Saturday 29 February 2020

The Visit at the National, or, Another Failed Epic

Note: This is a review of the matinee on Saturday 15th February 2020.

I rather like a good epic, I regularly go to Wagner operas after all. But the big test of such an epic is whether the time flies by so that, in fact, you forget how long you're there for. On this occasion, proceedings dragged, badly.

I'm not familiar with Friedrich Durrenmatt's original, but presumably it had a Swiss or European setting. Tony Kushner's new adaptation transplants it to a decaying town in rust-belt America. Commentary on the social effects of the collapse of industry in the rust-belt has been everywhere since Trump's victory in 2016. Kushner's take on the setting sadly has nothing fresh to say. I'd recently read Amy Goldstein's Janesville: An American Story (2017) - which both goes deeper into the impact of economic change in the region and is more dramatically compelling than anything in this show.

Saturday 15 February 2020

Alice's Adventures Under Ground at the Royal, or, A Tired Mockery of Genre

Note: This is a review of the matinee on Saturday 8th February 2020.

The previous Gerald Barry opera I encountered, his version of The Importance of Being Ernest, was widely praised. I was much less convinced, and I really only booked for this because of my completionist tendency. It proved to be a tedious fifty five minutes.

But to start with the positives. The performances were of a very high standard. Jennifer France in the title role had a clear, piercing sound admirably suited to the high lying style of most of what vocal writing the work affords her. The supporting cast of Allison Cook, Carole Wilson, Nicky Spence, Robert Murray, Stephen Richardson and Alan Ewing all perform multiple roles in fine voices (again when allowed by the score to exercise them) and high energy commitment through many costume changes and running about the playing area. In the pit Thomas Ades draws crisp focused playing from the Royal Opera House Orchestra (in contrast to the last time I heard their partnership - a disappointing Rake's Progress) but can't disguise the shortcomings of the score in that department either.