In Parenthesis

3 Jul

1st July 2016 was about as appropriate a day as it gets to see an opera about the Battle of the Somme.  And the WNO chose this as the last performance of their production of In Parenthesis – about that battle – in their very welcome annual visit to the Royal Opera house.

The opera is based on a poem by David Jones – a modernist synthesis of his feelings about the battle.  I don’t know the poem.  The opera begins with the Bards of Britannia and Germania and moves pretty quickly to the Welsh regiment that will end up, mostly, being slaughtered at the Somme.  The hero, Private John Ball, is one of the last survivors and ends up being surrounded by the Queen of the woods and her fairies.  There are pictures of the regiment preparing for war, moving to the south, experiencing Christmas and then moving to the slaughter.

Iain Bell wrote the music.  There are good things: clear setting of the words, some marvelous choruses.  I’m not convinced that there’s anything here that takes us any further than the Britten of Billy Budd or the War Requiem.  It’s unobtrusive, inoffensive music for an opera that doesn’t have a lot of dramatic tension or interest.  It struck me, as much as anything, as a celebration/centenary piece rather than a particularly dramatic opera or one that would make its way in the repertory.

It was pretty well done.  The cast was excellent.  John Hidlake, a new name to me, was very strong indeed as Bell, the hero and main interest of the piece.  His clear, bright tenor suits the work well and I’d like to hear him in more – he’d be fine in Britten.  As his friend, Lewis, Marcus Farnsworth gave another very sympathetic, clear performance.

Among senior members of the cast, Donald Maxwell as Greatcoat, Graham Clark as the Marne Sergeant and Mark le Brocq as Snell gave well acted, eye-catching performances.  As the Bard of Britannia, Peter Coleman-Wright was in dry voice but gave an experienced performance, even if you weren’t quite sure what the point of his role was.  Alexandra Deshorties as the only female principal, impressed as the Bard of Germania, Alice the Barmaid and the Queen of the Woods: it’s an impressive voice and she sang strongly.

Carlo Rizzi conducted apparently very clearly.  The WNO orchestra was good and its chorus absolutely outstanding in some pretty wonderful choruses.

David Pountney directed.  It was pretty obvious stuff and he didn’t seem challenged or particularly interested in challenging us.  A lot of the stage pictures looked pretty 1950s to me.  Much the same applies to Robert Innes Hopkins’s set.

It was a pleasant enough, moderately enjoyable evening.  I can’t say I’d break my heart if I never saw it again.

 

 

 

 

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