Monday, 2 July 2018

Powerful & emotional stuff: Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse at RCM Double Bill.

Royal College of Music - Opera double bill
Huw Watkins, Peter Maxwell Davies; Royal College International Opera School, dir: Stephen Unwin, cond: Michael Rosewell; Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 29 June 2018 Star rating: 2.5/3.5 (★★½)/(★★★½)
A contemporary double bill higlighting the destructive power of our minds

This Friday, 29 June 2018, at the Royal College Music's Britten Theatre, The Royal College International Opera School performed a double bill of work highlighting the destructive power of our minds the first of which was In the Locked Room by Huw Watkins and the second was Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse, both in productions by Stephen Unwin, conducted by Michael Rosewell.

In the Locked Room is Huw Watkin’s and David Harsent’s take on Thomas Hardy’s short story An Imaginative Woman. Ella, a poetry lover, becomes fascinated by the work of the poet Ben Pascoe. Although they never meet, Ella’s frenzied imaginings, whilst providing solace from her loveless marriage, finally propel her into a damaging life of self-delusion. Josephine Goddard sang Ella Foley, the imaginative woman. Rhys Batt was her disinterested husband Stephen. Christian Adolph played the troubled poet Ben Pascoe and Katy Thompson the landlady Susan Wheeler.

The orchestra played beautifully under Michael Roswell’s direction but apart from the obvious technical demands of the score the singers really didn’t have anything to wrap their acting chops around. They did their damnedest to bring some nuance to their characters but were hobbled by the oversimplification of the story. The pivotal moment of Ella’s rape was perfunctory – just something that happens in a dysfunctional relationship. What presumably should have brutally supercharged her emotional state forcing her further into her fantasy was just an everyday part of this bland narrative.

The source material for In the Locked Room is claustrophobic and psychologically charged. The poetic eroticism is enough to make your wimple curl which left me all the more perplexed to be left so emotionally disengaged. Maybe forty minutes just isn’t long enough to explore the complexities and emotional turmoil that precipitate Ella’s self-deception? A huge pity that this intriguing premise and its exploration of the subconscious was rendered as a banal domestic soap opera.

The second half of the evening on the other hand had no such difficulties. The Lighthouse is the opera that just keeps on giving. I never tire of hearing it. Richard Pinkstone sang Sandy and Officer 1, Hugo Herman-Wilson Blazes and Officer 2 and Adam Maxey Arthur and Officer 3. Economically but imaginatively staged with some hauntingly atmospheric lighting this was the full operatic banquet.

All three singers relished their parts handling the technically testing score with impressive conviction and self-confidence. I was hooked from the get go, the relative stillness of The Court of Enquiry was intense as the chilling implications of their contradictory evidence sank in. The hiatus as the Officers become the lighthouse keepers threatened to waste all that hard-won dramatic intensity but, good for them, they pulled it back quicksticks.

When the lighthouse keepers Sandy, Blazes and Arthur agree to see “who is king, who devil and who the fool among us” by singing, Maxwell Davies employs pastiche – but they are so much more than jolly tunes. We really get to see what makes these men tick, how vulnerable they are. They were beautifully sung. Pity the spell was broken prematurely by some juvenile giggling at the word “cock”. Some people should get out more.

Notwithstanding, this was powerful and emotional stuff and “we had to defend ourselves by God” a suitably chilling end.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

The Royal College International Opera School
Britten Theatre
In the Locked Room (Stars 2.5)
Susan Wheeler : Katy Thomson
Ella Foley : Josephine Goddard
Stephen Foley : Rhys Batt
Ben Pascoe : Christian Adolph

The Lighthouse (Stars 3.5)
Sandy, Officer 1 : Richard Pinkstone
Blazes, Officer 2 : Hugo Herman-Wilson
Arthur, Officer 3 : Adam Maxey

Conductor : Michael Rosewell
Director : Stephen Unwin
Designer : Hannah Wolfe
Lighting Designer : Ralph Stokeld

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • What a delightful voice: getting to know the music of Francesco Gasparini (★★★★) - CD review
  • Coming into focus: Kasper Holten's production of Don Giovanni returns to the Royal Opera  (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • A great big present: Stephen Medcalf on returning to Buxton to direct his favourite piece, Idomeneo  - interview
  • Handel's finest arias for base voice - Christopher Purves, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Story-telling in America: Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Each a world unto itself: Arvo Pärt The Symphonies (★★★★) - CD review
  • Intimate, candid and completely fascinating: The Tchaikovsky Papers - unlocking the family archive (★★★★) - book review
  • Notable debuts & a veteran director: Die Entführung aus dem Serail from the Grange Festival - opera review
  • Vivid drama: Handel's Agrippina at The Grange Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Rip-roaring fun: Elena Langer's Rhondda Rips It Up! (★★★★) - music theatre review
  • Home

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