Sirens

Lecture recital on the Seductive Lure of the Female Voice.
Magdalen College Auditorium, Wed October 31st 2007

November 1, 2007
I left work yesterday early and in a rush to reach Magdalen Auditorium in time for the lecture recital entitled 'Sirens' at 5 p.m. I've attended a few of these in my day, so I knew what to expect: a singer with a premise for tying a group of songs together into a programme of song and a little hopefully witty or at least insightful banter. Presented under the auspices of The Onassis Programme for the Performance of Greek Drama at Oxford University, Sirens aimed to explore the 'lure of the female voice through history' mainly by discussing the portrayal of the mythical Siren in society and culture from antiquity through today. It was hardly the intellectual enterprise one would hope for, but it was an entertaining and decidedly 'up market' way to end the work day.

The performance featured presenter and mezzo-soprano Hannah Rosenfelder with Merel van der Knoop on piano and Anneke Hodnett on harp. In between various bits of info, we heard a number of pieces performed live or from recordings based on poetry about the Siren or the Lorelei (a big, treacherous water-bound rock in Germany; home of the treacherous Rhine Maidens apparently) by composers including Liszt, Clara Schumann, Bizet and even Gershwin.

Rather than provide insight into the allure of the female voice and its reception across time, we learned more about the attitudes of the featured composers, really. Based on The Loreley by Heine, the Liszt was characteristically furious while the Schumann was decidedly bold. Furthermore, I was a bit dismayed by the rather tenuous symbolic meaning attributed to the Siren in popular culture today. I mean, what does having a Siren on the Starbucks logo have to say about society's attitude towards women and their voices any way? However, the highlight of the evening was certainly the specially-commissioned mesmerizing setting of Homer's Sirens' Song from the Odyssey by Oxford graduate Benjamin Wolf which was probably just what the sponsors had in mind when they decided to fund a programme promoting Greek culture.
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