Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Unevenly spread - King Arthur reimagined

King Arthur - Peter Wiegold, Notes Inégales - Spitalfields Festival - photo James Berry
King Arthur - Peter Wiegold, Notes Inégales -
Spitalfields Festival - photo James Berry
Purcell, Peter Wiegold, Martin Butler - King Arthur; Notes Inégales, Academy Inégales, Alya Marquardt, Iestyn Morris, Peter Wiegold; Spitalfields Festival at Wilton's Music hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Jun 15 2016
Star rating: 3.5

A multi-ingredient re-working of Purcell's King Arthur which doesn't quite gel

This was billed as "A reimagining of Purcell’s masterpiece like no other", performed by Peter Wiegold, Notes Inégales and Academy Inégales with Alya Marquardt and Iestyn Morris at Wilton's Music Hall on 15 June 2016 as part of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival. But in many ways it was true to the spirit of those 17th Century entertainments with their eclectic mix of forms, improvisations and set pieces. It was mainly based on the Act III Masque of King Arthur – the Frost Scene, with elements from other parts of the semi-opera including the Pleasures of Love sequence from Act IV.

I saw the second of two sold-out early-evening shows in Wilton’s Music Hall. The audience seemed as eclectic as the line-up on stage: what seemed to be the Baroque crowd and the New-Music crowd cheek by jowl in the tightly packed seating. On the steeply raked stage were Notes Inégales and Academy Inégales plus guests and the two vocal soloists. Off to stage right was the Master of Ceremonies Murray Lachlan Young, with Chris Meade as John Dryden crossing in front, and up in the gallery the singers of Chorale Inégales. On to the backdrop behind the stage May Kindred-Boothby’s characterful animations were projected. The whole ‘concoction’ (as described in the printed programme) was held together by conductor Peter Wiegold with his co-composer Martin Butler on piano.

What we were treated to was a ‘pocket entertainment’ or a ‘pop-up opera’.
King Arthur - Peter Wiegold, Notes Inégales - Spitalfields Festival - photo James Berry
King Arthur - Peter Wiegold, Notes Inégales
Spitalfields Festival - photo James Berry
The topical prologue, in 17th Century style, was there to set the scene, to remind us we were in East London and, in a later intervention, to bring the frosty relationships up to date in a psychotherapeutic setting. The contemporary characters were the MC and John Dryden (both wearing head-mics which, whilst giving their speech a different sound quality, were distorted and at times hard to listen to). There was the back-story of Dryden being stripped of his position as Poet Laureate for being on the wrong side of the fence (easily done in 1691 when this piece was first performed).

The two allegorical characters played out their not-quite love story on the stage with the chorus commenting on the action. When the story was over the MC came on and told us “Well that’s it”, and suggested we do it all again with “realism and feeling”. And so we had a second go at the story, from the psychiatrist’s chair, and then were told what to think “about love in real life” on the way home.

Purcell was very much in evidence in Wiegold and Butler’s music too. The energy of the 17th-Century Thames Frost Fair and the evocation of the chilly temperatures were created by Western instruments (Torbjörn Hultmark’s virtuoso trumpet solo standing out particularly) supplemented by the other-worldly sounds of the taegŭm flute, Korean wind instruments the piri, taepyeongso and saengwhang, the Syrian kanun and the tabla, as well as the eerie musical saw and a range of percussion. Two somewhat ‘inégal’ principal singers provided the plot around love awakening in the cold: counter tenor Iestyn Morris as the Cold Genius demonstrating a wide vocal range and impressive virtuosity while Alya Marquardt (billed as a soprano), as Cupid, struggled to make herself heard above the band.

By way of a warning, critics were described as vultures – “they won’t get it” says the MC at the end. What this vulture ‘got’ was a sense that the elements were not evenly spread: the music (from the band) gelled very well, but the singers felt like strangers, and the theatrical elements didn’t quite belong with the music. But then again, I imagine the audience was as diverse as the show's ingredients, and so in that respect there was something for everyone.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Club Inégales
Peter Wiegold director/composer/keyboards

Martin Butler composer/piano

Notes Inégales

Academy Inégales

Alya Marquardt soprano
Iestyn Morris coutertenor

Gamin taepyeongso

Maya Youssef kanun

Murray Lachlan Young master of ceremonies

Chorale Inégales

Elsewhere on this blog:


  1. Ruth, you may want to pay more attention. Cupid was played by Iestyn Morris, and Alya Marquardt was Cold Genius.

    1. Ruth's information was taken from the printed programme.


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