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Stuart MacRae The Assassin Tree

Libretto: Simon Armitage
Linbury Studio Theatre at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
September 06, 2006

Gaddafi: A Living Myth
Steve Chandra Savale/Shan Khan; Asian Dub Foundation

ENO at the Coliseum, London September 07, 2006


Neither of these "operas" was greatly to my elderly taste, and so I rely below on links to helpful reviews elsewhere on the Web.

The misguided production of The Assassin Tree was nearly saved by MacRae's strong, compelling music in a harsh early-Birtwistle manner ("agonised brass shrieks and piercing piccolo" - musicOMH.com) punctuated with gaps which allow many words - carefully articulated - to come through, though rarely the meanings of 'poetic' sentences or paragraphs.

Reviewers to read include Richard Whitehouse in Classical Source (though how he can claim that MacRae 'ensures their intelligibility at all times' beggars belief; c.p The story is told in a simple and poetic fashion. Or it would be if you could understand the words (Edinburgh Evening News). Gillian Keith sang very beautifully, but sopranos never can get words across up in the leger lines.

The balletic and hieratic production, recalling Britten's church parables and some of the works of Maxwell Davies, is over-the-top tricksy, with fashionable post-Robert Wilson artificial gesturing (jerky and speeded up for the ritual murdering); doublings by masked dancers, etc etc. A hopelessly over-elaborated farrago.

See Frazer's Golden Bough (free on the internet) to try to divine what it was all about;
and pray that MacRae, a still young composer who has engaged my interest (see recent CD review) takes a different route for the composition and production of his next opera.

The elegant glossy programme lacked Simon Armitage's libretto, which was not available separately either, and there were no surtitles, as necessary for opera in English as for those in other languages. It did not help to learn that Tristan & Isolde wowed MacRae when he was 18.

A large number of mixed reviews and production images are available to subscribers to the indispensible The Opera Critic (free for introductory period) so I leave it there. Let's wait for the CD with full text in the booklet to properly evaluate MacRae/Armitage's The Assassin Tree...

Gaddafi: A Living Myth

This meretricious political show (a musical without singing) is closer to Evita than Nixon in China and impresses with its slick and expensive staging and production, but less for its generalised "world music" score and tendentious, simplistic story line and script ("much of it is in rhyming couplets which sounds dangerously like doggerel at times" - MusicOMH).

Gadaffi brought a different audience to the Coliseum and they seemed well satisfied. It has qualified for the posting of its very mixed reviews on The Opera Critic (with a library of images) because it reached us under the auspices of English National Opera.

The apologia in Arts Guardian for the beleaguered ENO having produced it is well worth reading.

Warwick Thompson on Bloomberg.com says it all...

© Peter Grahame Woolf