There was a time when Channel 4 used to record an expensive opera production for broadcast on Boxing Day. Then it found that no-one watched. For the last couple of years it has broadcast short, specially-commissioned television operas. I suppose they are cheaper and if no-one is watching what does it matter? This year's offering, Man on the Moon, by Jonathan Dove tells the story of Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. We see his optimism, with his family around him, before the moon landing; we see his disappointment at being second to Neil Armstrong and we see his alcoholism, depression and divorce in the anticlimactic years after he has been an astronaut. There is a lot of time shifting, so events before, during and after the landing are juxtaposed.
The piece is not particularly operatic in style since the singing is done sotto voce into a microphone. Presumably the performances were dubbed but this was not particularly noticeable since it is much easier to mime when you are not singing operatically. Much of the music is dangerously close to recitative, with a conversational vocal line and orchestral accompaniment. Musically, the most successful parts are the chorus of mission controllers and the launch music itself, which is instrumental. Nathan Gunn as Buzz and Patt Racett as Mrs Aldrin are most effective during the duet when they are breaking up.
This is an imaginative and ambitious 55 minutes but I do not feel that it has made significant progress in the problem of how to handle opera in the age of the microphone.
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