Thursday, 24 October 2013

Juranić - The Last Flower of Summer

Zoran Juranić - The Last Flower of Summer

Serbian National Theatre, Novi Sad, Serbia - 2013

Zoran Juranić, Christophe Poncet, Jelena Končar, Miodrag Petrović, Miljenko Đuran, Violeta Srećković, Goran Krneta, Vasa Stajkić, Igor Ksionžik, Ivan Dajić, Darija Olajoš Čizmič

Armel Opera Festival - Szeged - ARTE Live Web - 7th October 2013

The question of musical precedents and references must undoubtedly come up in any modern opera that draws from the historical operatic tradition. The principal influences on the musical language of any modern work that operates in a form that is largely tonal and is not of the minimalist school can often be found in the impressionistic touches of Debussy, with something of the freer form and dissonance of Alban Berg. You might find some musical influence of those composers in Croatian composer Zoran Juranić's The Last Flower of Summer, but the influence and their significance perhaps extends beyond the musical to the actual drama itself.

Pelléas et Mélisande inevitably comes to mind for example at the start of The Last Flower of the Summer when a man, Mr Bert, on his way home one night discovers a mystery woman lying on the street, with no name and uncertain where she has come from. It seems clear however that she has been abducted and has escaped from the clutches of two shadowy figures seen in the background. It's not the only thing shadowy about the story, the characters or the world they live in. From the watchful policeman, to the inquisitive lady walking the street and the interfering landlady of his apartment block, Mr Bert has some difficulty in bring the mystery woman back to his room in order to offer her some help.

Or is there a deeper attraction and motive at work here, perhaps without Mr Bert even realising it? Certainly he doesn't resist when Miss No-Name strips down and seduces him using her obvious charms, but Bert is also undoubtedly attracted by the romantic allure of the exotic and mysterious background she relates to him, particularly the line of poetry that she claims to have improvised at the moment - "If I fall at your feet, pick me up like the last flower of Summer".  It soon transpires however that the poem was not improvised and that there are further lines, just as there are many other mysterious figures and men in the troubled journey that has taken her to Mr Bert.

With a crazed and distraught armed Russian soldier called Vladimir on the streets looking for a missing woman, and a story that has taken NN from Monte Carlo to Venice and beyond, first with a wealthy industrialist Carlo and then with Lorenzo, a knife thrower, it seems that we could be dealing with a Lulu here rather than a Mélisande. There are even discussions between Mr Bert and the woman about opera and the elaborate love stories that they construct, suggesting further that there is some self-referentiality about all this. When it is revealed that NN's story is itself largely fictional and that even the poem is derived from a woman's magazine, this does suggest that the opera works on a meta-level that acknowledges outside influences. On the other hand, the opera can be seen as dealing with the nature of love itself, of meeting a stranger, getting to know them and falling in love, then finding out that you can never know the whole person or the whole story as it falls apart and one's certainties start to unravel.

The Last Flower of Summer was premiered in March 2013 at the Serbian National Theatre of Novi Sad, and the production - directed and conducted by the composer Zoran Juranić himself - is presented here at the 2013 Armel Opera Festival. The staging is necessarily basic, needing to be all-purpose and simplified to not require any major scene changes for the purposes of the opera festival. The entire work is presented in the form of a related story that takes place behind a mesh screen, narrated by an older Mr Bert (in a non-singing role) sitting reflecting on the events in the past at a table with a typewriter. Other than a bed and some portable open-doors, there's not much in the way of set decoration, but Juranić's set employs a see-saw platform at the back of the stage that fulfils most additional dramatic requirements.

The main purpose of the staging here at the Armel Opera Festival is to provide an opportunity to judge the performances of two of the competition singers. Having previously performed in Latin in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, the French tenor Christophe Poncet demonstrates his versatility here by singing in Croatian, and he seems to manage it exceptionally well. Serbian soprano Jelena Končar's role as NN is however rather more challenging vocally, dramatically and for the fact that she's singing constantly for a large part of the 90 minutes of the opera. If there was a prize for most daring performance Končar would walk away with it, stripping down and singing before a passionate love scene, baking a lasagne, and even working as an assistant for a knife-thrower (it looked like it was done for real), but her singing ability is impressive on its own and she really took command of the role. Her performance deservedly won her the Best Female Performer at the Festival.

The Armel Opera Festival performance of The Last Flower of Summer can be viewed for free for six months after the performance on the ARTE Live Web streaming service. Subtitles are French only.