hannibal the opera

Sung Jin Hong’s ‘Hannibal’ Opera

Just got back from the One World Symphony Hannibal opera event (where I met the delightful @wellntruly​ and her friend!). I’m still mulling this thing over. Short answer would be, I thought it was interesting and imperfect but with some great parts to it. Ultimately, I think it may have just been too short for what I was expecting - it was definitely more a series of five vignettes than a full opera, and it felt sort of disjointed or unbalanced to me. Still, it was clearly composed and performed with a lot of talent, and I definitely don’t regret seeing it.

The show opened with four other pieces. First was a piano solo piece called Ballade by Kaija Saariaho, from 2005, which was appropriately freaky. Then Sacrificial Dance from The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, which I immediately recognized as “that volcano thing from Fantasia,” which should tell you the level of classical music knowledge I’m working with here. Then the aria from Goldberg Variations as a harp solo, which was fantastic - the harpist was great. And then some selections from the choral piece Requiem by Gabriel Faure, which was used multiple times on the show as was Goldberg Variations.

All of these were great selections for a Hannibal show, and they had me thinking “why don’t I go out to the symphony ever,” which is not a thing I expected to find myself asking.

Then the composer did a bit of introduction for the Hannibal part, asking people to raise their hands if they’d never been to the opera or symphony, explaining certain motifs we were going to hear in the music such as a ‘heartbeat,’ etc. 

And then the actual opera part happened!

I really wish I knew ANYTHING AT ALL about classical music so that I could speak to it with any clarity, but in general I thought the score (which is probably not even the correct word) was good. The music itself had a lot of cool things worked in from the show, without directly lifting the show score, such as the hollow tapping on wood blocks at times when Will is empathing. There were places where I thought the music felt a little 'muddy,’ for lack of a clearer way of explaining it, but not too often.

During each singing part, the lyrics were projected onto the wall behind the orchestra, which is in keeping with this symphony’s stated mission to make opera and classical music more accessible.

The singers, in order, were Mischa, Will, Abigail, and Hannibal. They were costumed as the characters, and wandered around and through the orchestra during their parts, which was neat (though I have no clue if it’s a totally standard thing!) Mischa really only sang Hannibal’s name; the rest of them had more to do. In terms of their singing, I felt like the woman playing Abigail was a standout, Will was pretty good, and Hannibal was oddly lacking in power somehow. (It was also incredibly odd to see a Will Graham with a solid 10 or 15 years on Hannibal!)

So, ok, what actually happens? 

Each of these parts is one 'song’ long, god I know I am just butchering these terms.

Part I, Reckoning: Mischa singing/calling Hannibal’s name from the balcony as he wanders around and listens (and finally looks away), with the music representing his transformation into a killer. This was mostly orchestral. The program describes it as Mischa provoking Hannibal’s victims, played by woodwinds, to haunt his nightmares. Hannibal is totally silent during this piece.

Part II, Folie a deux:

Scene 1, Empathy: Will singing the monologue from when he was empathing Beverly’s crime scene. I thought this was an odd choice, personally; it’s just such a specific piece of dialogue to use for one of your five scenes. But I did really like how he wandered straight into the opera pit between the conductor and the orchestra before he started singing; it was like a visual metaphor for the way he gets into crime scenes. [EDIT, apparently Hannibal was also singing along with him, and he must have been behind this one pillar that was slightly blocking my view of the stage, because I TOTALLY DID NOT REALIZE THIS AT ALL. I thought it was just Will and some of the chorus.]

Scene 2, Divine Image: Will and Abigail singing/reciting Blake’s A Divine Image, along with a choir. It started out pretty 'straight’ and then the phrases got layered and distorted and more frantic as it went on. Hannibal is sort of hanging around waiting in the wings during this part.

Scene 3, Trauma: Abigail sings the dialogue where she talks about how her dad taught her how to hunt, and how he killed the other girls so he wouldn’t have to kill her; then Abigail and Hannibal sing the conversation where she confesses she helped him. This was by far my favorite part. I think the woman playing Abigail was the best of the three main singers, and she was given a lot to do here. Weirdly, this is the first time we hear Hannibal say any lines of his own, and it’s the fourth of five total scenes.

Part III, Becoming: This is pretty much Mizumono after Will sees Abigail, with the dialogue sort of mixed around and a few lines from Wrath of the Lamb added in. At the end, Hannibal walks away and Mischa comes back, and ushers the other two away silently. 

And then nobody knew it was totally over at this point, and there was an awkward silence before everyone realized they were meant to be applauding!

The composer said he started working on the show in the spring; this would mean he started it before season 3 aired. I got the impression that he had sketched out the show based on seeing the first two seasons, and then added some parts from Wrath to this scene later on, because the 'ambiguous ending’ was definitely the one from season 2, not the one from season 3.


One World Symphony
Sung Jin Hong, Artistic Director and Conductor
One World Symphony Vocal Artists

Sunday, May 31, 2015
Monday, June 1, 2015
8:00 p.m.
Holy Apostles Church
296 Ninth Avenue at West 28th Street

Igor Stravinsky: from The Rite of Spring
Johann Sebastian Bach: from Goldberg Variations* and Mass in B minor
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: from Requiem
Gabriel Fauré: from Requiem
Hildegard von Bingen: O Euchari
George Frideric Handel: from Giulio Cesare 
Antonio Vivaldi: from Le Quattro Stagioni 
Sung Jin Hong: Hannibal (2015, World Premere Opera)

Hmm, seems to be very much based on Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal and Brian Reitzell’s choices of classical music used on the TV soundtrack. Is this opera? 

The Hannopera

Unwilling as I am to be accused, as Will did Alana in Hannibal Season 1, Episode 3, “Potage” (recap pending), of “burying the lede,” I’m just gonna say up front that the best part of the Hannibal opera was that my friend Daisuke & I sat with Tumblr user theglintoftherail! She is Super Great, you all should know, and was wearing an amazing scarlet jacket. I’m not sure why but for some reason beforehand we all ended up talking about both selkies AND kelpies, so you know it was a good time.

Also, she did a much better job that I would be able to do covering what this whole opera deal was like, so I would recommend checking out her report for the full deets. I agree right down the line.

The one thing I’ll add is some mulling Daisuke & I did on the subway later re: the use of show dialogue. Because it was kinda strange? Which is a little counterintuitive, because you might think that would work best if you need words! But, as much as Raúl Esparza manages to turn his lines into lyrics sometimes, the fact is that Hannibal dialogue is written to be spoken, not sung. The vocal parts I found most powerful were actually when Mischa just sung Hannibal’s name over the symphony, which was haunting, and when they used a William Blake poem, fractured and layered and turned into a creepy harmony. I almost wonder if there might have been a way to just source poetry for the words, as that’s a form that lends itself to being sung more than straight dialogue. And given that my poetry tag might as well just double as a Hannibal tag half the time, there’d definitely be pleeennty of options.

Bottom line though, I just find it so brave & adorable that this thing even happened. Composing original operatic vignettes about a television show is pretty dang experimental, and everyone involved seemed to care so much. The program is full of these passionate, insightful notes about how they tried to express the themes of this show in symphonic form, and before it got underway, Sung Jin Hong said earnestly: “We look forward to meeting and talking with you all immediately afterward. I’ll be at the door, where I hope to hug many Fannibals.”