Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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June 24th 2014
FT Review: The Scores are in! Mozart – 4, Adam Gorb – 3!

Local premieres for two operas, one wryly whimsical, the other grimly hard-hitting.

The Classical Style, Berkeley/Anya 17, San Francisco – review
[Review of Mozart’s “The Classical Style” removed – Four Stars]

More sober fare came from Opera Parallèle, the community’s leading purveyor of contemporary music theatre. Last weekend’s North American premiere of Adam Gorb’s Anya 17, at the Marines’ Memorial Theater in San Francisco, billed itself as the first opera to deal with human trafficking (though a case might be made for Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri centuries ago). Sincerity counts for much in Ben Kaye’s libretto drawn from the headlines and in the British composer’s eclectic, tart score, which adroitly mingles mild dissonance with jazzy riffs and sour Weillesque lyricism.

In recounting the sad saga of Anya and the other women kidnapped and brought to a brothel in western Europe, Gorb, in one disturbing scene after another, dwells on the brutality inflicted upon these unfortunates at the hands of a pimp with all the compassion of an iceberg. The irony is thick in the air: compassion for Anya comes only from an old customer. It’s all pure melodrama…

Anya 17 was directed starkly by Brian Staufenbiel amid a blizzard of projections. Nicole Paiement conducted her 14-member onstage orchestra with brave commitment. Soprano Anna Noggle’s Anya led a cast imbued with a sense of grim purpose. Show Boat this was not.

Three Stars

Allan Ulrich – Financial Times
24th June 2014

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Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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June 23rd 2014
REVIEW: Anya17 emerges a true work of art

Anna Noggle- left- and Shawnette Sulker with Victor Benedetti in background

 

The American premiere of this opera about human trafficking and sexual slavery rises above agitprop and emerges a true work of art.

Earlier this year a film called “Twelve Years a Slave” walked away with the Best Picture award at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes. The true story of a free American man of color who was kidnapped in Washington D.C. and sold into more than a decade of involuntary servitude in the antebellum South shocked well-bred audiences. How could such a thing happen? Well, as I drove through San Francisco’s tough Tenderloin District on my way home from Opera Parallèle’s searing “Anya17,” I looked up at darkened windows and wondered what kind of tragedy was being enacted behind the curtains. How could such a thing happen? It’s happening every day, here and all around the world.

 

“Anya17,” a new opera by composer Adam Gorb and librettist Ben Kaye, deals with human trafficking, especially the abduction of young girls from underdeveloped, poverty-stricken countries. Lured by the promise of jobs and riches in the West, these women end up as virtual slaves, their bodies a commodity and their lives in ruin. According to the program notes, this is a $32 billion industry, second only to the drug trade. Yet, it goes largely unnoticed. If “Anya17” is agitprop, it is so in the best sense of the term. And leave it to San Francisco’s adventurous Opera Parallèle to bring it to our attention.

 

It also is art. Gorb’s score is listenable, modern with touches of jazz, and appropriate to the subject (although I’m not ready to buy the record). Sometimes the melodic line is in the orchestra (ably directed by Nicole Paiement), with the singers’ voices riding atonally atop it. Sometimes it is the other way around. There is a beautiful Britten-like orchestral interlude (Gorb is British) following the death of one of the girls.

 

Kaye’s libretto is pure poetry — even when he is writing about women as meat on display in a butcher shop (a powerful aria sung by Viktor, the villain of the piece). Brian Staufenbiel’s direction and design is exceptional, as it has been in every Opera Parallèle production I have seen. Portions of the orchestra are visible through screens at the back of the stage. Projections of buildings and fields rushing by give you the feeling that you are traveling to “the West” with the girls. A brutal rape scene is all the more horrifying for remaining offstage.

 

The tale of Anya (a powerful Anna Noggle), betrayed by a man she thought loved her, and two of her fellow-abductees, as well as those who are profiting from their servitude, plays out in 11 short, tense scenes, with two dancers (Janet Das and Quilet Rarang), clad in plastic, moving props (notably a stained mattress) comforting and, occasionally, threatening the girls. Anya’s companions are well-sung by Shawnette Sulker as Mila, a young mother hoping to provide a better life for the child she left behind, and, especially, Laura Krumm as the lovely Elena, blind, addicted and heartbreaking.

 

San Francisco Opera regular Catherine Cook is her usual fabulous self as Natalia, an older woman, once trafficked, now turned trafficker. Her jazzy, tragic, autobiographical aria is a show-stopper. Her accomplice, the cruel Viktor, is well-sung by the impressive baritone Victor Benedetti and Andres Ramirez plays Anya’s lovers, one false and one true. Cook also doubles as a hospital social worker who tries to get through to the traumatized Anya after her escape.

 

Yes, Anya does escape and the opera ends on a note of hope as she begins to piece together the shards of her shattered self. But, in the real world, for every girl who gets away, many more remain stuck in a life of degradation that they did not choose. By shining a spotlight on this tragedy, Opera Parallèle has given us more than a work of art. Well done!

 

Suzanne Weiss – CultureVulture
June 20-22, 2014

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Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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June 22nd 2014
REVIEW “Anya17 thus follows in a literary tradition of books like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin…”

Opera Parallèle presents a North American premiere with uncompromising impact.


Last night at the Marines’ Memorial Theater, Opera Parallele began their weekend run of the first North American performances of Adam Gorb’s opera Anya17. Ben Kaye described his libretto as “an amalgam of just some of the horrific, real stories from the world of sex trafficking which I discovered during my research with leading charities and caseworkers in the field.” One might say that the result is a musical dramatization of ethnography, much the same way that Charles S. Dutton’s miniseries for HBO The Corner was a dramatization of The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, an ingeniously conceived synthesis of ethnography and journalism by David Simon and Ed Burns.

The most important thing to note about Anya17 is that it is not easy to take. Those looking for little more than a pleasant night out at the opera would be advised to look elsewhere. This is an uncompromising treatment that thoroughly justifies Kaye’s use of the adjective “horrific.” At the same time the production forces us to recognize just how fine the line is between an uncompromising account of the horrific and a pornographic one. As the narrative unfolds as brutality after brutality, it would be hard for anyone in the audience to avoid questioning if (s)he has been reduced to a voyeur of atrocities.

It is clear, however, that Kaye wanted to get beyond mere voyeurism. Rather, his goal was to compel an otherwise passive audience to pay attention to basic realities that most would prefer to ignore. Anya17 thus follows in a literary tradition of books like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which forced dark truths about the treatment of slaves on readers who preferred to avoid such uncomfortable thoughts, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which approached the food processing industry the same way, and, closer to home, Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, which exposed the willful negligence from all levels of government at the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Each of those books thrusts the reader into making highly disturbing observations, without reducing him/her to the level of a perverted voyeur.

Thus, the more important questions concern how such an uncompromising narrative can be handled by both a musical setting and a staging of the performance as opera. For the former, Gorb chose to work with the resources of a chamber orchestra. The only extensive resource is the diversity of instruments played by the percussionist (Erika Johnson). The remaining parts also have single performers. These include a string quartet (violinists Roy Malan and Stephanie Bibbo, violist Ellen Ruth Rose, and cellist Adaiha Macadam-Somer), along with bass (Stan Poplin), a wind section of flute (Carmen Lemoine), oboe and English horn (Kyle Bruckmann), clarinet and bass clarinet (Peter Josheff), and bassoon and contrabassoon (David Granger), a brass section of horn (Alicia Telford), trumpet (John Freeman), and trombone (Hall Goff), and pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi.

Gorb has a keen ear for harnessing the intensity of dissonance to Kaye’s narrative. This involves some highly imaginative combinations of instruments, along with a few well-chosen and highly arresting outbursts from the entire ensemble, led deftly by Music Director Nicole Paiement. Only six vocalists were involved, each with a voice as intensely controlled as the instrumental parts. Anna Noggle sang the title role in a style that was both musically and dramatically convincing; but the same can be said of her two fellow sex slaves, Mila and the blind Elena, sung, respectively, by Shawnette Sulker and Laura Krumm. Victor Benedetti was not afraid to evoke all of the brutality of Viktor, the “keeper” of these three girls, while Andres Ramirez doubled as Uri, who first lures Anya into the “system” and Gabriel, the customer who falls in love with her. The real powerhouse, however, was Catherine Cook as Victor’s assistant Natalia, instrumental in managing all the “business basics” of this trade.

As in his past productions, Director Brian Staufenbiel made rich use of media. This included some highly imaginative use of projected images to substitute for extensive use of scenery and sets. However, what mattered most was the acting technique of each of the six singers. It was through that technique that Staufenbiel arrived at the fundamental dramatic elements that ultimately made this performance so unrelenting and uncompromising.

This was clearly the work of highly committed courage and focused attention to detail, without which the whole affair could have devolved into triviality (or, worse, pornography). Those considering attending one of the two remaining performances need to be aware of what is in store for them. Those who then take the plunge will emerge, possibly uncomfortably, with a deeper understanding of one of the uglier trends of our contemporary life.

Stephen Smoliar -San Francisco Classical Music Examiner
June 21, 2014

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Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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June 21st 2014
News from San Francisco!

The first night!

Following a triumphant first night in San Francisco, (left to right) Nicole Paiment (Artistic Director and Conductor of Anya17), Composer Adam Gorb, Shawnette Sulker (“Mila”), Brian Staufenbiel (Stage Director and Concept Designer) and Anna Noggle (“Anya”) enjoy a few moments after the USA Premiere before gearing up for further performances.

 

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Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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June 18th 2014
Video Interviews for Anya17 USA Premiere

Anya17 watercolour by Evan Wright

Anya17 watercolour by Evan Wright for USA Premiere

I was very excited to find this video today with interviews with Opera Paralelle for the USA Premiere which is TOMORROW on 20th June 2014!

For the video, please go to www.davidmurakami.com/Anya-17 and scroll down and then press the Play button!

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Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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March 28th 2014
…and Human Trafficking also doesn’t happen in Dorset

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-26747297

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Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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March 28th 2014
It doesn’t happen in Wiltshire

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-26782192

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December 16th 2013
Together in Legislation…

uk-politics-25389760

All of us who have been involved with Anya17 are very encouraged to learn that the increased public awareness and pressure exerted by so many Anti-Trafficking / Slavery initiatives and organisations in the past years has resulted in proposed legislation to recognise and attempt to address the multiple issues of modern day Slavery in the UK.

 

Anya17 was written to raise awareness of modern day Slavery, and the Sex Trafficking of adults and minors in particular, and perhaps therefore surely we should take some satisfaction in having helped spread the message and raising awareness of these issues?

 

The real truth is that we know many of the NGOs supporting Anya17 have differing opinions and reservations about the proposed legislation as it stands. All of these conviction-driven NGOs are trying to do ‘the right thing’, so understandably many of these indispensable organisations attack the problems from slightly different angles.

 

Many are on ‘the front line’, dealing with victims every day, some are on ‘the front line’ but concentrate their efforts on rescuing children… or on rescuing adults. The greatest strengths of some are in advocacy, awareness, cooperation, legislation or in the prosecution of Traffickers.

 

The real work is therefore just beginning…

 

The important thing we all must recognise is that:

 

WE ARE ALL DOING THIS FOR THE SAME REASON – TO ERADICATE THE TRAFFICKING, EXPLOITATION AND SLAVERY OF HUMAN BEINGS.
The next few months will be a very difficult time – a time in which alliances may be brokered, broken and re-formed, perhaps ultimately to the detriment of less-influential organisations, or more importantly, to the victims.

 

Politics is a slippery, difficult game. I just hope that whatever becomes Law will be for the benefit of ALL victims – past, present and future.

 

LET THERE BE NO POLITICAL  ‘DIVIDE AND CONQUER’


It is far more important to provide a united front in terms of proposed legislation than to allow our different initiatives to fall into dis-unity. If this happens then the Government will be provided with a real opportunity to negotiate with various ‘major’ players and ‘pick and choose’ in terms of the legislation proposed. The Human Trafficking Foundation has provided leadership, a Forum and an ideas-exchange, and I hope that they will be able to pull together our disparate ideas but unified goals into a coherent initiative, against which any opposition to new legislation may not find any defence.

 

Only time will tell… but please let us not waste the time, nor the opportunity. Let’s just make it happen.

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December 7th 2013
Second Review of Anya17 in Germany

“No champagne this evening, no Premierengeschnatter (Premiere Chatter). Only concern. And silence. Then applause, roaring loudly after seventy minutes of silence…”

 

No champagne this evening, no Premierengeschnatter. Only concern. And silence. Then applause, roaring loudly after seventy minutes of silence. No known opera evening in Meiningen Kammerspielen, for many reasons. The subject is not a unusual in musical theater: the prostitute, the prostitute. But it is not those romanticized as the Alban Berg’s Lulu or Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. Instead, it’s about young flesh, fresh from Eastern Europe, numbered. Thus, no suitor has to bother with pesky name when he ordered the goods woman.

Forced prostitution. To raise this issue on a stage as well, as it creates through the means of music that pretends less images rather in the minds of the audience that has to Adam Gorb not a composer still married. “Anya 17″ has the Briton called his chamber opera, translation superfluous, as superfluous as the concrete location of the plot. Anya’s story could play anywhere between Eastern and Western Europe: A poor girl who loves for the first time. Want to believe the nice thing about this life in the West, which promises you the beloved. And then without it ending up in a dump. For money to buy, day and night.

Tell that everything is from the perspective of women to men has librettist Ben Kaye the marginal roles intended for, ugly roles: love vorgaukelnde decoy Uri that sex with love be confused Free Gabriel (both parts sung by Rodrigo Porras Garulo) and the brutal pimp Viktor . Stephanos Tsirakoglou shows him as a patronizing dealer who supplies the market only what this requires. And for that the hand is staying.

The market wants girls like Anya, whose dismay flashes her fate from each shooed views from every gesture, from each desperate tone of Anne Ellersiek. He also wants girls like Natalia (Carolina Krogius), happy girls, raped by father, clarified by strangers at age ten, twelve working the streets. He wants girls like the blind Elena (Camila Ribero-Souza), bruised resigned to their existence. But he does not want a girl like Mila (Elif Aytekin) whose body apparently suffers from this market than for a Free favor could find him. The reason has to die is disposed of.

Director Mareike Zimmermann leaves the four women occur in nude Suites, like bathing suits with sewn breasts and buttocks. The alienated, makes the scenes appear grotesque. The sex is just as ugly as those men who thus make a deal in this oppressive intensive production. The viewer comes when looking at the stage like a voyeur before looking to a container with mirror foil, the times reflected, sometimes gives a view of the scene free.

What happens twice in the music Gorb that makes kicks and punches audible. According opulent with two musicians on percussion is the fifteen-member Court Orchestra under the direction of the first Kapellmeister Leo McFall occupied. It leads – enriched with quotes – sound in two opposite spheres. After kicking off with folklore bonds it changes with the flight to the West. Commented it the glittering world of the goods ironically with Broadway and jazz. In the score, there are so cliché, as well as on stage plenty of cliche-affected can be seen, the touched yet or perhaps because. At the end of a little hope for Anya.

More still affected after all the pain, blood, fear. No known opera evening.

Further performances on 8./14. December 10 January 8 February every 20 clock

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Author: Ben Kaye - Librettist, Co-founder
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December 7th 2013
First Review of Anya17 from Germany

Following Anya17’s fully-staged World Premiere in Meiningen, Germany, fantastic reviews have started pouring in.

Please forgive the ‘Google Translate’ for this first review, but Team Anya17 wanted to give you a flavour of how the opera has been received…

“And now you sit with open eyes, open ears and anxious heart in the intimate theatre and be amazed once again about what is possible on the stage this side of Wagner, Verdi and Puccini.”

 

In the Meininger Kammerspielen were in terms of “Opera of the small form” already experiencing some positive surprises, even in discordant spheres without bel canto, without fuss, without glorification. But of course no chance of ever reaching the general public, the majority gleefully leans back in his chair and when needed commented: “. A stupid staging, but singing and music were divine”.

And now you sit with open eyes, open ears and anxious heart in the intimate theatre and be amazed once again about what is possible on the stage this side of Wagner, Verdi and Puccini. Neither stupid nor divine can be heard, but deeply human – in all inscrutability and without the slightest trace of romantic transfiguration. It is a new experience that a subject that can be found treated appropriately in film, literature or reports, also fits in the space of an opera stage: forced prostitution of women and girls from poor countries to wealthy countries of Western civilization – a worldwide phenomenon and a billion dollar business.

The British composer Adam Gorb and his librettist Ben Kaye locate their opera “Anya 17″ somewhere in Western Europe and the focus to the suffering of the young Anya (Anne Ellersiek) from an unspecified country in Eastern Europe. Anya believes the promises of their supposed loved ones (Rodrigo Porras Garulo) and does, along with other women, on their way to the Golden West – in a van. The women fall directly into the clutches of a ruthless pimp (Stephanos Tsirakoglou), which robs them of their passport and identity and providing them with numbers. Anya has the number 17 One of the suitors (Porras Garulo) they seem to revere particular.

Gorb and Kaye presented the opera in the UK as a concert performance with great resonance in public. The premiere of “Anya 17″ in an arrangement for the theater now was directed by Mareike Zimmermann held in Meiningen, accompanied by the court orchestra in chamber orchestra with the sovereign young conductor Leo McFall at the desk.

Most viewers have no idea what to expect: a 70-minute non-stop, highly concentrated story, sung in English with German surtitles. In a musical interpretation of events and soul moods that sometimes, sometimes reminiscent of Britten, sometimes to Schoenberg and Alban Berg, sometimes in amber to jazz rhythms – a painful exciting universe of atonal sounds, in the in the moments in which the basic psychological moods the victims emerge, small creep harmonies but now radically broken again.

The spectators are confronted with the inhumane life of prostitutes in a brothel. Anya is exceedingly desperate, Natalia (Carolina Krogius), the supervisor acts as merciless disciplinarian, Mila (Elif Aytekin) is just as shocked as Anya and the blind Elena (Camila Ribero-Souza) already seems sunk in depression. Can Anya, can ever escape this hell someone? Nothing appears designed or embellished. Language is both poetic, brutal and raw. The plot thickens on scenes in and around a glass cage – an insular universe, the production designer Isabel Graf has designed. The discs are roughened and scratched.Depending on the position of the front wall to reflect the actors and the audience. At least the male part of the audience probably guess how close those abysmally dark world of his own dark side of the soul comes – at least the voyeuristic. Finally, it can not exist without the civilized citizens as a suitor this profitable trade.

The audience looks confused at the end (to the hackneyed “affected” to avoid). It takes a few seconds longer than usual, to the applause begins. The applause then comes plentiful. The viewers are upset by the news and at the same time fascinated by the vocal performance of the artists – return to the outside the innermost depths of her characters – without traditional beautiful singing. It’ll go, at least in this kind of opera, not the voices, but the character and the story, Adam Gorb said in an interview. There is nothing to add. What emerges from the public, remains to be seen. Following the coming soon “Nachgespräche” with the composer and socially committed experts will be offered.

Siggi Seuss

 

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