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and other songs by John Dowland

Transition Opera

Director/video designer Netia Jones
William Towers Countertenor
Richard Sweeney

Wilton's Music Hall, London 21 February 2008

Innovation is all for audience capturing, and Wilton's Music Hall was gratifyingly packed for Transition Opera's Dowland evening, designed for "the coldest, most miserable month of the year"; the winter wind certainly blows on the exposed platforms of Tower Gateway DLR station !

John Dowland's famous gloominess is usually counterpointed by jollier Elizabethan songs, but not on this night. William Towers and Richard Sweeney positively wallowed in "exquisite melancholy, pleasurable pain and delicious misery", beginning (and finishing too !) with In Darkness let me Dwell. Too dim to read easily until afterwards, the programme took us through the subject as dealt with learnedly by Timothie Bright (1586), Robert Burton (The Anatomy of Melancholy 1621), Shakespeare (Hamlet) and Netia Jones.

The magnificent interior of the restored Music Hall was darkened and we were brought up to date and into the surrounding world of City office life by videos projected by (probably) Netia Jones from a laptop front of stalls...

William Towers was discovered slumped on his desk (? in a drunken stupor), from which unprepossessing posture he began to sing beautifully. His is one of the purest counter-tenor voices now before the public, and he was accompanied perfectly by the Irish lutenist Richard Sweeney, whose solo recital I had enjoyed at my first visit to a meeting of The Lute Society.

Musically, this was a distinguished hour of lute songs by Dowland and his contemporaries, with three lute solos interposed, received with acclamation by the audience.

Where will Netia Jones locate Handel's Acis & Galatea with the one-eyed cyclops in April?

Peter Grahame Woolf

(Illustration: Galatea & Polyphemus - wall painting 1st C BC)