Raves for Facing Goya in the US

Raves for Facing Goya in the US
The US premiere of director Ong Keng Sen's take on Facing Goya features (from far left) Thomas Michael Allen, Aundi Marie Moore, Suzanna Guzman, Anne-Carolyn Bird and Museop Kim.

More than 400 people stood to applaud Singapore director Ong Keng Sen's revival of the Michael Nyman opera Facing Goya on Sunday evening (Monday morning Singapore time).

A comic and surreal commentary on deluded science and the value of art, it premiered to a full house at the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina, as part of the ongoing Spoleto Festival USA.

The production is the first collaboration between Ong and well-known film composer Nyman, who wrote the score for the 1993 Academy Award-winning film The Piano.

On Aug 12, Facing Goya will open the Singapore International Festival of Arts, of which Ong is festival director. The Singapore show will feature the same five singers, including soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, a regular with the Metropolitan Opera.

The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra accompanied Sunday's performance, led by resident conductor John Kennedy, but in Singapore, he will work with Singapore Symphony Orchestra musicians.

Nyman, 70, was in the audience on Sunday. During the intermission of the two-hour show, he went over to Ong and hugged him.

Later, he went on stage with the cast and joined in the victory bow.

The British composer saw Facing Goya revived after more than a decade. Earlier in the day, he had said at a pre-show talk: "There was a production in 2000 in Spain, one or two in Germany, none in the last 10 years. We've been rescued or doomed by Spoleto."

Among possible concerns was the fact that Ong had shaved half an hour off the original production, which Nyman first put together with librettist Victoria Hardie just as scientists were finishing a map of the human genome.

Facing Goya was cutting edge at the time. It compares the clearly outdated science of craniometry, or deciding a human being's merit by the size of his head, with Hitler's idealising of a perfect blond Aryan body type.

It also holds up for ridicule the idea that genes can determine the worth of a human being and maybe even be used to clone artists such as early 19th-century painter Goya.

At the pre-show talk hosted by CBS correspondent Martha Teichner at the Charleston Library Society, Nyman said: "For me, it was an amazing research project. It's an opera that as soon as you've written it, it's out of date because the opera is not moving, but science is.

"I foolishly talked to Victoria about updating the text with current biological thinking. That was not a brilliant idea. In the time I take to write that, I could write another opera."

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