Monday 26 January 2015

The Tempest restored - Matthew Locke's music and more

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Globe Theatre
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Globe Theatre
A Restoration Tempest; devised and directed by Elizabeth Kenny, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Watson, Scott, Boden, Logan, Tyrrell, Cookson, Sinclair-Knopp, staged by Caroline Williams
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 25 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative theatrical reconstruction of the 1674 semi-opera version of The Tempest

In 1674, Actor-manager Thomas Betterton wanted to put on a big show at his theatre, the Duke of York's Theatre in Dorset Gardens, to steal the thunder of his rivals at the King's Theatre. His plan to do an English version of one of Lully and Moliere's comedie-ballets, Psyche, which he had seen in Paris, were delayed (it finally came to fruition in 1675), and so Betterton decided to revive William Davenant and John Dryden's version of the Shakespeare's The Tempest. This had been premiered in 1667, with music by John Banister and Pelham Humfrey. To this mix, Betterton added his creative team from Psyche, thus creating the first in that typically English mongrel genre, the semi-opera. Matthew Locke (who was composing music for Psyche) wrote suites of instrumental pieces, act tunes and the curtain tune which depicts the storm at sea. GB Draghi wrote dances, Thomas Shadwell wrote words for the Masque of Neptune and Psyche for Act V. This and the Act II Mask of the Devils were set by Pelham Humfrey, whilst Shadwell's music teacher Pietro Raggio wrote a new song.

Add to this that the version of play completely re-writes Shakespeare adding new characters including a sister for Miranda, and you have the potential for a complete dogs dinner. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment admirably proved otherwise at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre on 25 January 2015, when musicians from the orchestra led by Alison Bury were joined by singers Katherine Watson (soprano), Frazer B Scott (bass), Samuel Boden (tenor), Harry Cookson and Andrew Sinclair-Knopp (trebles), and actors Molly Logan and Dickon Tyrrell. Lutenist Elizabeth Kenny devised and directed, whilst Caroline Williams did the adaptation of the text and was stage director. Rather than being offered a concert performance of the music, taken out of context, we were treated to a potted version of the play with all the music in its correct context.

Molly Logan and Dickon Tyrrell brilliantly played all the characters. Caroline Williams version of the text, by including some of the stage directions, ensured that we knew what was going on. Logan showed herself adept at playing two characters simultaneously, even going as far as having a fight with herself when Ferdinand and Hippolito (another of the new character).

We started with the First Musick and Second Musick by Matthew Locke (1621 -1677), played by the instrumental ensemble of Alison Bury and Clare Salaman (violins), Oliver Wilson (viola), Jonathan Manson (bass violin/viola da gamba) and Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo). This is the music written to be played whilst the audience was coming into the theatre. Quite Purcellian in cast, Locke's rich harmonies included some lovely spicy moments with the players giving the music a lovely rhythmic impetus. After the spoken prologue, which introduced the play, we got Locke's Curtain tune, a slow atmospheric piece full of suspensions and dissonant passing notes, alternating with vivid scurrying. All contributing to a brilliant depiction of the storm, which is raging as the curtain rises and plunges us into the opening scene.

Draghi's dances for the play have not survived, so a selection of Matthew Locke's dance music punctuated the play. Here Locke was in nicely rhythmic mode, often quite toe-tapping.

The first masque was the Masque of Devils from Act II (conjured to torment the shipwrecked sailors), as two masked devils (played by trebles Harry Cookson and Andrew Sinclair-Knopp) appeared out of the trap in the floor, to be joined by a third masked devil (played by bass Frazer B Scott). The music for the masque, by Pelham Humfrey (1647 - 1674) was chromatic with a deliberately awkward cast to the vocal lines. The two trebles coped brilliantly and were theatrically vivid too. Tenor Samuel Boden sang Arise ye subterranean winds by Pietro Reggio (1632 - 1685) which was again a slightly awkward melody, but with quite a virtuoso element which was beautifully realised by Boden.

Ariel was one of the characters played by Molly Logan, but Ariel's songs (Come unto these yellow sands, Full fathom five, Dry those eyes, Go thy way, Where the bee suckks there suck I) were sung by tenor Samuel Boden. As both actor and singer wore the same mask when playing the character, it was always obvious what the dramatic logic was. The music for Ariel's songs was by John Banister (1630 - 1679) and this was of a rather simpler cast, rather pleasingly melodic with Boden showing a mellifluous lyric tenor voice and excelling at the elaborate ornamentation of the songs. Go thy way was in fact a duet, as Ferdinand (sung by Frazer B Scott) was constantly echoed by the invisible (to him) Arial of Samuel Boden.

Soprano Katherine Watson gave a delightful performance of Purcell's Dear Pretty Youth (sung here after Ferdinand has killed Hippolito - both played by Molly Logan). And Watson also sang Adieu to the pleasures and Follies of Love as simpler, but lovely lyric song by James Hart (1647 - 1718).

The happy conclusion of events was celebrated by the Masque of Neptune and Amphitrite, with Scott as Neptune, Watson as Amphitrite and Boden as Eolus. Humfrey's music was cast as elaborate, fluid arioso which seemed to equal Purcell for the complexity of invention but probably lacked Purcell's gift for melodic memorability. The arioso was punctuated by short ensembles and a dance to create a suitably flexible whole.

The conclusion was Matthew Locke's The Conclusion: Canon, a grave canonic piece which was performed without any lute or theorbo continuo. Stately and rather austere sounding, it was both imaginative and affecting.

By mixing the music with text, drama and not a little humour, the ensemble really brought The Tempest to life. We probably would not want to spend the entire evening with Davenant and Dryden's version of Shakespeare's The Tempest but the potted version, brilliantly realised by the performers, helped to put the music in context. It helped that the varied died of music was all superbly performed.

The programme is repeated tonight (26 January 2015) and is highly recommended.

You can hear Elizabeth Kenny and Catherine Williams talking about the production in a video on Vimeo.

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