December 17, 2012, by Fraser

Nottingham’s Dr Sarah Hibberd lends her expertise to Opera on 3

On Saturday 15 December, Nottingham’s Dr Sarah Hibberd, Head of the Department of Music, was a guest in the box for BBC Radio 3’s Opera on 3. You can listen to the full show on the BBC’s website.

Read on to find out about Sarah’s pre-match nerves…

My research focuses on the visually spectacular grand operas created for the Paris Opéra in the 1830s and 40s that created a huge sensation across Europe and beyond. Although they were some of the most frequently performed works of the nineteenth century, these unwieldy works are rarely revived by modern opera companies, and so I was delighted to hear that Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable (1831) was to be performed for the first time in 122 years by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

I was invited to contribute to the programme brochure and give a talk at an ROH Insight event, and then was contacted by a Radio 3 producer to be the guest in the box for the live transmission of Opera on 3, on 15 December. I’ll be expected to help fill the moments before curtain-up and the two thirty-minute intervals (and any unexpected breaks resulting from technical problems – quite possible given the complex visual effects).

It is an extraordinarily eclectic work, so there is plenty to say: Meyerbeer was drawing on the sounds around him in Paris (Rossini’s Italian operas, Weber’s spooky romantic orchestration) and inspired by the popular melodramas and ballets that were so popular with audiences of the period. A sort of French Faust, the opera also tapped into popular fascination with science, with representations of evil, and with the idea of immorality: the climactic scene involves a scandalous ballet of debauched nuns, rising from their tombs, that was famously captured on canvas by Degas. There is much to be said too about the experience of attending opera in 1830s Paris: people tended to chatter (paying attention only to certain singers – and the dancers) in an auditorium that remained illuminated throughout the performance. My colleague Nick Baragwanath, a specialist in Italian opera, will also be contributing a clip about Meyerbeer’s influence on more familiar repertory, including the operas of Verdi.

Although it is undoubtedly exciting to have the opportunity to talk to a captive audience about my own very specific interests, it will be a bit nerve-racking to know that the broadcast will be going out live…

Photo credit: The Royal Opera Chorus in Robert le diable © Bill Cooper/ROH 2012


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