Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Judith Weir Blond Eckbert
and other stories

The Opera Group, Linbury Studio, London 15 June 2006

director John Fulljames
designer Adam Wiltshire
conductor Patrick Bailey

Claire Wild; Owen Gilhooly; Heather Shipp; Mark Wilde
with Lore Lixenberg

This new production, with a portable set and reduction of the score for a 10-piece chamber ensemble, exemplifies the practicality of Judith Weir. The touring set suggests a claustrophobic Edward Hopper '50s interior, rather than a timeless Ludwig Tieck fairy-tale forest scenario, as recalled from the original ENO production and on TV.

It has been widely praised, and should give an awkward lengthed opera (which I enjoyed in its premiere) a new life, touring until the end of July; Judith Weir ensured that it should be "truly portable, with no piano, percussion or double basses to lug around".

We had reservations, partly because of the dry acoustic of the Linbury, and difficulty in following words without surtitles, despite best efforts of the excellent new cast. In the specially composed preludial material, by Judith Weir and Kenneth Hesketh, this problem was compounded from our seats just in front of the on-stage ensemble, so that we found ourselves giving full attention to catching the gist of the aphoristic Grimm tales and hearing the music more as background.

Probably it will all go well on radio &/or on carefully balanced CD; the new version deserves to be recorded for comparison with the original.*

That has had a curious history. The NMC Ancora CD, with the full orchestral score conducted by Sian Edwards, and complete text supplied, has been fully reviewed by Musical Pointers. The CD was taken from the sound track of a TV film, well recorded in a sympathetic acoustic. I was haunted by this strange, purposely equivocal opera after seeing it at ENO and later on TV. That CD review should be read in conjunction with this notice.

As I concluded, and it applies even more forcibly now that the reduced version is going around the country, "we need the MIW Productions/Channel Four TV film as a DVD".

* There is a healthy tradition of reducing for smaller forces large orchestral scores which are liable to languish on library shelves after their commissioned premieres. And sometimes the more concentrated versions have decided advantages, as several reviewers have felt is the case with Blond Eckbert. The most thoughtful review of the new version of Blond Eckbert is Anne Ozorio's at Cheltenham for Seen&Heard

A good example of this process appears in my overview of the works of the leading Spanish composer Luis de Pablo;
"- - Segundo Lectura (1992) is a powerful distillation and concentration of the music of Senderos del aire (Tokyo, 1987) for large orchestra including saxophone and steel drums. Comparison of the two versions, both available on CD, demonstrates the composer's keen ear and sure command of instrumental and orchestral timbres - - "

** I have now had an opportunity to see again the TV version of Blond Eckbert and also, for the first time, Judith Weir's new opera Armida, specially commissioned for Channel 4 Television and shown on TV last Christmas, when it completely passed me by. This is a very complex, multi-layered work which works on many levels. It needs alert concentration on the narrative and its visual depiction and I wonder how much, especially of Weir's music got through to holiday audiences at home?

The imaginative filming of Blond Eckbert cast its spell and captivated me again, and I feel sure that this is the best version; the singing and direction are splendid and the full orchestra sounds magnificent. The pictorial realisation for home viewing eliminates the problems of Blond Eckbert's awkward length and limited action, none of that really solved by the Linbury coupling, which has had mixed reviews.

The two filmed operas are of ideal length, and contrast, to make a wonderful DVD if they might be put together. I do hope this will happen and that MIW Productions and Channel Four can overcome any contractual impediments that might have led to Blond Eckbert having had to be released on sound only. PGW

P.S. July 2006: By courtesy of Chester Music I have been able to follow Armida for the third time of watching with the full score, which clarifies the action and allows one to take in more fully the intricacies of Weir's writing for voices and for small ensemble; it is recognised that visual input claims primacy from viewer/listeners. Doing so has deepened my appreciation of a major work which must have been seen by all too few contemporary music lovers? It strengthens my opinion, above, that it is imperative that the two TV films be brought out, with subtitles, on DVD as soon as possible.

© Peter Grahame Woolf