Saturday 12 December 2009

Messiah at ENO

Last night we went to see ENO's staging of Messiah. Well we managed the first 2 parts and I'm afraid that we left at the second interval. The Part 1 was almost OK and had the odd magical moment. The designs were superb, complete with a reflective floor and some imaginative video installations (sets Tom Pye, lighting Jean Kalman, Video Lexo Warner, Lysander Ashton and Tom Pye). The costumes were casual modern, which meant that the men of the chorus as usual looked profoundly stuffy and they had managed to make Catherine Wyn-Rogers look frumpy which is quite an achievement.

I can see the point of staging the piece in a setting which mirrors the actions of everyday life, with all sorts going on. But I am afraid that I lost patience as soon as the first cute tot dashed across the stage. This particular tot (Max Craig) was rather ubiquitous and Deborah Warner seemed to use him to undercut arias and moments of drama. This was made most manifest in the turning of the 'And there were shepherds' section into a school nativity play with lots of cute kids. This was a shame as treble (either Harry Bradford or Louis Watkins) was excellent.

At moments of drama she also introduced dancers (choreography Kim Brandstrup). This increased in Part 2 when the opening section, including He was despised accompanied a strange dance of a young man being beaten up and then being comforted by Catherine Wyn-Rogers, with the chorus watching. The later sections of this part seemed to be taking place at some sort of revival meeting. I felt that in this part, Warner had lost her way somewhat and was at a loss to know what to do with the chorus especially in the more complex movements. So she did as little as possible with them.

There were some striking images, but the happy-clappy evangelical atmosphere engendered seemed at odds with Handel's music. Frankly, I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, just listening. The soloists were a decent bunch. Soprano Sophie Bevan had to cope with some startlingly fast speeds from conductor Lawrence Cummings, but did superbly though she rather tended to over-ornament. Catherine Wyn-Rogers was profoundly moving and it was a shame that she had been encouraged to bellow sections of He was despised. Tenor Eamonn Mulhall was a last minute replacement for ailing John Mark Ainsley. Mulhall was impressive, though he did not quite seem to have got the measure of the tricky Coliseum acoustic. Brindley Sherratt was wonderful as the bass soloist, combining drama with sympathy for Handel's style.

The chorus were a little taxed by the music, and there were some moments of frankly raw singing particularly from the tenors. The staging used a community group in addition to the choir and I felt that Warner and Cummings should have had the courage of their convictions and used a larger choir with a full symphony orchestra in the pit. As it was, Cummings seemed to be treading a strange line between period and modern practice.

So all in all, a rather mixed view, I'm afraid. As a raison d'etre for staging Messiah the jury is still out as far as I am concerned.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:47 am

    If you had stayed to the end you would have witnessed a standing ovation and huge applause. This production has a subtle cumulative effect which most people found very moving.


Popular Posts this month