ingthe high notes

Opera bursts out of its traditional corset with The Empress, the first of a trio of specially commissioned works for television. Alan Morrison falls under its rule.

Televised opera hasn‘t much of a history beyond capturing live performances at Covent Garden. the Met. Milan or wherever and re-broadcasting them within a proscenium arch frame. From time to time. the odd ‘directed for television‘ piece will come along. with a well-known work being given a bit more breathing space in a TV studio but still betraying its stage origins. At Christmas 1992. BBC2 did its best to break the mould by updating Heinrich Marschner‘s The Vampyr into a gory. modern-day ‘soap opera‘; and in a couple of months‘ time. the same channel will condense six repertory favourites into half-hour cartoons. A little latex Rigoletto. anyone?

Channel 4. on the other hand. has taken a longer- temi approach. Four years ago. the station commissioned six new one-hour operas with the aim of re-inventing the art-form for the television medium. Freed from the confines of recording the vocals live. these new works three of which are now complete are unlike anything heard previously in the world's music balls or. indeed. seen on the box. Unlike most staged productions. the librettist. composer. director. producer and designer have collaborated very closely throughout the development and shooting stages. with the result that the final version is a unified visual and aural assault on its audience.

First up comes 'l'he limpress. written by David Gale. with music by Orlando Gough. The basic storyline

Amanda Dean is The Empress may have a fairy-tale familiarity a bored young empress has to undergo the attentions of various suitors before making her own (ultimately misguided) choice ~ but its realisation is nothing if not novel. Brash colours fill a letter-boxed screen as a young woman. dressed in a huge golden ruff and bodice with breasts sharpened to an extent that would make r\' adonna wince. bites into a tall wine-glass and spits out a flow of blood to the accompaniment of dissonant chords. The action then s\\ itches to a catnp Greek chorus of TV news commentators who regularly fill its in on the action as the story picks up speed and the music settles into an operatic Latin beat.

()ne of the most striking aspects of The [impress is the set and costume design by (ilasgmv—bot‘tt artist

: Bruce McLean. Loud. angular and unashamedly

kitsch. this distinctive look feeds directly into the

overall mood of high camp. in which a sexually

frustrated empress can scream at her body-builder emperor, ‘Get this thing up!‘ as he. pumps iron in

day-glo trunks. The casting will also have traditionalists heading for the hills: the muscular

suitor is played by Mike Aheame Warrior of

Gladiators - and the chorus by members of The

Flying Pickets. although opera talents Amanda Dean and Valerie Morgan also star. With enough impact to pull the rug from beneath even Pavarotti. The [impress is. in its own way. quite brilliant. Unexpected names show up in the other productions too. Rik Mayall. Gina Bellman and Edward Tudor- Pole appear in Horse Opera. which has a libretto by Johnathan Moore. based on Anne Caulfreld's play Cowboys. The music by ex-Police-man Stewart Copeland brings touches of rap to the style he has developed over years of composing for the cinema. Content. on the other hand. fits more easily into the contemporary opera sphere. bringing together the three members of 70s an rock band Slapp Happy composer Anthcny Moore. librettist Peter Blegvad and singer Dagmar Krause. The [impress is all Channel 4 (in Sun 30 at 8pm. with (.‘amera on Sun 6 and Horse Opera on Sun I 3.

Gladiator Mike Aheame flexes his muscles in the Empress

:— Hip shots

‘You know Vogue? You know the cover?’ enquired the voice with the soft Edinburgh lilt. ‘Well I’ve shot about 270 of them.’

Nobody knows who Albert Watson is, yet his images of the extremely famous, the extremely beautiful, and the lust extreme have stared out from magazine racks for decades. Now a film profile for BBC Scotland’s arts series EX-S is about to reclaim this Scottish photographer for the nation.

Jonathan [lemme is plucking his eyebrows in a studio in downtown New ; York, so Watson has a few minutes to

spare before ‘shooding’ as they call it over there. ‘I left Scotland in ’66,’ he drawls with just a hint of Manhattan, ‘then I went to LA and then came back to New York. Now I have my own

' company here and I take photographs for clients all over the world.’

He works a lot in fashion, but also turns his hand to landscapes, still

. lifes, direct pop videos and feature film trailers. Watson has become the Chanel No 5 of photography. liis

; images are immaculately shot and positively reek of glamour. But there’s

more to his work than simply

technique. ‘You have to get on with

people. If you don’t like people, you

shouldn’t do it. If that doesn’t happen

then it doesn’t work at all.’

Not that it’s a problem for Watson.

; The Rolling Stones, Clint Eastwood,

Sade and Gary Oldman are all subjects who have become friends. Is he the

, Sean Connery oi celebrity

' photography? ‘Being Scottish has

. helped,’ he says. ‘Not so much the

' accent but the whole background.

. Perhaps it has something to do with _

l being down to earth, I don’t know.’ His explanations oi his popularity

verge on the simplistic. Experimental?

Soft focus? Anarchic? He’s been there,

but ‘Right now, photography is a slave

of almost normal pictures,’ he says. ‘if

the person’s there and they’re giving a i

smile then that’s it.’ Well, it all l

depends at whom they’re smiling. if ;

it’s Albert Watson, they know they’re


going to look good. (Beatrice Colin)

I One of Watson’s less famous subjects, from his i My "3"” '3 “be” wamn '3 on 33m l , Penitentiary series l on 8 February at 10.20pm.

The List 28 January—l0 February I994 71'