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Dove, Jonathan


Reviews

The Adventures of Pinocchio
‘Tidings of great joy: a Christmas miracle in Leeds! A modern composer has produced a new opera that is funny, poignant, tuneful, spectacular – and, best of all, stunningly conceived for all the family. To find an opera house full of eight-year-olds, held spellbound throughout a show lasting nearly three hours, is rare enough. To find that discerning adults – and yes, even grizzled old critics – are also grinning from ear to ear at the final curtain is pretty well unprecedented.
This must be Jonathan Dove’s finest hour. The Hackney-based composer has produced some entertaining community and youth-orientated shows over the past couple of decades. But with the help of a delightfully droll libretto from his long-time collaborator, Alasdair Middleton, he has turned Carlo Collodi’s classic fairytale into a surreal wonderland of music-theatre that leaves an indelible impression.
The orchestration alone is masterly: a quick-change succession of ear-tickling timbres and catchy rhythms. They perfectly evoke the gaudy kaleidoscope of misadventures and dodgy characters that assail the aspiring boy-puppet as he gradually learns, mostly the hard way, what it is to be a proper human being.
It’s true that Dove’s music contains plenty of echoes. Sondheim, Britten, Bernstein, American minimalism, and (in its sinuous Lydian-mode melodies) even Vaughan Williams come to mind. But whatever its influences, the score is a magically crafted vehicle for a pacy story. […]
Beg, borrow, steal or preferably buy a ticket.’
Five Stars - Richard Morrison, The Times, 26 December 2007

‘Pinocchio is a tale which has been told in many different ways: as a cartoon strip by original creator Carlo Collodi; as a sentimental animated adventure by Walt Disney; and now as a darkly surreal grand opera by librettist Alasdair Middleton and composer Jonathan Dove.[…] This is Dove's 21st opera, but only the second with a full pit in front of it; and he uses these expanded resources with magnificent relish.
The most admirable aspect of the work is its refusal to compromise. Dove and Middleton incorporate the sinister, near-death elements of Collodi's narrative that are usually edited out: the music for the scene in which Pinocchio is fleeced of his money is almost too morbid to bear. Yet the younger members of the audience seemed to be lapping it up. Children can be the hardest audience to capture, but also the most loyal when their attention has been won. When I ask seven-year-old Jack Richardson from Bradford to nominate his single favourite moment he responds without hesitation: "I liked it when the Cricket got squished!"’
Five Stars – Alfred Hickling, The Guardian, 24 December 2007

‘"Make me, make me!" demanded Pinocchio of Jonathan Dove and, obeying his tapping inner voice, the composer did just that. With the writer Alasdair Middleton, he has fashioned an opera, which, from the glittering opening chord and the appearance on stage of a singing log, cannot fail to beguile young theatre-goers. At Opera North's world premiere of The Adventures of Pinocchio, the older and preposterously black-tied audience was equally enthralled.
With a large cast covering the 27 named roles, there's huge scope for vivid characterisation – musically, dramatically and visually. There is nothing in the score that could possibly put off anyone for whom the words "new music" send shivers up the spine. […]
What is clear, however, is that Dove's melodically abundant lines are perfectly carved to match the shape and cadences of Middleton's speech-rhythms – more so than is usual in operatic vocal-writing, perhaps.
Sometimes whittled down to nothing more than percussive fragments breaking a dramatic silence, the full orchestra and lusty chorus are lavishly employed elsewhere to almost Verdian effect. […]
This Pinocchio is clearly for life, not just for Christmas.’
Lynne Walker, Independent December 2007

‘What an inspired and exiting opera this is. Gorgeous characters, a busy story rich in incident and an exhilarating mix of music. Delight follows delight. Pinocchio might seem a familiar story but this production takes on the darker aspects of Collodi’s original tale, including the moment when Pinocchio is hanged. It will surprise adults who have only seen the Disney version. […] On press night youngsters on booster cushions were transfixed from first to last. It really is that good.’
Kevin Berry, The Stage, 27 December 2007


Flight
‘...one of the few successful comic operas of recent musical history...’
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, 29 June 2003

‘Where Flight succeeds, gloriously, is in its music. Dove shows himself to be a masterful composer with a highly tuned ear for orchestral colour, dramatic pacing and natural vocal line. [...] he creates a powerful original language of his own: it is glistening, buoyant and constantly mobile.’
Graham Strahle, The Australian, 6 March 2006 on the Australian première at the Adelaide Festival

‘Glyndebourne’s revival of the original production, directed by Richard Jones, the opera’s orchestral brilliance, the infectiousness of Dove’s vocal writing, and the slickness of its staging, make for an exciting night. [...] Dove’s music, like April de Angelis’s crafty libretto, encompasses lyrical love music and hectic farce.’
Tom Service, The Guardian, 15 August 2005

‘For many, the first US performance of Jonathan Dove’s Flight was the season’s hit, and it is not hard to see why. Here is a highly entertaining work that speaks clear English.’
John Allison, Opera, September 2003 - on the US premiere at Opera Theatre of St Louis

Flight is that rarest thing: a popular new comic opera. The warmth and enthusiasm of the audience at the Glyndebourne première was remarkable, and this wasn’t a crowd of just luvvies and friends. Put it down to music that is instantly graspable and often beautiful, and a cast that includes some excellent young singers who get rewarding stuff to sing and then give it the works. […] Optimistic yet poignant, Flight indulges sentimentality along with laughs. What matters is that Dove’s music flies, the opera is fun, and people are going to love it.’
Tom Sutcliffe, The Evening Standard, 28 September 1998

‘Perhaps this is the future: modern opera which is appealing and enjoyable and which provides a contemporary synthesis of popular elements and contemporary developments. The large audience, as at the Glyndebourne première, greeted Flight enthusiastically and cheered its composer.’
Raymond Head, Tempo, December 1998

‘I watched the entire [television] production in one mesmerised sitting…The inspired ensemble writing...created touching moments of great profundity…With a complex but melodic score...and a text that eloquently conveyed the futility of much of modern life, this was a piece that made opera look like a thriving art form and not an elegant fossil.’
Victor Lewis-Smith, The Evening Standard, 30 September 1999

‘Dove writes music that is tuneful, tonal and tangy. And it is sensationally orchestrated. In short, it’s instantly beguiling. […] Flight will entertain wherever it touches down.’
Richard Morrison, The Times, 16 August 1999

‘A modern opera in which you are allowed to laugh […] Flight is accessible. Flight is fun. […] It is possible: modern opera can be gorgeous.’
Jochen Breiholz, Die Welt, 16 April 2004 - on the Leipzig German première

‘This is ensemble at its best.’
Christian Schmidt, Freie Presse, 15 April 2004 - on the Leipzig German première

‘Jonathan Dove's Flight, which the Boston Lyric Opera opened Wednesday evening at the Shubert Theatre, soars to the heights of Greek tragedy, yet lands firmly in the bottomless humor of opera buffa. In its East Coast premiere, this is a work that Boston audiences should not miss.’
Keith Powers, The Boston Herald, 29 April 2005 – on the Boston Lyric Opera production

Flight CD Reviews
‘Recorded live at Glyndebourne in 1999, Jonathan Dove and April de Angelis’ brilliant comic opera about travellers stranded in an airport is as engaging on disc as it was in the theatre (and I write having seen it at least five times).’
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, 18 April 2004

Flight was proclaimed a miracle of the age – a new opera that managed to be accessible, enjoyable, dramatic and musically adroit. […] Dove’s music, allied to April de Angelis’ libretto, prances along with as much glitter and opera know-how as ever. […] You should take this delayed Flight immediately.’
Geoff Brown, The Times, 30 April 2004

‘Highly intelligent […] the ensembles are both eloquent and elegant […] Anyone who cares about opera as a living art form will rejoice in Chandos’s decision to issue the recording of Flight from Glyndebourne with the original cast.’
Pick of the month. Christopher Cook, BBC Music Magazine, June 2004

‘Few operas in recent decades have been instant hits with audience and critics, but Jonathan Dove's Flight, premièred at Glyndebourne by its touring arm in the autumn of 1998, is one of them.’
Matthew Rye, The Daily Telegraph, 12 June 2004 – also chosen as best opera recording of 2004

L’altra Euridice
‘But the real high point was L’altra Euridice. Calvino’s text found perfect expression in Jonathan Dove’s music, which was tonal, sunny and lyrical, its colour and intensity varying according to the text.’
Opera, December 2001

‘Dove conjured enchanting music…’
Nick Kimberley, Opera, September 2002

L’Augellino Belverde – The Little Green Swallow
‘Such a plot demands a composer who can write with persuasive clarity and charm. Dove is the right man for the job. His language might owe a lot to American-style minimalism, but with him there’s no filling in of empty spaces, no going round in meaningless circles. Instead, he uses minimalist devices to generate energy and thrust and often hilarity.’
Stephen Pettitt, Evening Standard, 6 June 2005

‘The premiere of a Jonathan Dove opera is worth waiting or travelling for.
It’s a bit retro to admit to liking Dove’s operas: this is a composer who commits the solecism of allowing the audience some aesthetic pleasure, lyricism even, in his music. There are undoubtedly moments when other composers’ names pop into your head — Bernstein, Britten, Adams, Sondheim — but a successful idiom always draws on what worked before. Dove has a distinctive voice, an instantly recognisable sound-world . He has fantasy, humour, a gift for storytelling and theatrical moments.’
Robert Thicknesse, The Times, 6 June 2005

‘Audiences tired long ago of the unapproachable operas of the 1960s and this composer with his quick intelligence and light-hearted humour raises hopes for the 21st century.
The enchantment, wit and humanity were all in the music.’ Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 8 June 2005


The Crocodiamond (or Rita and the Wolf)
‘...this is a piece that deserves to delight children for generations.’
Anthony Holden, The Observer, November 23 2003


The Enchanted Pig
‘The Young Vic has been expertly rebuilt and anyone who saw its relaunch show, a community opera called Tobias and the Angel, will be delighted to know that the composer of that show, Jonathan Dove, has also written the music for The Enchanted Pig. Mr Dove is, I think, a genius.’
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, 15 December 2006

‘I don't see the word emblazoned on the programme, but the Young Vic's Christmas show is an opera in all but name. Don't, however, let that deter anyone from taking the children. Reuniting many of the team that brought us Tobias and the Angel, this is a show that proves opera, at its best, is a source of magic and enchantment.
The librettist, Alasdair Middleton, has raided the fairy-tale catalogue, drawing on Romanian, Norwegian and classical sources. He starts with King Hildebrand and his three daughters, the youngest of whom, Flora, is fated to be married to a pig. Undeterred by the fact that her mate is under a spell that makes him a swine by day and a swain by night, Flora falls in love with him and, when he is abducted by a wicked old woman, she goes in ardent galactic pursuit of him, aided by the sun, moon and north wind.
At various times, the story nods in the direction of Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, The Golden Ass and King Lear. […] the story is bound together by the charm of Middleton's lyrics and Jonathan Dove's score. Announcing that her husband is a pig, Flora is tartly informed by the old woman that "most husbands are". But such cynicism is offset by a number delivered by Mr and Mrs Northwind who look like a fractious pair until they jointly sing: "I love the curlers in her hair, I love his filthy underwear." At this point Dove's score, which has echoes of Sondheim and Weill, suddenly acquires a panto jauntiness.’
4 stars, Michael Billington, The Guardian, December 15, 2006

‘It has become a cliché to say that the freshest, most original seasonal shows emanate from the Young Vic, but the boring thing about this cliché is that it is incontrovertibly true. The new box of delights is a through-sung opera with music by Jonathan Dove and lyrics by Alasdair Middleton based on ancient Romanian and Norwegian folk tales with their origins in the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Put like that, The Enchanted Pig may sound off-putting. It is the very opposite: simple to follow, delightful to behold and easy on the ear, the show re-casts the Beauty and the Beast fable in the story of a beautiful princess who is ordered by Fate to marry “a fat pig from the North” (no, he’s nothing like Wayne Rooney) and discovers her true love.’
Michael Coveney, What’s on Stage, 15 December 2006

‘When it comes to Christmas shows, the Young Vic has a peerless reputation, and so it proves again with this year’s offering, The Enchanted Pig. I had thought the theatre might have bitten off more than its audience could chew. The Enchanted Pig is a full-blown, through-sung opera by no less a composer than Jonathan Dove, who has had work staged at Glyndebourne and was responsible for the theatre’s superb reopening show, Tobias and the Angel.
But would the very young audience at a Christmas show be able to sit attentively through more than two hours of solid singing? Whisper it, but I’m 51 and always fidget dreadfully at the opera. In fact, the children in the theatre were evidently entranced throughout, and the three seven-year-old girls in front of me had their eyes and ears on stalks. Dove’s music for a six-piece band that includes harp, accordion, and trombone is immediately accessible and not at all grand, the singing doesn’t have the over-trained, show-offy quality that puts me right off high opera, and Alasdair Middleton’s libretto is a witty, touching delight. […]
Indeed, after watching both The Enchanted Pig and Tobias and the Angel, I suspect I’m not as allergic to opera as I imagined.’
Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph, 16 December 2006

'The Young Vic is renowned for regularly providing the best Christmas show in London. And I'm delighted to say that it has done so again in its newly refurbished home with this exhilarating opera for children (and discerning adults). The show boasts witty, versatile lyrics by Alasdair Middleton and an inspiring through-sung score by Jonathan Dove.'
4 Stars - Paul Taylor, The Independent, 19 December 2006

‘A ravishing score for eight singers, accordion, harp, trombone, percussion, cello and double bass — what more could you ask of a musical fairy tale? A darn good story, and The Enchanted Pig offers a twisty tale of love triumphant via envy, greed, a witch and a princess journeying to remove a spell. What’s more, it keeps children and adults, well, spellbound. Pretty damn good for what is essentially an opera. […]
More importantly, his music is expressly designed for drama (he’s written 20 operas and more scores for theater productions). Dove uses music to tell stories and drive everything forward. Dove’s command of rhythm allows for wit. With a strong beat in place, words can be placed on or off it to comic effect. And librettist Alasdair Middleton provides well-shaped, pared-down words that lift when sung.’
David Benedict, Variety, 20 December 2006



Hojoki (An Account of My Hut)
’Dove's talent has long been for painting vivid pictures with his music, and in Hojoki he excels himself.'
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, 4 October 2006

‘Not often does a counter-tenor get to sing with a symphony orchestra. But when that happens in future, Jonathan Dove’s Hojoki (An Account of My Hut) should be high on the list of repertoire choices. Evocative and poignant, this 25-minute piece is like one of those 18th-century cantatas designed to show off the expressive potential of a solo voice in many different moods.
The moods are supplied by the text: Donald Keene’s English translation of a chronicle written by Kamo no Chomei, a medieval Japanese poet and monk. It vividly describes how 13th-century Kyoto was ravaged by fire, whirlwind, famine and earthquake. Then the poet discusses his own renunciation of earthly concerns in preparation for a holy death. It’s a man coming to terms with his own, and mankind’s, fragility.
Dove sets this prose extract imaginatively and expertly, not least in ensuring that the counter-tenor is never swamped by the pictorial effects — terrifying, sombre, thrilling, ethereal — in the orchestra. The language is accessible: shades of Stravinsky, Debussy, Britten and Tippett, mingled with minimalist techniques. Yet the expressiveness feels new-minted, right to the final pages, where Dove whittles down the orchestra to wispy flute and harp phrases in an otherworldly oriental mode.'
Richard Morrison, The Times, 3 October 2006


Köthener Messe
‘[…] this is an extremely clever and touching piece.’
Annette Morreau, The Independent, 27 June 2006

‘An ingenious fusion of ancient and modern[…] The result, rather than a mere exercise in pastiche, is a typically Dovian and ingenious fusion of old and new […] Dove’s Mass is by no means the first modern work to be written for period-instrument forces, but it’s certainly one of the most imaginative. Recorders, strings and harpsichord give him plenty of colours to play with, and the vocal writing is a well-judged combination of solos and choruses. ‘
Matthew Rye, The Daily Telegraph, 26 June 2006

‘The result is playful, elegant and at times extremely witty […] It’s exquisite, in a teasing way.’
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 24 June 2006

‘Dove’s compact Mass imagines Bach during his period as the Köthen court Kapellmeister, falling asleep during the drone of a church sermon and conjuring a dream Mass from fragments of his own instrumental music. Free of their usual moorings, motifs drift and find new companions. Snatches from the Brandenburgs meet relics from the first book of The Well-Tempered Klavier. Keys are mixed and transposed, phrases reiterated or left unfinished; yet from these shards and distortions Dove still weaves a tapestry that makes perfect musical sense. He also shapes a Mass both witty and reverent […] An enchanting work; I can imagine many more performances.’
Geoff Brown, The Times, 23 June 2006

‘[...] a sophisticated work, peeled out of the baroque tradition in a moderate contemporary style.’ Johannes Killyen, Mittelbayerische Zeitung, 3 September 2002


Kwasi and Kwame - a successful opera from our own past One of the best selling Dutch books has now become one of the most attention-getting operas in this country’s history. The director team Mirjam Koen and Gerrit Timmers have produced Arthur Japin’s novel The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi. [...]
With O.T., the story of Kwasi and Kwame (two African princes who as children were given to King Willem I and grew up in this country) is not just about the past. It is about identity and integration, about the facile idea we in the West have that identity is something that can be traded in, and the notion we have that our values are somehow cleansing. It is about the chasm between the old and the new world of the refugee. When, at the end, one of Kwasi’s children flies over the stage in a large paper bird, the message is clear. Every generation has its own paths to trod. There is no happy ending.
Everything comes together perfectly: the suggestive staging, the sublime libretto (written by Japin himself), and the stirring minimalistic music of the British composer Jonathan Dove. In 21 scenes we see the princes grow up. One tries to blend in, the other goes back to his country of origin, vainly seeking for his roots. All the performers (including the many children who participate) sing and act convincingly. In a word, Japin’s bestseller has made a convincing new start as an opera.’
Oswin Schneeweisz, Algemeen Dagblad, 30 October 2007

‘“The first ten years of my life I was not black,” Prince Kwasi sings at the end of De zwarte met het witte hart, summing up in one sentence the problem of his entire life, the subject of this opera. Based on a true story, known from the novel of the same title by Arthur Japin, the tale is painful. Two small African boys, Kwasi and Kwame, are shipped off to Holland in 1837 by a Dutch officer. There, they receive a Western upbringing and even move in the highest circles. Kwame can’t forget his birthplace, but he is too Westernized to be able to return. He does not end up well. But even Kwasi, though he is well integrated, meets impassable obstacles, which of course have everything to do with the color of his skin.
Japin himself, at the request of Opera O.T., turned his novel into a libretto, showing that he also has a good ear for music. He not only managed to bring all the ingredients from the novel into a series of scenes, but his texts also open up room for logical musical forms and reminiscences. And the English composer Jonathan Dove, commissioned by the directors Gerrit Timmers and Mirjam Koen to provide the music for the story, has cleverly used all these possibilities.
Though the opera is sung in English, it includes typically Dutch elements. St. Nicholas and Black Peters put in an appearance, and the children in a school in Delft sing hymns with a humming sound that recalls a harmonium. But Dove takes the opportunity to delve into African and Javanese music as well. His idiom also shows the influences of John Adams, Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, and Leonard Bernstein, but stands out because of its open sound and a sobriety that — despite the terrible story — rarely sounds grim, thanks to a refined instrumentation that gives it great dramatic power. The broad strokes of the opera work make way for recitative singing and short ariosos, but never at the price of depth. Especially not in the second half of the performance. [...]’
Frits van der Waa, De Volkskrant, 29 October 2007


The Middleham Jewel
‘The world premiere of Dove’s 15-minute score, its four continuous movements responding to the silent chants which seem to sing out from the esoteric mysteries engraved in the jewel, revealed a new miniature masterwork.’
Hilary Finch, The Times, 27 February 2003

On Spital Fields
‘This brilliant 75-minute cantata is the best piece of community music-making I have seen in several years. It wasn’t just that the 200 performers — amateurs and professionals, tots, teens and grannies — were totally assured in voice and movement. Or that, time and again, the composer Jonathan Dove conjured breathtaking effects, ravishing tunes and spine-tingling ensembles. [...] No, what made this piece compelling was its total fidelity to the spirit of the place that inspired it — Spitalfields […]’
Richard Morrison, The Times, 24 June 2005

‘[Jonathan Dove’s] On Spital Fields, which has just had its première in the heartland of the London district that inspired it, is a gem of a piece and had me enthralled from start to finish.’
Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph, 24 June 2005


Siren Song (CD review)
Not since Benjamin Britten has a composer succeeded in writing operas which communicate with such clarity and coherence to their audience as Jonathan Dove. The secret to his success lies partly in his experiences of writing “community” operas, resulting in refreshingly open and accessible works. But there’s also plenty of grit and grime beneath the polished veneer of his streamlined style, especially when the plot is equally compelling and disturbing as it is in Siren Song. […] Dove’sdramatic skill lies in his ability to create a seamless continuity by weaving cell-like musical figures from one scene to the next. His subtle manipulation of an undulating pattern first heard in the opening seascape scene is adapted to accompany a whole host of other states and situations, from Davey and Diana’s sharing of future hopes in their letters (scene 4), to the dream-induced sexual evocations of scene 5.’
(Pwyll ap Siôn, Gramophone, August 2008)

Jonathan Dove’s one act opera Siren Song is based upon a book by Gordon Honeycombe detailing a true story. From it Dove and his librettist Nick Dear have created a hypnotic and fast-moving fantasia. The opera was commissioned by Almeida Opera and first performed in 1994. In many ways it is an atypical Almeida commission as Dove’s style is not that cutting-edge; instead he produces well crafted works which mix wit with a fine eye (and ear) for operatic construction and an aural palate that owes something to John Adams... Dove’s score is written for a relatively small ensemble, just ten players, but he manages within these confines to create some wonderfully hypnotic and transparent textures. He uses percussive recreations of natural noises, morse code tapping and the like, to create rhythmical and musical structures...I enjoyed this recording and will return to it. Dove’s melodic and well-crafted operas are always a joy to encounter and I hope that this one wins him yet more admirers.
Robert Hugill, Music web international, August 2008

Jonathan Dove is now a prolific composer of dramatic works of all sorts. Without hesitation he could be thought of as the UK’s leading composer of opera. Siren Song was one of his earlier works and it seems one of his most striking and successful. This is its debut recording. It is also the second Dove opera which Chandos have recorded, ‘Flight’ (1998) having come out in 2005 (CHAN 10197(2)) – see S&H review. I have not heard ‘Flight’ so I did have the possible advantage of coming to this new disc with, as it were, virgin ears. I will pass on my thoughts. But first the plot. The libretto by Nick Dear is based on a book by ex-ITV broadcaster Gordon Honeycombe and divides the plot into seven scenes. It is important to understand that it is set, we are clearly told, in 1988 before mobile phones and the internet were so common. The story concerns a true ‘scam’ of a relationship between a naval seaman Davey Palmer and Diana Reed a model who does not actually exist despite the fact that they exchange letters. He sees her in his imagination, skimpily and fashionably dressed and we see and hear her too - sadly the booklet which has several photos only has one of Diana with her back to us! A strong relationship is formed yet it is only out of a newspaper ad put in by a con-man who sets himself up as Diana’s brother and extorts gifts and money from Davey. I won’t go on and spoil it for you. There are some amusing moments and some disturbing ones, some bad language and some moments when you sympathize with Davey when you know him to be a fool. Davey is sung by the marvellous Australian tenor Brad Cooper - not the Hollywood actor by the way - who brings the character completely to life most believably. He has a superb voice with a fine upper register. He has only a little more to do than the Dutch baritone Mattijs van de Woerd who plays Jonathan Reed. He too has superb diction and characterisation. Any composer with singers like these can consider himself lucky indeed. Not only that but the supporting performers are very well cast especially the glorious and at times, sexy soprano of Amaryllis Dieltiens who until now has been more noted for her early music recordings. I suspect that the purity and clarity of her voice even when competing with a large(ish) ensemble made her an ideal choice for this extraordinary part. Henk Guittart keeps everything under superb control, tempi and balance, especially so in the complex quintet for all of the main characters in scene sixteen.

I am caught between my heart and my brain even more than usual with this piece. Quite simply I was utterly carried away at times by the story-line and music. The melodies soar and are memorable being also obviously grateful to sing; the harmonies yearned with a rare passion and the orchestration for a fairly small ensemble was neat and beautifully thought out and coloured. So there you are, in nutshell all the positives. Now the negatives. Dove enables a sense of forward movement to be created by a consistent and persistent series of ostinati over which voices fall and rise in a basically tonal idiom. Using this approach anything is possible but there is a lack of textural techniques and still moments. These ostinati, typical of John Adams and Philip Glass with their repetitions, create a very slow-moving harmonic backdrop creating the effect one of constantly running on the spot; composing like this is quick and simpler than usual. And no harm in that I hear you and the composer cry. You might however tire of the instrumental background and often feel sorry for the players. In Scene 2 for instance it’s over two minutes before the tonality shifts and then up only a semitone for a short time before another slightly newer ostinato takes over. I must add that some of the libretti is best lost and forgotten “We’ll go to Comet/To Comet/It’s the centre of the home appliance universe /I could live in Comet” and so on.

Yet and yet I have much enjoyed this opera and would love to see it. I shall listen to it again. It is often exciting, stirring and very beautiful. It’s curious that an Almeida commission should find itself made available on CD from a Dutch company at a live Dutch performance. Jonathan Dove’s position in the UK despite his output is still side-lined, unregarded and unrewarded. Being a live recording there are occasional blemishes and audiences noises. Instrumental parts disappearing into the ether from time to time but the performance has a magic about it which is indescribable. The full text is clearly printed along with an essay by Julian Grant - who, like Dove, has also worked on community opera projects. There is a plot synopsis and various cast photos and biographies all in a thick 78 page booklet.
Gary Higginson, Music web international, September 2008

Stargazer
‘The idea of a trombone concerto in which the soloist is cast as a ‘stargazer’ searching the night sky, and in which the main musical material is derived from Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star sounds a trite conceit. But Jonathan Dove's Stargazer, which premièred on Friday, makes of this unpromising combination a serious and wholly engaging 20-minute tour through the heavens. Its subject matter has inspired inevitable echoes of Holst's Planets – ‘Jupiter’ in the jollity of the ‘Constellations’ movement, ‘Neptune’ in the translucent opening and the closing ‘Milky Way’ section. But the whole is ingeniously held together by the rising fifth and falling scale of Twinkle, Twinkle - basic musical building blocks that furnish Dove's approachable and diatonic language. His writing for the trombone, an instrument that is too often typecast as ‘Big Bad Wolf’ or ‘Clown’, is commendably lyrical: indeed his whole conception is deliberately "operatic”. He was commissioned to write the concerto back in 1999 for the then principal trombonist of the LSO, Ian Bousfield. Almost immediately, Bousfield left to take up the same role with the Vienna Philharmonic and only now has been able to schedule the world première with his old colleagues. It was a triumphant homecoming, with playing of enormous subtlety that reminded us why he is one of the world's most sought-after trombonists.’
Matthew Rye, The Telegraph, 11 March 07

‘There are too many concertos for flashy fiddlers and pianists, and too few for those talented, modest souls who play the trombone. I should perhaps declare that I was one myself, though in my most ludicrous fantasies I could never have aspired to the insouciant brilliance displayed by Ian Bousfield, the Vienna Philharmonic’s Yorkshire-born principal trombone, for the premiere of Jonathan Dove’s trombone concerto Stargazer. It’s a hugely enjoyable if lightweight piece, almost like film music in its vivid orchestration, old-fashioned tunefulness and unpretentious storytelling. Dove pictures the trombonist, peering along the bell of his instrument, as an astronomer searching the night sky through his telescope (an image Bousfield reinforced by pointing his instrument at the slightly less galactic recesses of the Barbican ceiling). As the astronomer finds various constellations, so Dove’s music evokes their mythological associations. He also uses the tune ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ as the thematic basis for the whole 25-minute piece, though you would be forgiven if you didn’t spot that. Dove’s craftsmanship is, however, instantly discernible. He loves to bounce ideas from soloist to orchestra, or set up shimmering accompaniments over which the trombone launches pensive soliloquies that sometimes utilise advanced brass-playing tricks such as harmonics or flutter-tonguing. There are numerous reminiscences — Gershwin, Holst, John Williams. But Stargazer treats this often caricatured instrument with dignity and imagination, and that gives it an overriding integrity. The London Symphony Orchestra, Bousfield’s former band, seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the soloist.’
Richard Morrison, The Times, 13 March 2007

‘‘A miniature opera for the trombone’ is Jonathan Dove's description of Stargazer, his beautiful, impudent concerto for the instrument. It was written as long ago as 1999 for the LSO's then principal trombonist Ian Bousfield, though the latter's subsequent move to the Vienna Philharmonic meant delaying the premiere, somewhat curiously, for several years. Dove's works are often gleefully and wittily allusive, and Stargazer is effectively a free-flowing, six-section fantasia on - of all things – ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. The irony, however, is that this most famous of tunes is continually varied beyond recognition, though its contours are occasionally discernible in the thematic flow. Bousfield is imagined as the eponymous stargazer scouring the heavens with his telescope, meanwhile, and a succession of fluently scored genre-pieces represents the various constellations that heave into view. A central aria, full of sighing, descending trombone slides, depicts brotherly love in Gemini. Pegasus preens over a ritzy jazz bass, and the work ends with a kaleidoscopic evocation of the Milky Way. The flashing orchestral sonorities, beautifully examined by the LSO under Michael Tilson Thomas, owe much to early Stravinsky. Bousfield was mightily impressive: Dove's trombone writing is genuinely operatic in that he allows the instrument to sing in ways that redefine its lyrical potential.’
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 13 March 2007

‘On paper, Jonathan Dove's Stargazer is a paradox: a piece about space, concerning cosmic questions and profound philosophies, written for the most stereotypically galumphing member of the orchestra, the trombone. By turning the instrument into an outsider - an anonymous man with a telescope - Dove both overcomes the discrepancy and transforms the concerto mould into a profound dialogue between mortal soloist and galactic orchestra. And it all works rather well. At the work's opening, Stargazer's search for answers is heeded only by mysterious violins and secretive tuned percussion, while a throbbing timpani motif hurriedly retracts into the texture, hiding itself from speculation. Later, as the soloist calls out, spot-them-if-you-can instrumental voices burst forward with brief antiphonal responses, while the violins splatter into the texture a frenzied line of semi-minimalist statements. What is the nature of their answer? If the trombone's dastardly trills, balanced on a threatening double bass growl, are anything to go by, it is not a pleasing one. Ambiguity abounds, though stylistically we are in familiar territory for the subject matter: ethereal strings, splayed percussion, bursts of blazing trumpets and moody harmonic progressions are in abundance. Gustav Holst and John Williams are just two names that spring to mind. Stargazer is, however, exceptionally well orchestrated and not without its surprises, including one startling invasion of jazz in the second half. Even more surprising is the writing for the trombone, which shakes off its reputation as a drunken uncle and sails through the full gauntlet of emotions with a freedom of expression and not a little charisma.’
Dave Paxton, musicOMH.com, 13 March 2007


Tobias and the Angel
‘This was a truly glorious occasion: the reopening of one of Britain’s most consistently imaginative and daring theatres with a community opera of heart-stopping beauty and depth of feeling. […] Tobias and the Angel, with a beautiful and accessible score by Jonathan Dove, and a potent, witty and moving libretto by the Young Vic’s outstanding artistic director, David Lan, was the company’s first “walkabout” show and now it returns to reopen the building and bring the company home. […] When everyone is singing, the sound is absolutely glorious. Dove’s score combines exuberant ensemble numbers inspired by the Jewish klezmer tradition with more meditative, lyrical passages reflecting the beauties of nature. […] the Young Vic has returned home in triumph.’
Charles Spencer, The Telegraph, 13 October 2006

‘So was this a curious choice to reinaugurate the theatre? Absolutely not. Community opera is a genre that can so easily patronise its participants, but Dove and Fulljames’s treatment of the amateurs — children and adults, drawn from Lambeth — is so assured that they are as much the stars of this superb piece as anyone else. Dove, who memorably turned the ordinary into the extraordinary in his hugely successful comic opera Flight, goes one better in Tobias: he makes the fantastical familiar. [...] Around this simple story of redemption Dove’s score expertly surrounds Lan’s witty and direct libretto: nods to klezmer spice up the freshly minted melodies; shivering discords take us into the story’s darker territory. [...] This is life-enhancing stuff, and by the time of the final climax, when the theatre resounds to the tenderest of Dove’s hymns, it’s clear that the “New” Young Vic has got itself off to a terrific start.’
Neil Fisher, The Times, 13 October 2006

‘[...] a more all-embracing and deeply charming opera you could not wish for [...] This production is alive with the energy of mass endeavour, its professional cast supplemented by a talented and superbly drilled amateur chorus of men, women and children from Lambeth and Southwark. [...] Jonathan Dove’s score is accessible in its theatricality, driving the action with changes of orchestral colour a child should understand - the angel gets celesta and flutes, a whinge gets some fussy plucked strings. Yet it is far from patronising. Dove’s melodic lines subtly trace the varied emotional paths of David Lan’s libretto. Klezmer music is all over the place, with the buzz of an accordion providing background for lamentation, its oom-pah announcing comic moments.’
Kieron Quirke, The Evening Standard, 12 October 2006

‘The music never patronises the participants and Dove's melodies are both winningly immediate and dramatically astute. The score conjures surging rivers, precipitous mountains and even a moving mysticism.
The most ravishing music in the whole score comes at the end of the story, as counter-tenor James Laing's stranger reveals himself to be the angel Raphael and the whole cast sings a hymn-like melody with rapt intensity. Inclusive in the best sense of the word, Tobias and the Angel is a community opera that is also a compelling work of music-theatre.’
Tom Service, The Guardian, 10 September 2004

‘One reason Jonathan Dove’s opera Flight was such a triumph at Glyndebourne is that he understands the marriage of theatre and music. He knows how to rouse passions and raise smiles. Tunes flow in abundance, and for him, creating a mood, capturing a feeling for an instant, are second nature...His new one-act church opera Tobias and the Angel surpasses all his achievements to date...’
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, 11 July 1999

‘I can’t wait to hear it again...In my opinion, Dove has created a work of exceptional merit and individuality. The scoring for small orchestrais ingenious and ear-catching, the writing for chorus, including children, thrilling. Yes, I could mention it in the same breath as Noye’s Fludde.’
Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph, 11 July 1999

‘The première of Jonathan Dove’s new opera was one of those occasions that made you glad to be alive. It’s a “community” opera in the very best sense of the word...the sense of communal striving, communal uplift was palpable... In its sheer humanity it is indeed a worthy successor to The Magic Flute.’
Rodney Milnes, The Times, 9 July 1999


When She Died...
‘Jonathan Dove’s music is gorgeous, and the whole thing is beautifully staged, acted and sung. More surprisingly to opera non-buffs, watching it is a thought-provoking and devastatingly moving experience. Something opera certainly can be, but television rarely is.’
Lisa Mullen, Time Out London, August 21-28 2002

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