Saturday, 8 May 2010


30/4/10, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Linbury)

Thomas Ades' famous (notorious?) opera about Margaret Duchess of Argyll, aristocrat, good time girl and fellater of headless men.

It's a fascinating story, full of sex, betrayal, breathtaking arrogance, though lacking drama: a straightforward rise and fall. We loved the staging. There was a vast staircase filling almost the whole of the downstage and sweeping up and narrowing to a doorway at the top. The Duchess (Joan Rodgers) made her first appearance (and several subsequently) from a giant powder puff halfway up the stairs stage left, which revolved and opened to reveal her. Her husband/lover/nemesis (the bass baritone Alan Ewing) made dramatic entrances from the door at the back, which slid open and shut. The other two cast members, the tenor Iain Paton and soprano Rebecca Bottone (again) scurried on and off as a succession of domestics, hangers-on and lovers. The action spanned decades from a present-day flashback to the Duchess's arrival on the scene in about 1930, through her notoriety during the 40s and 50s, and then the divorce and impecunious decline in a succession of hotel rooms during the 1970s and 80s (though for some reason the dates flashed up on a counter above that doorway didn't tally with the actual dates of her story as spelt out in the programme).

The problem was that, with the exception of a few numbers (like a popular song parody sung by one of the hangers on in the 1930s segment), the music seemed more of an obstacle than an aid to understanding as with so much contemporary opera. That's partly because you can't hear many of the words, so demanding is music like this to sing; partly because Ades' stuff, though much more accessible than some composers', is often hard on the ears.

No comments:

Post a Comment