For You


For You is a new opera that brings together the music of composer and BBC Radio 3 presenter Michael Berkeley and Booker-prize winning author Ian McEwan. This gripping tale of love, lust and obsession centers on the composer and prodigious womanizer Charles Frieth (Alan Opie), and the tragic consequences that his selfish actions cause him and those around.

Although essentially dark, there are moments of irony, wit, and humour throughout the opera. Soaring vocal lines, intricate ensemble pieces, and imaginative instrumental writing make this an electrifying work. Masterly performed by Music Theatre Wales, directed by Michael Rafferty.

The Opera has had great success from its initial performances in Wales and the Royal Opera House provoking great reviews.

For You is a dark opera worth waiting for.”The Evening Standard

“… a dazzling and taut chamber piece which gives passionate way to Bergian lyricism while referencing both Britten and Richard Strauss in its airy, word-driven vocal lines.” The Independent


What people are saying

“The music, conducted here by Michael Rafferty, is energetic, deftly coloured and carefully balanced, allowing the excellent voices, including Alan Opie’s Frieth, to make their due mark.”  The Sunday Times
“… it bristles with wit and lyricism, while giving other composers and librettists a lesson in how to drape operativ tradition in modern clothes.” The Financial Times, September 2010
“Berkeley’s score is lively, abrasive and strongly crafted … the performance (recorded live) is focused, with excellent orchestral playing and a strong central performance by Alan Opie.” The Daily Telegraph, October 2010

Michael Berkeley
Ian McEwan

Music Theatre Wales
Michael Rafferty conductor

Release date:23rd Aug 2010
Order code:SIGCD208
Barcode: 635212020821

Muscial Pointers

After a postponement, because the original singer developed serious vocal health problems, Alan Opie took on the part of a megalomanic composer/conductor. I saw it at the Covent Garden Linbury Studio, where it made quite an impression, but left one in some confusion having not been able to hear enough of Ian McEwan’s intricate text.

We had not been invited to review For You at The Linbury, but here now is an admirable compact disc recording made live there October/November 2008, which serves the composer well, and the librettisttoo (text in full in clear, large print).

It is a subtle murder mystery opera with a passably ingenious story line by Ian McEwan, save for the gullibility of the police, who leave the true villain free and triumphant – pre-trial…

Alan Opie plays the egocentric and compulsive womaniser of a successful composer/conductor; the plot culminates and climaxes in a hospital post- operative care unit. It evoked thoughts of the ENO/Young Vic Henze opera about a megalomanic, destructive poet, seen more recently.

As so often in modern opera, the essential text will never be sufficiently audible in the theatre, nor indeed even on disc; too much is always required of sopranos soaring up into their high registers. That apart, all the roles are well taken, and the score has a real frisson where appropriate. It might go well also on the small screen; was it filmed with a wiew to a possible DVD or, at the least, some excerpts on YouTube?

Reviews on the Internet are sparse, and this recording, admirably presented with an illustrated booklet, is to be welcomed.

Music Theatre Wales mounted a successful production of Jane Eyre in 2000, hailed by The Spectator as "the most enjoyable new British opera I have seen for a long time." Berkeley seems to be an opera composer to be reckoned with, and the Chandos recording of Jane Eyre one to explore.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The Financial Times, September 2010

With a libretto by celebrated novelist Ian McEwan, Michael Berkeley’s chamber opera created a stir at its 2008 première. A morality tale about a narcissistic composer who uses and abuses everyone in sight, it bristles with wit and lyricism, while giving other composers and librettists a lesson in how to drape operativ tradition in modern clothes. The music comes across better on this live recording than in the theatre, if only because Berkeley’s mercurial orchestral score can take centre-stage, independent of his often less-than- gratifying vocal writing. Alan Opie’s Charles makes a strong centrepiece, and the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble responds vividly to Michael Rafferty’s baton.

The Daily Telegraph, 2nd October 2010

Michael Berkeley’s chamber opera to a crisp libretto by Ian McEwan about an egomaniacal womanising composer echoes theme and characters in McEwan’s recent novel Solar. Berkeley’s score is lively, abrasive and strongly crafted, but this is an opera that needs to be seen on stage to make a real effect. However, the performance (recorded live) is focused, with excellent orchestral playing and a strong central performance by Alan Opie.

Rupert Christiansen

The Observer, 3rd October 2010

Michael Berkeley has written movingly about his increasing struggle with deafness. Equally affectingly, as a composer he’s scarcely been busier: he’s written a new anthem for Liverpool Cathedral (words by Rowan Williams); he and the poet Craig Raine are working on an operatic version of Ian McEwan’s Atonement; and his two-act opera with McEwan, For You (2008), a thriller driven by sexual and artistic obsession, will have its European premiere in Rome next month. To coincide, Signum has released this original cast recording, with the skilful MTW ensemble honouring Berkeley’s rich orchestral invention and Alan Opie, as the monstrous Charles, leading the six singers who relish every syllable of McEwan’s dark, pithy text.

Fiona Maddocks

The Sunday Times, 3rd October 2010

Berkeley’s third opera (2008) is a brilliant, dark psycho-comedy, written to a clever libretto by Ian McEwan, which delights in caricaturing a fictitious practictioner, Charles Frieth, of Berkeley’s own profession. Frieth is too successful for his own good and has become a ruthless womaniser, consistently unfaithful to his wife, Antonia. He gets his comeuppance when he is framed by his infatuated housekeeper. The music, conducted here by Michael Rafferty, is energetic, deftly coloured and carefully balanced, allowing the excellent voices, including Alan Opie’s Frieth, to make their due mark.

Stephen Pettit

MusicWeb International, November 2010

For You was commissioned by Music Theatre Wales; they premiered it in association with the Royal Opera House as part of the ROH2 programme in the Linbury Studio Theatre on 28 October of that year under Michael Rafferty. The opera – in two acts – attests to artistic principles common to Michael Berkeley and Ian McEwan, who have known each other for thirty years. While the latter is drawn to Berkeley’s lyricism and expressionistic emotion, the former admires McEwan’s economy in writing. Collaboration over an opera libretto seemed a natural move, especially after their success together with the oratorio, Or Shall We Die? in 1982.

For You, which lasts about two hours, heads in the same direction as many of McEwan’s novels. They examine the ways in which we handle difficulties, turmoil and desires, contradictions, suffering and obsession; and how these shape our lives. The opera concentrates on sexual obsession (chiefly between Maria and Charles; though everyone else to some extent), self-regard and on the abuse of power. Its structure reflects the subject matter: musical development occurs in a linear, mono-thematic way … the material for one scene evolves into that for the next. The characters are first introduced, their nature established and their interactions exposed without convolution. Similarly, the arias, duets and ensemble singing seem to float into one another naturally – as do conversations in life. There are few or no ‘set-pieces’. But neither is the flow of the music or of the drama disjointed. The enunciation of the singers on this recording adds to this experience of transparency – yet it’s transparency to a purpose.

The central character, the composer Charles Frieth, was originally a bass/ baritone role. But the withdrawal of the intended singer obliged Berkeley to adapt it for the baritone, Alan Opie. In common with the other singers, Opie and Allison Cook (Maria) give credible, perceptive and wholly enjoyable performances. The interplay of power and love, resentment and love, regret and love, self-assertion and love all imply a somewhat formalistic treatment of the theme. The ‘moments’ at which Maria misinterprets first Charles’ apparent promise to her in the first act; then his question as to whether Maria has ever contemplated marriage need to be magnified beyond the time they can ever take up on stage in order for them to work convincingly.

So there is a welcome lack of rhetoric in Berkeley’s setting. Nor does he stretch the music to attempt character study, which would not be convincing either in such a context. The actually very persuasive amalgam which results is completely in keeping with McEwan’s direct and somewhat sombre aesthetic.

The music is tonal with moments of true lyricism – not least the folksong-like melody which closely identifies Maria and her Polish ancestry. The ensemble passages – like that at the end of the first act – are spectacularly lyrical, without ever veering into the ‘syrupy’. Full-bodied and memorable.

The booklet contains useful essays on the collaboration and its wider musical and textual context, a synopsis and the plain text as well as performers’ bios and some photos. The acoustic is clear and has plenty of atmosphere. It goes without saying that there is no other recording of For You. This one, however, does the work full justice and can be acquired by enthusiasts of contemporary opera and Berkeley’s writing alike.

Mark Sealey

The Gramophone, Christmas 2010 issue

Berkeley and McEwan’s opera delves inside the mind of the creative artist

The central character in Michael Berkeley’s For You, first performed in 2008, is a composer and conductor called Charles Frieth, who is led by an overweening sense of his own importance to neglect his wife and seduce the female players in his orchestra – an easily recognisable persona, even if Berkeley swears that he had no specific real-life model in mind.

Among his fictional antecedents, the closest match is Mittenhofer in Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers. Frieth is a similarly flawed genius who dominates his household, inspiring loathing in his amanuensis but blind devotion in his housekeeper. Just as Auden did for Henze, author Ian McEwan has provided a sharp-tongued libretto, peopled with unlovable characters and laced with witty cultural allusions. When Frieth’s wife nervously contemplates anaesthetic before surgery, her doctor advises her drily, "Best not to think of Larkin at such times."

At first, Berkeley’s score seems to have less to say for itself, sounding much like any other well-made, 21st-century chamber opera, all busy instrumental lines and uninteresting vocal parts. But it gains considerably in range and depth as it goes, tapping into the libretto’s edgy humour and finding a bittersweet lyricism that gets below the skin of these troubled characters. Berkeley is also clever in providing just enough idea of what Frieth’s masterpiece, Demonic Aubade, might be like without committing himself too far.

Unfortunately, this live performance from the first staged production is less than ideal. Although the 14-strong Music Theatre Wales Ensemble plays with virtuoso skill under conductor Michael Rafferty, some of the singers sound less than happy, especially Alison Cook who gets very shrill in the role of the housekeeper – a shame, as she gets the opera’s best number, a hypnotisingly elegiac aria underpinned by solo harp. The exception is Alan Opie’s strongly sung Charles Frieth, who rightly dominates. In the final minutes, as he is led away by police on suspicion of murder, the tragedy of this self-obsessed creative artist is painfully laid bare.

Richard Fairman

International Record Review, January 2011

Ian McEwan’s libretto for long-time friend and sometimes-collaborator (they last worked together on the 1982 oratorio Or Shall We Die) Michael Berkeley’s two- act chamber opera For You finds the popular and critically acclaimed novelist in familiar territory, with themes of obsession, class, ageing, creativity and power to the fore. Berkeley’s lyrical, expressionistic score is appropriately by turns delicate, brutal, witty and dark – qualities that are wonderfully brought out in this live recording made over three performances, the first of which was the opera’s world premiere, given on October 28th, 2008 at the Linbury Studio Theatre.

Inspired in part by Hjalmar Söderberg’s novel Docktor Glass and Stefan Zweig’s short story Leporella, McEwan’s libretto tells the tragic story of ageing composer and conductor Charles Frieth, his younger, ailing wife Antonia and their respective would-be lovers Maria (the Frieths’ dangerously delusional Polish housekeeper) and Simon (Antonia’s doctor). Frieth is a notorious serial adulterer who becomes infatuated with young female musicians and insists on writing 32- bar cadenzas for them into whatever score he and they happen to be working on at the time. In this case the score is Frieth’s Demonic Aubade and his latest object of desire is the French horn player Joan, who strikes a wrong note (apt given subsequent events) during a rehearsal of one of Frieth’s early works, thus initially earning the composer’s ire.

Maria, Antonia and Frieth’s hapless assistant Robin have seen it all before. As Frieth’s jealously of Simon and remorse over the way he treats Antonia, combined with Maria’s ultimately fatal obsession with the composer she sees more as god than man, push the story to its logical conclusion, Berkeley’s riveting score fills those places beyond language with soaring, singing emotion – all the more extraordinary given the elegance and economy of McEwan’s quasi- poetic text and of the musical writing itself.

The performances are equally extraordinary, with baritone Alan Opie capturing the complexity of Frieth’s flawed character through nuanced phrasing and a broad tonal palette. Soprano Helen Williams nicely captures Antonia’s frailty and martyr-like attitude towards her husband’s infidelities, while mezzo Allison Cook’s Maria is pitiful and menacing. Tenor Christopher Lemmings brings both sadness and irony to the character of Robin; baritone Jeremy Huw Williams as the lovelorn Simon is especially effective in his duets with Antonia, while soprano Rachel Nicholls, who plays Joan but also doubles as a nurse and a young PC, provides excellent support.

Conductor Michael Rafferty and a 14-piece instrumental ensemble, which consists of winds, brass, percussion, harp and strings, tackles Berkeley’s highly organic yet tightly structured score with precision and gusto, forming a devastatingly eloquent Greek Chorus to unfolding events onstage. For You is a welcome addition to the operatic repertoire and deserves repeated performances, especially in a festival context. This superb recording should go some way to ensuring that happens.

Robert Levett

  1. ACT 1: Scene 1 The Rehearsal Room – –
  2. Scene 2 The Frieths? London house – –
  3. Scene 3 The Frieths? London house – –
  4. Scene 4 The Frieths? London house – –
  5. Scene 5 Charles?s Study – –
  6. Scene 6 Charles?s Study – –
  7. ACT 2: Scene 1 The Hospital – –
  8. Scene 2 Charles’s Study – –
  9. Scene 3 The Hospital – –
  10. Scene 4 The Rehearsal Room – –