Posts Tagged ‘Linbury studio’

In the Penal Colony, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, September 2010

16 September, 2010

How to expiate guilt? Not by instant execution surely, so a long process of torture has been devised using an exquisite machine that only the executing officer understands. He believes in it wholeheartedly — in a sense it’s his raison d’être — but as he realises the new governor will not approve its use, he is ready to undergo its treatment himself. In the twelve hours it takes the machine to score the condemned man’s sentence on his skin, there is opportunity for redemption, even though he doesn’t know the charges against him, nor indeed the fact that he has been condemned to death. The officer believes it creates in the victim a mystical experience, and he is nostalgic for the previous governor who designed the machine, and in whose regime sentences were always justly deserved and carried out. Bizarrre? But this is Kafka.

The new governor has appointed a visitor to report on the process, and he looks miserable. “I accepted this invitation out of courtesy”, he begins. When the officer enters with the condemned man and enthuses about the machine, the visitor — very well sung with excellent diction by Michael Bennett — grows increasingly uneasy. The officer — very beautifully sung by Omar Ebrahim — is quite sure of the justice he is delivering, and confidently answers the visitors questions. “Does he know his sentence?” “No”. “Does he know he’s been condemned?” “No”. The prisoner, played by Gerald Tyler apparently doesn’t understand the language, and sings not a word. His is an acting role and he performs it with slow cowed movements, until the end when he is apparently in command. Now he leers sadistically. Apparently he understands what will happen, but in fact the machine malfunctions, and death comes very fast. There is no mystical experience for the officer — he may have delivered it to others, but there is none left for him.

This strange story was darkly lit by Ace McCarron, and supported on a tableau of music by Philip Glass, played by a string quintet from the Music Theatre Wales conducted by Michael Rafferty. The music was rhythmically intense, as one would expect from Glass, and its energy carried the strange plot forward. The direction by Michael McCarthy was excellent, and it was all over in an hour and twenty minutes. Short and intense, but it didn’t leave me thinking any deep thoughts.

Goldberg, The Brandstrup-Rojo project, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, September 2009

22 September, 2009


This was a new work by Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, played on the piano by Philip Gammon, with some parts pre-recorded by Henry Roche. There were seven dancers: Tamara Rojo, Steven McRae and Thomas Whitehead from the Royal Ballet, along with Clara Barbera, Laura Caldow, Tommy Franzen and Riccardo Meneghini. Things started slowly with Tamara Rojo in a black dress and pointe shoes, McRae sitting next to Philip Gammon on the piano, and then getting up to climb a very tall ladder. Gradually the dance warmed up, with a mixture of ballet and ‘street dancing’. Among the four cast members not in the Royal Ballet, Tommy Franzen was brilliantly musical and wonderfully acrobatic, looking like a slightly undersized teenager in his baggy pants, but what a dancer! His occasional partnering of Rojo was very well done, and his musicality shone through, both in his solos and his dancing with the others. Clara Barbera was also excellent, part of the time on pointe and part in bare feet. McRae was musical as usual, and his solos were expertly danced. Rojo too inhabited the music brilliantly, her stage presence was excellent and she came over strongly as the star of the show. As the variations progressed, things seemed to drag a little and I waited for a climax that never came. The momentum slowed and everything wound down, but without seeming to go anywhere.

Costumes were black for Rojo, McRae and Whitehead, grey for the others, and the lighting by Paule Constable was subdued throughout. It showed occasional white lines against a dark background, giving a sense of geometric design, which was presumably the idea of designer Richard Hudson. The designs and lighting worked well, and Philip Gammon’s piano performance was excellent. This is definitely worth a visit to see the eclectic style of choreography, and the dancing of Rojo, McRae, and Franzen.

Parthenogenesis, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, June 2009

14 June, 2009


When the curtain fell the audience waited for a scene change that never came. Eventually someone applauded and when this was taken up, the curtain lifted so the cast could take bows — it was the end of the opera.

The inspiration for this opera was far more striking than the result. In 1944 in Hanover a young woman was thrown to the pavement by a bomb blast nearby, suffered minor injuries, and nine months later gave birth to a daughter. The girl was said to have identical fingerprints, and other genetic indicators, to her mother, who insisted that she had never had sex with anyone. Doctors confirmed this seemed to be the case, and conjectured that the shock of the bomb may have triggered parthenogenesis — non-sexual reproduction — a word derived from the Greek parthenon meaning a young maiden.

On this unlikely theme the composer James MacMillan has created a 50-minute opera in which an adult clone named Anna lies in hospital in the last stages of ovarian cancer. In her sleep she recalls her mother’s meeting a fallen angel who visits her bedroom to inform her she will give birth without first having sex. The mother and the angel are singing roles, performed by Amy Freston and Stephan Loges, while Charlotte Roach took the spoken role of Anna. The text was by Michael Symmonds Roberts, and while James MacMillan is a composer inspired by intellectual and religious themes, he seems to be no man of the stage. As a piece of theatre this simply didn’t work.

The Beggar’s Opera by Benjamin Britten, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Jan 2009

29 January, 2009


The original Beggar’s Opera was written by John Gay as a play incorporating lyrics sung to well-known tunes of the time. He did not write any music for it, but a week before its premiere at a theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in January 1728, Johann Christoph Pepusch was brought in to write an overture and accompaniment for the singers. The combination was so successful that it provided the theatre manager with the capital to build a theatre on a new site. Called the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, this was the forerunner of the present Royal Opera House.

Since the original there have been other versions, the most successful of which is surely Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, which had catchy tunes, as did the original version of 1728. But in Britten’s version, where the original melodies are re-orchestrated, there seem to be scarcely any tunes, and I exited humming Mac the Knife from Weill’s version. The failure of Britten’s composition might have been alleviated by the production team, led by Justin Way, but the deliberately ham acting and garish costumes were over the top, and the production did not fit the style of Britten’s music.

In such circumstances it is hard to appreciate the singers, but Donald Maxwell was good as Lockit, and Sarah Fox sang beautifully as his daughter Lucy. Peachum was well performed by Jeremy White, as was his daughter Polly by Leah-Marian Jones, and Tom Randle was Macheath. Christian Curnyn conducted, taking over from the late Richard Hickox.