Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus

Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 29 October 2019

The world of ancient myths is a complex one, with many of the stories coming down to us in several different, and frequently conflicting, versions. One such is the Orpheus myth, the subject of four operas currently playing at the English National Opera’s Coliseum. After the sheer silliness of Emma Rice’s reconstruction of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (reviewed here) we had Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s monumental The Mask of Orpheus (with electronic music by Barry Anderson), the premier at the Coliseum in 1986 being its only full staging until now. Birtwistle’s approach is to tell several versions of the myth all at the same time in one of the most complex operas of modern time. As the ENO publicity explains, “Harrison Birtwistle’s iconic masterpiece retells the Orpheus myth in a non-linear narrative, as the opera’s leading characters appear in three distinct guises”. It “explores the contradictions in the various versions of the famous Greek tragedy, building a three-dimensional picture that leads us from inconsolable grief to acceptance and transformation”.

Continue reading

ENO: Britten War Requiem

Britten: War Requiem
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 16 November 2018

English National Opera has a record of performing Benjamin Britten operas, as well as creating operas from the Bach Passions and other choral works, so it was no surprise that they would turn to Benjamin Britten’s famed War Requiem. As with the Bach Passions, when I first saw them staged, I was a little apprehensive as to what I was to see. Just how would they stage a work with such vastly contrasting moods and scenes, combining the heart-wrenching poems of Wilfred Owen and the words of a traditional Latin Requiem Mass? Britten himself accented this contrast by giving the two male soloists who sing the Owen poems their own chamber orchestra, to be positioned closest to the audience and with its own conductor. The Requiem settings are for a large chorus and orchestra and a soprano soloist, together with boys choir and accompanying organ which are to be situated some distance away from the main orchestras.

Tillmans 3.jpg Continue reading

ENO: Salome

Richard Strauss: Salome
English National Opera, Martyn Brabbins, Adena Jacobs
The Coliseum, 3 October 2018

In a production that veered from My Little Pony, via Lolita, to the Texans Chainsaw Massacre, there were two clear winners: the music of Richard Strauss, given a superb reading by Martyn Brabbins and the Orchestra of English National Opera, and mezzo Allison Cook in her strangely compelling and insightful interpretation of the complex role of Salome – a role and ENO debut. Usually depicted as the archetypical seductive femme fatale, for most of this production, directed by Adena Jacobs in an ENO debut, she seemed far more like a confused, hormone-ridden teenage girl, becoming increasingly fragile, delicate, and in need of protection. Perhaps I was viewing it through the mind of a father, rather than a voyeur, but it was an incredibly powerful image. Her first appearance was as a black-clad, demanding and confident long-haired princess arguing to see the imprisoned Jokanaan. As events unfolded, she mutated into a slight and vulnerable bare-breasted child-woman in minuscule schoolgirl gym knickers and with makeup smeared all over her face.

Salome 5.jpg Continue reading

Grange Park Opera: Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde
Grange Park Opera, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins
The Grange, Hampshire. 13 July 2016

For reasons that will become apparent, this is more than just a review of an opera.WP_20160713_15_21_12_Pro.jpgGrange Park Opera has been one of the UK’s musical successes since it first set up shop in 1998 in the derelict shell of The Grange, a country house in the centre of Hampshire. Owned by the Baring banking family, The Grange dates from the early nineteenth century when William Wilkins, architect of the British Museum, transformed an earlier 17th century brick building into Britain’s most important example of the Greek revival architecture, notable for its imposing temple-style portico. It was saved from demolition in 1975 after a public outcry and the intervention of the Government, who spot-listed the exterior shell of the building, in recognition of its important as a landscape feature. English Heritage took over custodianship of the building, although the ownership remained with the Baring family.

Over the years since 1998, Grange Park Opera have invested vast amount of (private) money into transforming The Grange, funding and building an award-winning opera house within the shell of the former orangery and Continue reading