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Penderecki UBU Polish National Opera, Sadler's Wells London 24 April 2004

Krzysztof Penderecki lost his audience when he turned his back on his avant-garde phase and became a reinvented 'born again' composer of more traditional symphonic works, which suggested Brahms and Bruckner and eschewed the special effects which he had made his own. His Ubu was premiered in UK at Sadlers Wells; the season there by Polish National Opera had decidedly mixed responses.

At the start of Ubu, updated from Jarry's Ubu Roi, it seemed that a contemporary version of the well known satirical subject might have renewed the old spark, but it was not to be.

There was a fair amount of fun in the first act, with Mrs Ubu a Lady Macbeth character stimulating Ubu's ambition to become famous and powerful. He duly murdered the King and after having seized ultimate power, disposes of all his officials as ruthlessly as a Stalin, with a whimsical despotism, just for fun. Pawel Wunder as the eponymous anti-hero was impressive, as was his help-mate Ma Ubu, Anna Lubanska.

The jokes depended on rather obvious musical quotations from other composers, and his 'scandalous' use of an obscenity, translated in the English surtitles as "Schitt". The staging for Krzysztof Warlikowski's direction was economical but well designed for touring with one or two night stands. Moving it around the stage required some hefty assistants. There was little new to take us through a second act which was (unwisely) longer than the first. Jacek Kaspszyk kept the orchestra and large chorus animated, but with diminishing returns.

See also Tom Service in The Guardian

© Peter Grahame Woolf