Michael Berkeley: For You

Michael Rafferty / Music Theatre Wales

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Michael Berkeley: For You Review

by Stephen Eddins

For You is Michael Berkeley's third opera, so he is no newcomer to the genre. The libretto is the first by acclaimed novelist Ian McEwan, a longtime friend of the composer's. In an interview before this work's premiere, McEwan said he liked opera but thought the plots were generally uninteresting. No one could accuse the plot of For You of lacking interest, but the interlocking sub-plots of sexual obsession and intrigue are ultimately as byzantine and implausible as those of the librettos McEwan scorns. The protagonist is a composer, and For You has an intriguing layer of complexity that comes from the interplay of the opera's music and the music ostensibly written by the fictional character. Berkeley effectively exploits this conceit, with the climax of the opera coinciding with the music of the fictional composer's deliciously titled orchestral piece Demonic Aubade. Overall, though, Berkeley's jangly expressionism is so relentlessly angst-ridden that it leaves the impression of a blur of generalized, intense psychic distress. The musical language of For You is clearly indebted to Lulu, but Berkeley lacks Berg's ability to invest his anguished characters with humanity, and the result is most often random-sounding and chaotic. Maria's second act aria is a lovely, song-like break in the tension. Berkeley's orchestration is brilliant but his text setting is frequently inelegant, which is surprising given his admiration for Britten, who was noted for his fluent, if idiosyncratic settings of English. The excellent baritone Alan Opie is impressive as the egomaniacal composer, and soprano Helen Williams and mezzo-soprano Allison Cook are also very fine. Michael Rafferty leads the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble in the live 2008 performance. Signum's sound is good, but the voices would have benefited from more presence.

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