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Saturday 7 May 2011


Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House

Hmm, not great. Not bad though either.

The best bit about this show is the set which is quite beautiful in an understated, dingy sort of way - all delapidation, plain living and clear natural light. The set looks like it's three hinged cuboids, folded out so that you can see the interior of each, but if they were folded back together, they'd make a box. So singers in one section sing into the audience as if looking forward into the other box segment. Quite an interesting idea and it means that all the singers are facing the audience most of the time, so we see from both parties' point of view.

The story is one of the strangest in the bible, that of the ancient Abraham and Sarah (both looking quite sprightly in this production) being told they are going to have child, and then realising that the people they've been told this by are actually angels about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleads with them to be lenient (Ah I see! Clemency!) and they agree, and then storm off. It's updated to approximately present day though as far as I could make out, the angels are still angels. Unfortunately only about a third of the text is intelligable, and there are no surtitles. I understand the conflict that surtitles produce in opera - that when they're there one isn't directly involved in the drama because the eye keeps flicking upwards, and reading is done in the opposite hemisphere of the brain to watching and listening, which is not good for true concentration and "losing yourself" in the drama. But without them, the drama is also vitiated, especially in a new work like this because singers so often have poor diction, and you have no idea what's going on most of the time, beyond the patently obvious.

The singing, as ever with ROH2, is fine from all involved, often very good, but rarely moving. Singing rarely seems to be the point of ROH2 productions (or contemporary opera in general for that matter, with a few happy exceptions). The score is very nice in places, occasionally exquisite, but overall fails to make much impact - James Macmillan's eclectic oeuvre relies on its immediacy, beauty and occasional strangeness for effect, but when he's not inspired, the result is often rather bland and generic, beautifully crafted though it almost always is. As an aside, there was something oddly beautiful about the look of just the strings of the Britten Sinfonia sitting in the pit too - seemed totally fitting for the lovelyness of the stage.

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