|Iain Paterson & ensemble - Ryan Wigglesworth: The Winter's Tale - ENO (photo Johan Persson)|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 03 2017
A brilliant first opera which tackles the complex world of Shakespeare's problematic play
|Leigh Melrose, Sophie Bevan |
ENO (photo Johan Persson)
As anyone who knows Shakespeare's play will immediately recognise, there are characters missing from the opera's line up. The libretto, by the composer, is a long way after the play and omits the comic elements and much else. Wigglesworth's libretto is a miracle of compression, there are around two hours of music in the opera, and the play takes a lot longer than that to perform. How you react to the opera partly depends on your attitude to the play, and whether you can take it being completely transformed. Wigglesworth has crafted a highly effective and rather powerful dramatic piece, but though he preserves the play's set pieces the lyricism and poetry of Shakespeare's play is substantially missing.
This is perhaps most noticeable in the scenes in Bohemia (here Act Two), where Shakespeare's pastoral idyll is hardly established. Wigglesworth's musical idiom, whilst very singer friendly does not run to complete melodic lyricism, so that even when the chorus sings a dance song for Perdita and Florizel, the music is jagged and complex.
For me, the work's strongest act was the first where Wigglesworth's music established a mood of complexity and suspicion which amplified his extremely telegraphic libretto.
|Anthony Gregory, Samantha Price, ENO Chorus - ENO (photo Johan Persson)|
Polixenes here was a strong and angry figure, present from the beginning of the Bohemian scene, and the moment of lyrical tenderness between Perdita and Florizel was brief. Whilst Wigglesworth does change his musical idiom somewhat, the change is not radical so we do not benefit from the sort of disjunction which you get in Philippe Boesman's The Winter's Tale where the Bohemian scenes are written in a radically different musical style. I am not asking for a version of the play, an opera is a different beast to a play and Wigglesworth's opera deserves to be taken on its own terms. But, as the production set Bohemia in a sort of contemporary Greek/Balkan village, I could not help thinking that the addition of another timbre to the orchestra such as a cimbalom or a Greek klarino would have helped considerably.
|Sophie Bevan, Neal Davies - ENO (photo Johan Persson)|
One of the things missing from Wigglesworth's libretto is passages of explanation, he makes jump cuts in the narrative and leaves us (and the music to fill in the gaps). Perhaps this is an opera which takes repeated listening.
It has to be pointed out that this was Wigglesworth's first opera, though his first major work dates from 2007. He was born in 1979 and combines a conducting and composing career, so Richard Strauss-like he has a strong feel for orchestral textures and the way to use voices with orchestra. He sense of what an opera should be is perhaps less developed, but it should be remembered that Richard Strauss's first two operas were less than a complete success and Strauss was 41 before he got his first operatic success. So I hope that we can look forward to further Wigglesworth operas.
|Anthony Gregory, Iain Paterson, Sophie Bevan, Ellie Isherwood, Susan Bickley |
ENO (photo Johan Persson)
Iain Paterson gave a thrilling and fully rounded portrait of Leontes, making the transition from the crescendo of obsessive, tortured jealousy in Act One to the obsessive remorse in Act Three. Sophie Bevan was a vividly dramatic Hermione in Act One, making a very different character to that in the play. And for all the beauty and intelligence of Bevan's singing, with some spine-tingling moments in Act One, I did not think she managed to knit the two parts together, statue Hermione of Act Three seemed a long way from Act One.
|ENO Chorus - ENO (photo Johan Persson)|
As Perdita, Samantha Price was all innocent charm, though I felt that Wigglesworth did not spend long enough establishing her character. She was finely partnered by Anthony Gregory's lyrical Florizel, standing up impressively to the coruscating torrent of his father's invective. (Gregory also doubled as a Court Official in Act One). The young Zach Roberts was impressive as Mamillus, with much of the drama being dependent on him.
The chorus brought Wigglesworth's choral writing vividly to live, demonstrating that the confidence of his writing for operatic chorus (certainly not a given nowadays). Wigglesworth himself drew a luminous performance from the orchestra, and it was the orchestral textures and the way he wove instruments and voices together which really told in this piece.
|Ryan Wigglesworth: The Winter's Tale - ENO (photo Johan Persson)|
Elsewhere on this blog:
- We're crowdfunding for Quickening, a disc of new settings of Rowan Williams, AE Housman, Ivor Gurney, Christina Rossetti by Robert Hugill coming out on the Navona Records label, please visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/quickening
- Balancing commercial & artistic values: I chat to Adrian Green of Convivium Records - interview
- Taking the stage: Hrachuhi Bassenz as Adriana Lecouvreur at Covent Garden - Opera review
- Refracting the past: Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich in Schnittke - CD review
- Master, pupil & a birthday: Melvyn Tan at Rhinegold Live - concert review
- Housman's lads: Song in the City in RVW, Butterworth & Ian Venables - concert review
- Chaucerian richness: Julian Philips' The Tale of Januarie - opera review
- Superb choral performances: Richard Harvey's Kyrie with Latvian Radio Choir and Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - CD review
- Various Stages Festival: Six operas in development presented by Mahogany Opera Group - Opera review
- Terrific: Weinberg chamber symphonies - CD review
- English Fantasy: Emma Johnson & BBC Concert Orchestra in Will Todd, Paul Reade, John Dankworth and Patrick Hawes - CD review