By Alice Longhurst
What is opera? This seems an excellent question to ask given the situation the artform finds itself in today, hindered by falling audiences, financial distress, and apparent niche appeal. Bo Skovhus, the world renowned Danish baritone, has a beautifully simple answer. He defines opera as “words set to music”, a realisation which could hold the key to expanding our appreciation. The essence of any form of entertainment is that those on stage act to tell a story, and to stir emotions in the audience. Indeed, for Svokhus, it is almost as if those watching must ‘breathe’ with him, transported by the beauty of the poetry which initially inspired the composer.
Svokhus was speaking at the first of the Edinburgh International Festival’s Conversations with Artists series, in association with The Times. These events offer the opportunity to engage with this year’s performances and themes in an intimate setting, to glimpse the personality behind the voice on stage, and to ask questions of those who often seem untouchable to us untalented mere mortals. The talk followed Svokhus’ morning recital at The Queen’s Hall which included the epic Der Abschied from Mahler’s setting of ancient Chinese poetry, Das Lied von der Erde, and took the form of a conversation with Richard Morrison, The Times’ chief music critic.
Particularly valuable were the insights Svokhus gave into the pieces he had just performed, as he outlined the difficulties Mahler’s work presents the pianist, and the differences in intimacy and stimulation of audience imagination which distinguish recitals and full orchestral stagings. It was interesting, too, to learn of Svokhus’ background, of how his determination to become an opera singer eventually brought him success. Initially encouraged to train as a doctor, failure in an exam provided the impetus for Svokhus to pursue his dream. Today he is famous for his Lieder recitals, a particular type of songs based on poetic form composed by the likes of Schubert and Brahms as well as for his performances on the world’s greatest opera stages.
Conversations with Artists is a fantastic chance to get to know some of the world’s most talented artists and performers and gain precious insights into their work. The series continues until early September, with upcoming talks to be given by a diverse selection of musicians, choreographers, composers, and directors whose works are gracing the stages of Festival 2011.
You can catch Stephen Earnhart, writer and director of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle discussing his imaginative adaptation of celebrated Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name on Monday 22 August. The series concludes on 3 September with choreographer Shen Wei speaking about his contemporary dance trilogy Re-Triptych, exploring the creative fusion of East and West which influences his work, and which is present throughout this year’s International Festival programme.
Bo Skovhus Baritone
Richard Morrison Host
Saturday 13 August, 5pm, The Hub
Stephen Earnhart Writer and Director
Libby Purves Host
Monday 22 August, 5pm, The Hub
Shen Wei Choreographer
Jackie McGlone Host
Saturday 3 September, 5pm, The Hub