14 Aug

Libretto by STEVEN BERKOFF from his stage play
Adapted by Mark Antony Turnage and Jonathan Moore
At the Arcola – in the Grimeborn Opera season.
They warned me that there were no tunes, in case one goes to an opera expecting beautiful soaring arias. There is a large orchestra – about thirteen instrumentalists – which acts as a Greek chorus commenting on the action, heavy on rhythm as well as handling sound effects.
Berkoff has brought Oedipus up to date, making him a cockney, Eddy, born ‘not far from the Angel’ as he says in his first speech, but fed up of the pub led life, preferring to drink in wine bars.. . The director must have been so happy to have rising star, Edmund Danon to play Eddy because his posture and movement is almost balletic and as Jonathan Moore has made practically every scene end in freeze frame, the effect is beautiful, like something out of the National Gallery
But all four actors are astounding. Richard Morrison – also a good mime artist and a very experienced opera performer, is the cockney Dad, Philippa Boyce cosy as the Mum and weirdly prophetic waving her beautiful hands about as the soothsayer and Laura Woods lovely mezzo soprano, who is gorgeous and very dignified even during the sex scenes with Eddy. The two ladies also play a couple of weird sisters as The Sphinx, blending their voices in harmony and rhythm.
There is a lot of laugh aloud comedy, most especially when the cockney Mum and Dad come to visit Eddy and his posh wife. The wife does her best to love the in laws, but she obviously doesn’t understand a word they are saying. And the old couple are subservient, impressed by the way their boy has improved since he left home.
The lines are sometimes spoken, sometimes sung in Berkoff’s stylish work and in the same way, the orchestra, drawn from the Kantanti ensemble talk to us and make appropriate noises. The orchestra remain as the decorative set at the back of the stage – loved the Harp. Baska Wesolowska the designer has allowed the setting to speak for itself. There are just tracer lights which change colour depending on where the action is taking place and there is some expert lighting by Matt Leventhall. The astonishing thing about this production is that every member of it seems to be completely integrated in the work. There is artistic endeavour of all kinds here, music, ballet, comedy, poetry, effects all working towards the well-known tragic ending.
It is easy to shed tears at the end, not at the tragedy but with simple pride at the conductor Tim Anderson, the musicians the actors, all the people who have made this thing happen with so much creative expertise.
An opera with no popular tunes? This is something else.

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