THE INDIAN QUEEN
by John Dryden new version by Peter Sellars music by Henry Purcell..
London Coliseum St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4ES In rep to14 March 2015.
7pm 2, 4, 6, 9, 12 March Mat 3pm 14 March.
Runs 3hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7815 9300.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 February.
A new world that sounds magnificent and has dramatic resonance.
There’s barely any of Poet Laureate John Dryden in Peter Sellars’ reworking of The Indian Queen but a lot more music than Henry Purcell wrote for a stage piece which is known in mangled form. One of Sellars’ purposes was to incorporate more music from the composer’s short (1659-1695) life.
Purcell’s greatness is evident throughout in sounds grafted to a new dramatic world, related to events from the previous century. Words are drawn from several sources, gathered round a narrative thread, spoken with intensity by Maritxell Carrero, from The Lost Chronicles of Terra Firma by Nigerian Rosario Aguilar (born 1938). This tells the story (as Dryden’s Indian Queen didn’t – this is the right continent, wrong conflict) of Spain’s military conquistadores as understood by a girl born during the conquest, recalling events around her childhood.
She is mixed-race, her mother the Mayan Teculihuatzin who marries the Spaniards’ leader to discover secrets at bedtime, but who falls in love as he continues his bloody course; one moment sees the child waving to Mayans who are shot the moment she leaves.
Another of Sellars’ cruder ideas is the cliché of soldiers in modern camouflage and bulletproof jackets toting automatic rifles. Yet the Indian Queen’s reference to her husband’s bloody behaviour while professing Catholicism with its talk of mercy, echoes modern jihadi militancy with uncomfortable familiarity. There’s a final dramatic shock as her daughter describes Teculihuatzin in old age, suffering dementia, shut away in a back-room.
The short opening dances seem lightweight when they supposedly represent Mayan Creation myths. And the music drawn from Purcell’s works lies, in both sound and text, within the Christian, even Anglican, tradition. There is no equivalent Mayan voice in music which ranges through often sombre emotions.
Yet it hardly matters, with stylish playing and singing – sometimes accompanied by strong emblematic dancing – of the magnificent score. And the music can ask its own questions. When the verbal line instructs people not to question who has power and who suffers, the agonised vocal line prompts that very question – part of the rich experience offered by this Indian Queen.
Hunahu: Vince Yi.
Teculihuatzin: Julia Bullock.
Doña Isabel: Lucy Crowe.
Don Pedrarias Dàvila: Thomas Walker.
Don Pedrode Alvarado: Noah Stewart.
Ixbalanqué: Anthony Roth Costanzo.
Mayan Shaman/Zapatista: Luchando Qave.
Leonor: Maritxell Carrero.
Mayan Deities: Sonya Cullingford, Alistair Goldsmith, Lucy Starkey, Jack Thomson.
Tecum Umán: Jack Thomson.
Leonor (as a child): Rosanna Beacock.
Chorus: Sean Kerr, Henry Moss, James Scarlett.
Actors: Alex Brabbins, Mark Farrant, Nic James, William Spray, Daniel Vernan.
Director: Peter Sellars.
Conductor: Laurence Cummings.
Lighting: James F Ingalls.
Choreographer: Christopher Williams.
Chorus Master: Christopher Bucknall.
Costume: Dunya Ramicova.
Assistant conductor: Murray Hipkin.
Assistant Chorus master: Chad Kelly.
Associate lighting: Seth Reiser.
Assistant costume: Danielle Domingue.
New production supported by Sarah Billinghurst Solomon & Howard Solomon, George & Patti White, English National Opera Trust, ENO’s English Opera group and a syndicate of individual donors.
The Indian Queen is a co-production between English National Opera, Perm State Opera and Teatro Real Madrid.