When he talks about Wagner, there’s no stopping conductor Tim Murray. The maestro is in Cape Town to conduct the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, the acclaimed Cape Town Opera Chorus and a cast of stars in Cape Town Opera’s new production of Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) in August.
It’s Murray’s first Wagner ever and it comes in a year of milestones – he turned 40 earlier this year , and his third child was born two months ago. “I first heard Wagner when I was a student and in fact went to the complete Ring twice one year when it was being semi-staged in the Royal Albert Hall when the Royal Opera House was being refurbished. From that time I was hooked.
The perfect Wagner opera
“The Flying Dutchman is the perfect Wagner opera to begin with: it has quite a traditional dramatic structure and is early enough in Wagner’s compositional career to show the influences of Beethoven, Webern and bel canto. Unlike his later works it contains a lot of music for chorus, which will suit our wonderful chorus here in Cape Town.”
However, the piece also shows the beginning of Wagner the modernist – scenes where he is experimenting and pushing the musical boundaries of the time. There are radical changes of orchestration and key. Unsettled characters have unsettled music! While much of the music is dramatic and dark, there are many light and entertaining moments. This opera has it all — the huge textures we associate with later works of Wagner and the lighter textures of early Romantic opera. One of the most gripping moments is towards the end, when Wagner pits light hearted folk music and drinking songs sung by the Norwegian crew against the terrifying music of the crew of the ghost ship. Silences break the increasingly boisterous songs of the Norwegians until there’s a sing-off in raging winds. Wagner throws everything at this scene and it is extraordinarily dramatic.”
This opera, not heard in Cape Town since the Richard Wagner Society mounted it in 2011 with Kamal Khan and before that Cape Town Opera with Chris Dowdeswell in 1986.
What more could we want!”
Murray has been in Cape Town since early July, beginning rehearsals with the chorus and then the principals; the orchestral rehearsals are only in August. Singers include Jaco Venter as the Dutchman and Lukhanyo Moyake, fresh from singing at the Cardiff Singer of the World finals, as Steuerman. While Murray was sorry to hear that soprano Elizabet Strid was forced to step down, he is pleased that her replacement is someone whose reputation precedes her – the South African soprano Johanni van Oostrum, who recently caused a stir when she sang in Peter Grimes in Wiesbaden under the direction of former CTO chorusmaster Albert Horne. She came to international attention when she took over the role of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier with Rattle. “She’s outstanding, she cancelled her holiday to take this engagement, she knows the role – she sang Senta in Heidelburg and Bonn – and she originated here! What more could we want!”
Murray’s wife, Julia, is a singer, one he used to accompany before their children came along . He studied violin, viola, piano, composition and organ before deciding that conducting was for him.
“I played the violin to a very high standard – until I was 14!” he says. He still plays the piano but when he was at Cambridge and the only music student in his college it fell to him to conduct the student orchestra. “This was great grounding for others like Sir Mark Elder and Sir Andrew Davis.” And now for him. On the strength of that, he auditioned for a place at the Royal College of Music and to his surprise he found he really wanted to get in. He did!
Even though he has been associate conductor of CTO since 2012, he wasn’t new to Cape Town. “I actually spent time as repetiteur at the Spier Festival in 2000, and when there was a position going as second conductor on a CTO tour of the UK in 2012, someone recommended me and I was delighted to be approached. One thing led to another and now Murray is not only a regular in Cape Town but the conductor of choice on CTO’s tours – Mandela Trilogy at the South Bank last year, and another tour, both times with the CPO, of the Trilogy to Hong Kong and Dubai later this year. “
It was Murray who also conducted the CPO in The Mandela Trilogy at the South Bank last year, opening the International Orchestra Series at the Royal Festival Hall. “It was a proud moment,” he says.
Before he came back to Cape Town, he was prepping Turandot at the Royal Opera House, conducting the South Bank Sinfonia and touring Germany. He also conducted with CTO in Argentina. He also took some time out to be around for the birth of his son, since he missed that of his second child, Alice, and to attend a school recital where seven-year-old Arlo played violin in a baby string orchestra,
Next year sees Murray back in Madrid, where he will conduct Kurt Weill’s Street Scene at the Teatro Real. He has already taken Porgy and Bess there.
On a more serious note, as if Wagner is not serious enough, Murray is concerned about the implications of Brexit. “Freelance musicians, especially conductors and singers, rely on engagements from abroad, most especially Europe, and if Brexit means that there will not be free and easy movement, the implications are scary.”
What: Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman)
Where: Artscape Opera House, Foreshore, Cape Town
Who: Cape Town Opera with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaco Venter (Dutchman), Johanni van Oostrum (Senta), Samuel Sakker (Erik), Gregory Frank (Daland), Lukhanyo Moyake (Steuermann), Violina Anguelov, Nonhlanhla Yende (Mary), Cape Town Opera Chorus; Director: Matthew Wild Designer: Michael Mitchell Chorus Master: Marvin Kernelle Lighting: Kobus Roussouw; Choreographer: Celeste Botha
When: 17 August, 2017, 7.30pm; 19 August, 6pm; 23 August, 7.30pm; 26 August, 6pm
Pre-opera Talks: Rodney Trudgeon, 45 min before curtain up, Side Opera Bar, 1 Floor,
Book: http://online.computicket.com/web/event/ der_fliegende_hollander/1097768009/0/76731101