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Nero and The Fall of Lehman Brothers (2016)

The unprecedented financial collapse of 2008, set amidst scheming trading floors of Wall Street and the forces of gods and love of imperial ancient Rome, are cast in a dynamic and beautiful musical landscape.

Constructed entirely from libretto fragments of a lost Handel opera and actual commentary surrounding the 2008 financial crisis, this new work forges an entirely new narrative.  From a Wall Street Trading floor, a New York City strip club, the Senate floor, to the heavens of the gods, the story culminates in a surreal domain of the underworld. 

Commissioned by The Italian Academy of Columbia University.  Premiere December 2016 at the Teatro Theatre, Italian Academy.

FORCES

Cast

  • Nero ~Baritone
  • Poppea ~Soprano
  • Agrippina ~Mezzo-soprano
  • Senica ~Baritone
  • Secondary Roles
  • Mercury ~Countertenor
  • Mars ~Tenor
  • Chorus of Bankers  ~Tenor/Baritone/Bass Baritone
  • Dancers  ~3-6 female dancers

Instrumentation

Picc/Fl, Ob, Cl, Bsn, Tpt, Tbn, Tuba, Hrp, Pno, Timp, Strings

  • "Nero and the fall of Lehman Brothers": an opera of our timeThis week, from Wednesday to Sunday, a daring production occupies the basement of the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. The moment of an … Read More...

    Nathan Giroux, LES MECONNUS - 6/17/18

    Nathan Giroux, LES MECONNUS - 6/17/18

    "Nero and the fall of Lehman Brothers": an opera of our time

    This week, from Wednesday to Sunday, a daring production occupies the basement of the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. The moment of an opera, the team of BOP (Ballet, Opera, Pantomime) immerses us in a twisted world halfway between Nero, the great fire of Rome, and the fall of Lehman Brothers, emblem of the crisis 2008. Plunge into the mythology of our century.

    It’s first to Jonathan Dawe that we owe this tour de force. A Boston-born composer and teacher at the Juilliard School of Music, Dawe likes to reinvent baroque music by distorting simple melodic lines through harmonic fractal prisms. The result is of a strange beauty which can interest as much the hardened ears as the most lyrical souls. Former student of Dawe and musical director of BOP, Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse directs the chamber opera in a unique setting: it is a replica of a Wall Street office that serves as an orchestra pit, with photocopiers, elevators, and neon lights that are alive.

    In addition to destroying the fourth wall, the scenic arrangement blurs the line between musicians and office workers, who exchange melodic motifs, spoken sentences and phrases sung in a corporate clutter improvised look. The story features Nero, CEO of Lehman Brothers, brilliantly blind to the warnings of his best advisor, Agrippine, who is the first to notice the disaster ahead. This is what will be worth to be unjustly dismissed instead of Seneca, his male counterpart, before the markets collapse under the mysterious gaze of Poppea, incarnation of Venus in the body of the boss’s lover.  At the bottom, a strip of light emitting diodes tells in real time the fire of the stock market in addition to ensuring a translation (free and crazy) of the booklet in French.

    The show is honored by BOP, who succeeds in challenging the audience of our century with a century-old musical form. One discerns there a History which is repeated where the oligarchs in power systematically escape the justice by pleading to have seen nothing coming, nothing could predict, nothing could do. While Nero tortured Christians in the public square as scapegoats for the fire, Lehman dismissed employees for “spreading uncertainty” about the state of the market. In both cases, the entertainment society allows the powerful to rewrite history through entertainment, an insidious form of propaganda. As summarized by Clara Poissant-Lespérance, president of BOP, “The financial crisis of 2008 is a bit of the great tragedy of our century. It's important that people get in touch with it: it has destroyed so many of our myths.”

    Translated from French

    14, 15 et 16 juin : 20h 17 juin : 16h   Salle Guillet de l’Église de Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire, 800, rue du Rosaire, Montréal

  • "Post-modernism at its best"The place was surprising. For his new production, Ballet-Opera Pantomime (BOP) had chosen a vast basement church in the Villeray district. The company presented NERO and the Fall … Read More...

    Justin Bernard, MY.SCENA - 6/18/18

    Justin Bernard, MY.SCENA - 6/18/18

    "Post-modernism at its best"

    The place was surprising. For his new production, Ballet-Opera Pantomime (BOP) had chosen a vast basement church in the Villeray district. The company presented NERO and the Fall of Lehman Brothers, Jonathan Dawe's no less surprising opera. Created in 2016 and commissioned by the Italian Academy of Columbia University (New York), this work is supposedly inspired by fragments of librettos of a lost opera by Handel. It mixes characters from ancient Rome with a very contemporary story: the financial crisis of 2008 that saw the investment bank Lehman Brothers go bankrupt. Post-modernism at its best!

    The music is both modern and at the same time a tribute to Baroque music. Unfortunately, the composer confuses modernity with hardship. The vocal lines are of a monstrous difficulty, with often a succession of rapid and very wide intervals. Jonathan Dawe is no stranger to a trend already observed in other contemporary operas: to compose musically dense, lyrical passages, on often insignificant and repeated words. We do not know if the comic effect is sought here. Be that as it may, the public willingly responded with laughter. In this church basement, the listeners had gathered on inclined rows. Facing them, a gigantic stage space - in this case an office space - box-shaped, lying on its side. So we had three walls and a fourth open wall, the same one that marks the border between reality and fiction. Fascinating!

     

    From this production, we will remember the ingenuity of the staging and sets and the high quality of the musicians of the orchestra under the direction of Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse. They were sitting in the back, among the various workstations, giving the impression of playing the role - mute - of bank employees. Ingenuity also came from over-titles, free translation from English into French very Quebecois, swear words included! Audience laughter.

     

    We can notice the excellent performance of Shea Owens (Seneca), very comfortable in the treble and in this type of repertoire, and the magnetic presence of Allegra De Vita (Agrippine). For his part, Geoffroy Salvas (Nero) seemed much less comfortable in his interpretation, sometimes forcing his voice in the upper register. Molly Netter, meanwhile, had an atypical tone, similar to that of a child, a soft voice but yet of great purity.

  • “most successful: a very beautiful opera” We understand that the American opera composer Jonathan Dawe wanted to put the two tragedies in parallel. Tragic accident due to the construction of wooden … Read More...

    Sophie Jama
, Huffington Post - 6/19/18

    Sophie Jama
, Huffington Post - 6/19/18

    “most successful: a very beautiful opera”
    
    We understand that the American opera composer Jonathan Dawe wanted to put the two tragedies in parallel.

    Tragic accident due to the construction of wooden buildings in streets too narrow or criminal act of the Emperor Nero who has been represented contemplating a hill playing the harp? It is unclear what caused the great fire in Rome that occurred some 2000 years ago. Consequence of the euphoria of markets and the subprime crisis, fraudulent concealment of a huge debt or refusal of the U.S. Government  to offer help? The bankruptcy of the multinational Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, one of the largest financial institutions, triggered the world's worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

    In both cases, it is part of the empires that collapse causing a large number of anonymous and powerless victims, almost invisible to public opinion. We understand that the American opera composer Jonathan Dawe wanted to put the two tragedies in parallel in his work entitled Nero and The Fall of Lehman Brothers. And the result is most successful: a very beautiful opera on a current music but also inspired by Handel or Monteverdi melodies, lyric singers with beautiful voices and who play as in the theater, all in very realistic office decorations and on a booklet that lacks neither humor nor irony.

    Unlike a classical opera, the musicians of the orchestra are not in a pit, inaccessible to the spectators, but are sitting in the cubicles of a large grayish office room as are all the offices. A harp, a double bass, a cello, a piano, a trombone, violins, a saxophone ... thirteen musicians plus a conductor are installed at their desks, like employees who are agitated to sell and buy the stock at the best prices.

    In this impeccable Wall Street office decor with a low, stuffy ceiling, you'll see a photocopier, a fountain of mineral water, a whimsical elevator. And deep down, the comfortable, airy office of the big boss, the Emperor Nero, who plays his power with his adviser Seneca, between his women Agrippina and Poppea, but who ends up being overtaken himself by the events that involve a chorus of three of his employees.

    The structure of the opera resembles in every respect a tragedy of antiquity. On a digital banner are posted the fluctuation of the stock market, and the French translation of this opera sung in English. The booklet is both funny and interesting. “Time will teach us what we have always known” ... In addition to the pleasure and excitement of the beauty of the music and the interpretation of the singers and musicians, we feel how much - in the events recounted - the actors of this medium of money could be greyed out by the good results, even though they knew that they were artificial.

    But the euphoria has only one time, the rating agencies get involved and the empire collapses. “It is as if Rome were selling the Vatican to the Japanese to make them a hotel, and they would hire the Pope as a porter.” Nero is accused of embezzlement and defends himself as he can. The booklet even offers excerpts from the Senate post bankruptcy.

    In an hour and a half of entertainment at the rhythm of the financial market brokers, in the basement of Notre-Dame-du-Saint-Rosaire church where opera is proposed to be able to deploy its special scenography, Nero and The Fall of Lehman Brothers gives us an understanding of the atmosphere and the spirit of this crisis that we have experienced live but without necessarily feeling it from the inside. A truly original show and extremely successful, thanks also to a staging and presentation of the best quality.

    Translated from French

  • "a modernity that speaks to the world, and a modernity that, by the way, attracts a young audience and awakens consciences"  The wheel spins. And it turns very fast. In the last quarter of the … Read More...

    Christophe Huss, Le Devoir - 6/16/18

    Christophe Huss, Le Devoir - 6/16/18

    "a modernity that speaks to the world, and a modernity that, by the way, attracts a young audience and awakens consciences"

     

    The wheel spins. And it turns very fast. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, opera was notoriously in crisis. Question of hiatus between a fundamentally melodic art, research on the vocal expression, but also a goal for a break whose complex ‘ins and outs’ go beyond the scope of this article. Among these supporters, however, it can be argued that breaking with models, being in the vanguard, it was also somehow claimed to be misunderstood, or even incomprehensible.

    Pushing the cork further, cutting off the public became a sort of pledge of “supposed genius.” These are basically the terms of the philosopher Luc Ferry in the context of some fine digressions on Nietzsche, and I willingly admit that during some evenings of the company Chants libres, I devote myself to thinking of Luc Ferry.

    Opera close to us

    If this is my preamble, it is because the young and inventive company Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime (BOP) appears, just like the ECM + and its “graphic operas,”  as the flag bearer in Montreal of the current new modernity, a modernity that speaks to the world, and a modernity that, by the way, attracts a young audience and awakens consciences.

    And let us not be told that this modernity is the result of compromise. It is the crossroads of culture and reason. Pure logic, in fact. By choosing a subject of contemporary history, the composer takes the risk of the trivial.  But BOP has found one that is particularly clever.

    Jonathan Dawe, not to be confused with the prolific English opera composer Jonathan Dove, author of Flight, which takes place at an airport, is a professor at the Juilliard School.

    Jonathan Dawe, thus, had the idea, exploited during the last decade, to integrate the imaginary and the baroque world to the contemporary universe. It is, in a way, his trademark. Dawe does not hesitate to draw on the ancient material that makes it clash with contemporary language, as in a symphonic work around the flourishing Charpentier Arts created by James Levine in Boston in 2005.

    He then applied this principle to opera with Cracked Orlando in 2010 and, two years later, Così faran tutti (They'll All Do It!) - a prequel to Mozart's Così fan tutte, an idea also exploited by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt and Nicolas Bacri in Così fanciulli in 2016.

    The year 2016 is precisely that of the creation of Nero and the Fall of Lehman Brothers. The stock market crash of 2008 is symbolized by the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Brothers. On a dramatic level, this financial crash is (symbolically) paralleled by the burning of imperial Rome in Nero's time (64 AD).

    Known faces

    The characters who evolve in this Wall Street in moral and economic perdition are therefore the Emperor Nero; Poppea, his wife of the time (we are talking about the year 64); Seneca, who in the Coronation of Poppea of ​​Monteverdi dies for trying to moderate the impulses of Nero (then still married to Octavia) to Poppea; Agrippine, mother of Nero and heroine of an opera by Handel. A chorus of bankers completes the cast.

    The text is contemporary, but sometimes mixes typically Handelian texts, for example in the soliloquy of Agrippine at the time when she is fired. Lyrics Haendéliennes on a typical air of the American opera.

    On the contrary, we sometimes hear decals of baroque music on contemporary raw lyrics. The musical entanglement is done between Handel, on one side, and a contemporary language sometimes mathematized, which goes up to integrate the fluctuations of the stock prices (without this technique is really noticeable for the listener). The instrumental ensemble includes strings, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, harp, piano and timpani

    The idea of ​​presenting this show in a church basement is a major idea of ​​BOP's inventive artisans, who continue to bring fresh blood to the Montreal music scene. Compared to the video excerpts of the New York creation of 2016, it is clear that the BOP production has benefited from a superior care as regards the scenography, very astute, reproducing in the manner of a movie set a Brokers office that integrates musicians sitting at compartmentalized offices

    A convincing result

    The show is certainly strong, especially since the spectators are a few meters from the action. The fact that the protagonists call for old referents really only appears in the second act.

    However, do not expect too close parallels. Agrippina is not the mother of Nero, but a confirmed and lucid banker, whose lucidity will eventually annoy Nero. The character of Seneca is problematic. In Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, an obligatory dramaturgical reference, he is Nero's “guard-fool.” Here, he does not confront Nero and teams up with Agrippina before betraying her to save her skin. Has the character been usurped by Jonathan Dawe or did he want to deliberately show, turning a pure junk, that money corrupts even the healthiest minds?

    The character of Poppea poses me the most problems: it floats in the opera. We do not really know if it is Nero's wife or a kind of appointed mistress. Moreover, in the real story, Nero was madly in love, while the Wall Street Nero is devoid of feelings, even desire.

    The three bankers have an important role in the overall dynamics of the show. They embody and symbolize triumphant cynicism, the beginning of trouble, then the collapse. The trio is led by a formidable bass vocally and dramatically: Matt Boehler. He burns the boards and trains his colleagues.

    Inventive staging

    Located in the middle right of the office, Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse directs twenty instrumentalists attentive to a score that draws the best of a true culture of baroque opera, contemporary music, mythology - it's about the choice of Paris, which refutes both Juno's ethic and the beauty of Venus, ends the opera.

    The ensemble ranks (contrary to the JFK of the Opéra de Montréal) on the good side of the scourge of the balance of contemporary American creation. The score may have been slightly truncated, however, since the New York creation referred to three dancers, a scene in a club of dancers and characters from Mars (countertenor and Mercury, which we do not have seen.

    We will associate BOP's success with the overflowing imagination of the director Maxime Genois. A scene among many others. When Seneca arranges his business, while he has been (temporarily) fired, these are toys that he carefully packs. Toys with characters. All these millionaires played so casually with the lives of people ...

    On the vocal side, BOP did a faultless one minus one. Geoffroy Salvas is in a dazzling form in Nero, and the fact that Shea Owens holds the comparison says a lot about his talent. The bar is high and the mezzo Allegra De Vita is fully hoisted. So, in such a company, to meet with Poppy, Molly Netter is very strange and almost unreal.

    Fortunately, this young soprano just sings, but she has a dry white voice that does not resonate. Let's say that his most obvious use would be the echo in the air "Flößt, mein Heiland, flößt dein Namen" of Cantata IV of the Christmas Oratorio. For an even more graphic comparison, let's say that beside Miss Netter, Suzie LeBlanc (archetypal baroque voice) is Lady Macbeth!

    An incomprehensible casting error, therefore, which fortunately does not scuttle a project worthy of the greatest interest.

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