Nyman: Man and Boy; Dada

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Nyman
LABELS: MN Records
ALBUM TITLE: Nyman
WORKS: Man and Boy; Dada
PERFORMER: John Graham-Hall, William Sheldon, Vivian Tierney, Michael Nyman Band, Paul McGrath
CATALOGUE NO: MNRCD 101-2
Nyman has a reputation as one of the hard men of minimalism, but this opera presents an altogether gentler face. It’s set in post-World War II London, where impoverished émigré artist Kurt Schwitters encounters the Boy, Michael, on the top floor of a London bus. They’re both in search of bus tickets, Schwitters for his Dadaist artworks, the boy for his collection. After an initial period of hostility, they form an odd and rather touching friendship. Soon Schwitters meets Michael’s mother, and an awkward little romance develops between the rather prim Englishwoman and the visionary German artist. There are some good comic scenes, such as when Schwitters does his rendition of a Doodlebug in flight, but the tone is mostly nostalgic (Nyman himself was raised in post-war London), with Nyman’s usual ensemble of clarinets, saxophones and strings softened by the addition of a vibraphone. At one point there’s even an evocation of a genteel Lyons Corner House thé dansant.

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Some of the atmosphere is lost without the ingenious and evocative staging seen in the original Almeida Opera production. But the vocal performances, particularly from the 13-year-old William Sheldon as Michael, are every bit as good as they seemed at the time. And unusually for a contemporary opera, the words are clearly audible. The playing of Nyman’s own ensemble is tenderly expressive. Ivan Hewett