Jonathan Dawe's Nero @ Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime, Montreal

Dawe Nero bow
Standing ovation at BOP

Jonathan Dawe's Nero @ Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime, Montreal

16 June 2018 / William Anderson / On the Beat, Compositions

Christophe Huss’s review in Le Devoir leaves little to add, but I wish to provide a bit of context that Mr. Huss could not know.

How does Nero differ from Dawe’s other operas?

–Nero’s Baroque moments are far more subtle. In Dawe’s earlier operas the specific arias that are treated are identifiable. Cosi Faran Tutti was fractalised Mozart; Orlando fractalises music from all the Orlandos; Prometheus was based on Frescobaldi, etc.

–Dawe writes his own libretti. They are all brilliant, that is to say they are great fun, witty, and often with a splash of the outrageous. I do not study his libretti, I take them in passively with the music, but nevertheless, I sense that Nero has a focus and seriousness that is new in Dawe’s work. Mr. Huss: “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 …”

The high point for me is the move into A major in the final duet. That brought tears to my eyes and for me it was a moment of recognition. It had won me over before. This music exists in various instrumental versions that RSF is disseminating, most recently in a concert in Salzburg, with guitarists Angel Mendez, Yvonne Zehner and Agustin Castilla-Avila and their colleagues performing the tunes on e-guitar with guitar orchestra.

Joan Forsyth & I perform a version for e-guitar and piano. Guitarist Dan Lippel heard us do that version and he incorporated into his repetoire and included it performances with the International Contemporary Ensemble.

Dawe gave titles to these works–Baroque Love Song and Sad Philosophy. At one point he told me that he thought of them as fractalized Phillip Glass. We had discussed a group of them that we’d call Glass Harmonica. Please, Mr. Dawe–flesh out a 10 minute suite and make an orchestral version.

In Nero Dawe has achieved balance and proportion that is nothing less than masterful. That he is thinking in terms of fractalizing minimalism imbricates his work with his era in a deep way. Dawe embraced Glass, while many modernists simply cannot do so–Dawe’s rapproachment with minimalism. This aspect of the music fits the contemporary subject matter, while his now more subtle Baroque references are emblems of his mythical frame.

We have a first rate opera composer on our hands.

–William Anderson

Dawe’s A Noise Did Rise and on Youtube
Dawe’s Under the Tafelmusik on Youtube
Dawe’s Bragadocio

Nero-BOP standing ovation: