music by John Adams libretto by Peter Sellars.

London Coliseum St Martin’s Lane In rep to 5 December 2014.
6.30pm 29 Nov.
7.30pm 27 Nov, 3, 5 Dec.
BSL Signed 3 Dec.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7845 9300.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 November.

Thrilling score and terrific performances powerfully combine.
Following a cornerstone of classical Greek drama in Julian Anderson and Frank McGuinness’s Thebans earlier this year, ENO seems like Epic National Opera, giving this staged premiere of American composer John Adams’ ‘Passion Oratorio in Two Acts’ – a description pointing towards its twin nature as concert piece and drama, and already heard in the former guise in America and London.

Librettist-Director Peter Sellars draws on the bible and writings by, mostly 20th-century, mainly female, writers and activists. It’s good to know women have an input to a work about the most controversial Mary in Jesus’ life as described in the Gospels. Sellars doesn’t go for identifying Mary Magdalene as the “woman taken in adultery” or in working-up a romantic/sexual relationship.

Instead, more originally and far more rewardingly, he builds a complex of possibilities about the character’s psychological make-up, which sees her as help, inspiration and troubled person in one. The biblical contrast of Martha and Mary, the one who helps by doing, the other by being – an essential, positive contrast of personality – is retained, as is the focus on their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

This scene forms the most effective staged section of a work which, in line with its alter ego performance identity, doesn’t focus on conversation but declaration, and where action, while present in the music, features little in the words sung. Instead, a quartet of dancers creates the sense of internal reflection and of relationships between characters. The singers’ physical contact can seem contrived, but the dancers provide a rich, emotional human seam.

Sellars can veer towards surface brilliance and the human limbs strangely projected behind the scorched barbed-wire prison-camp set add little. Even the dancers are clad in uniform black, while Jesus becomes an angelic counter-tenor threesome, then an unnamed Clive Rowe-type figure. But the dancing Mary’s lithe fluidity and concerned expression or the controlled feverish moves of Gabriel are precise and dramatically forceful, matching Adams’ superb and richly varied score, with its moments of sustained quiet amid rushing strings and contorting woodwind lines, or throbbing chords in a wondrous musical experience.

Mary Magdalene: Patricia Bardon.
Martha: Meredith Arwady.
Lazarus: Russell Thomas.
Seraphim: Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Nathan Medley.
Angel Gabriel: Banks.
Mary: Stephanie Berge.
Mary, Mother of Jesus: Ingrid Mackinnon.
Lazarus: Parinay Mehra.
ENO Chorus and Orchestra.

Director: Peter Sellars.
Conductor: Joana Carneiro.
Designer: George Tsypin.
Lighting: James F Ingalis.
Sound: Mark Grey, David Sheppard.
Assistant conductor: Murray Hipkin.
Chorus Masters: Genevieve Ellis, Mihály Menelaos Zeke.

First performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Los Angeles 31 May 2012.
European premiere at the Barbican Hall London 16 March 2013.
World stage premiere by English National Opera at the London Coliseum 21 November 2014.
Co-production between ENO, Theater Bonn and Royal Swedish Opera.

2014-11-26 17:43:14

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