Francisco Coll’s first opera, the one-act Café Kafka, set the music world alight at its recent premiere with press asking if ‘Could Coll be the composer Spain has long been waiting for?’ and proclaiming him as ‘a master of his art.’ Coll (not yet 30) has already built up significant career, but with this dazzling piece he is surely headed for stardom!
Café Kafka is a collaboration with librettist Meredith Oakes and together the pair have constructed a darkly surreal, yet comic, world built from fragments by Franz Kafka. The 45-minute work is scored for 5 singers and 10 players. It was jointly commissioned by Aldeburgh Music, The Royal Opera House and Opera North and was performed by Ensemble CHROMA, conductor Richard Baker and a hugely talented young cast: Suzanne Shakespeare as Girl, Daniel Norman as Man 1, Anna Dennis as Woman, William Purefoy as Man 2 and Andri Björn Róbertsson as Man 3/Gracchus/Policeman. Director Annabel Arden created a wonderful sense of comedy infused with an undertone of menace and mystery, whilst designer Joanna Parker produced a wonderfully sleek bar setting.
‘This could become a classic.’
‘Taking its cue from Meredith Oakes’s stream-of-consciousness libretto, the score was a brightly-coloured high-wire act which the singers translated into witty physical comedy as dysfunctional folk in a bar; its musical coup de theatre revealed 29-year-old Coll to be a master of his art. This could become a classic.’
The Independent (Michael Church), 18 March 2014
‘Could Coll be the composer Spain has long been waiting for?’
‘Coll’s explosive comic gem, Café Kafka. The Spanish Coll is a major talent, with a potent, dark-hued voice all his own. Working with the dramatically intuitive Meredith Oakes he had the advantage of a clever text, which achieved directness, comedy, irony and profondity in a startlingly short span. One could describe it as a sort of Expressionist 'snog, marry, avoid' with the saturated colour of Almodovar charged with Gerald Barry-esque mania. Yet it also taps into deeper and stranger existential questions that have a jolting relevance: the characters want to escape their lives (but where to?) and to escape loneliness (but who can love?)… Oakes has distilled the claustrophobia and despair of Kafka’s writing into a few brief lines that drive a hot-blooded score, voices and instruments sparking off each other in an intimate dance, mirrored by the vivacious jiving on stage… Could Coll be the composer Spain has long been waiting for?’
BBC Music Magazine (Helen Wallace), 20 March 2014
‘Cafe Kafka will have an afterlife’
‘The evening comes alive after the interval, with Cafe Kafka, a witty fantasy by Meredith Oakes set to music of real imagination and prodigious technical skill by the young Spanish composer Francisco Coll. There’s a touch of unease about the comedy, and even a hint of menace, but as a whole the piece entertains in a sophisticated fashion as staged by Annabel Arden and designer Joanna Parker… My guess is that Cafe Kafka will have an afterlife. Its talented composer deserves a second operatic commission. ‘
The Stage (George Hall), 18 March 2014
‘this opera made a significant impression’
'Francisco Coll produced a taut, memorable work… The combination of Francisco Coll’s distinctive musical voice and librettist Meredith Oakes’ clever take on Kafka produced a characterful piece which combined humour with darker undertones. Oakes transferred Kafka’s characteristic themes of claustrophobia, helplessness and disorientation to an exploration of the relations between the sexes, using characters inspired by the writer’s short stories. Two men and two women flirt, philosophise and argue, their interactions suddenly interrupted by the soliloquy of the mysterious Hunter Gracchus… Coll responded to the humorous potential of Oakes’ libretto, painting the characters in bold musical colours and with harmonic flair. His is already an assured musical voice, sensitive to nuanced sonorities and possessing a broad expressive palette… this opera made a significant impression.'
Bachtrack (Katy Wright), 18 March 2014
'an astonishing compositional assurance'
'Café Kafka... was quite dazzling, both in terms of its originality and sonically... [The] treatment of disconnected fragments, mainly dialogues, had a Pinterish insouciance with non sequiturs, a dramatic freedom (anything could happen but you didn’t feel anything was arbitrary), and indeed a poetic quality, and reminded me, with its location in a bar, and centredness on conversations between two men and two women, of Auden’s long poem The Age of Anxiety. Akin, too, to Gerald Barry’s surreal operas, Café Kafka impressed for an astonishing compositional assurance...'
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 23 March 2014
‘Here undoubtedly is a major talent’
‘Francisco Coll’s score is bright and angular, rhythm and instrumentation working in often scintillating tandem. Here undoubtedly is a major talent, as was also suggested a couple of years ago at a London Sinfonietta performance of his Piedras.’
Seen and Heard (Mark Berry), 19 March 2014