. This was the World Première of his latest work in a Concert Performance conducted deftly by the composer himself who has wide experience in the conducting of opera. He had managed to assemble a top class cast for his new work. Catriona Clark was a suitably glamorous choice for the role of the courtesan, Madame Marthe de Florian. Catriona has a well established opera and concert career and has performed alongside famous names like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Bryn Terfel among others. Giovani Boldini the painter who is to create her portrait and is in love with her was sung by a fine strong baritone Frank Church who won the prestigious Scottish Opera Noble Award in 2000. The supporting roles, Solange Beaugiron, Marthe’s granddaughter and her friend Armand were sung by Lesley-Anne Hastie, actor, musician and dancer and an impressive up and coming young tenor from the University, Matthew Burns.

Hudson had also assembled a first rate orchestra including seasoned musicians like cellist Gareth John, double bass player Scott Matheson, pianist Jeremy Coleman and the star of the orchestral players in this performance, percussionist Drew Andreatta.

I would have liked to have had a copy of the libretto by James Kenon Mitchell of the School of Music, West Virginia University. Like Stephen Sondheim, Mitchell is a seasoned musician as well as a librettist and has collaborated with Hudson before. The very resonant acoustic of St Andrew’s Cathedral is not kind especially to male voices. The girls came through far more clearly but I missed a lot of the dialogue. Maybe that does not matter too much since we often go to operas sung in languages we do not understand, Russian or Czech for example and we still are entranced by the music.

John Frederick Hudson’s score was magnificent. I was impressed at how he managed to put across quite violent crashes of timpani (Ian Christie) powerful piano runs (Jeremy Coleman) or thrilling complexities of tuned percussion (Drew Andreatta) without ever getting in the way of the voices.

The music was firmly within the tonal style but quite new and not like anything else I could pin down. That is a good thing because it means that John Frederick Hudson has developed his own unique musical voice and will be able to take it further in so many different ways. What about a symphony John, or ballet music perhaps?

Although this was promoted as a Concert Performance, there was a certain degree of staging with costumes and lighting which came across well creating an atmosphere for the piece. The story was complex with different time zones running together at the end which I thought was a fascinating touch. Perhaps there will be a chance for a fully staged version in the future when the Cowdray Hall comes back on line or perhaps the Arts Centre. We look forward to enjoying more from this excellent team.

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