Sir David Pountney’s exuberant production is billed as ‘eco-entertainment’ and it certainly takes re-purposing to a whole new level with its glorified collage of Purcell’s semi-operatic musical form of the 17th Century masque lyrically enhanced to explore a range of contemporary themes including the rise of strongman leaders and the devastation of climate change, and how these may be rightly overcome.
By its very nature and whilst sung, the piece is narrative in form and whilst merging various disparate musical moods, by and large it holds together quite well with the assistance of side panel surtitles in English of an English libretto. Although its success can be very much attributed to the genius fusion of the original composer and the adapted libretto by its director, it is also unfortunately its downfall as it overruns its natural ending on more occasions than I care to count which is a shame because there is an important message underlying the whole piece which becomes ground down at its conclusion.
A cast of seven plays more than twice as many parts: Callum Thorpe excels as the Putinesque Diktat, who is destined to take the planet into a downward spiral of despair, although he is in time adequately countered by soprano Anna Dennis’ earth mother Elena who eventually sweeps him aside before revealing her true self. James Laing and James Hall are the perfect double act as Tousel Blond and Strumpet Ginger with some fine comic acting; with the latter unfortunately only able to walk the role due to sickness, a special mention for vocal stand-in Dominic Mattos who sung beautifully whilst also getting in on the fun.
Andri Björn Róbertsson, Xavier Hetherington, and Matthew Brook provide sterling support in a range of roles throughout the production which gets into the real nitty gritty of the human psyche with its sycophants and sceptics, and which is further augmented the amazing depth of the supporting Chorus of Opera North and by dancers Jonny Aubrey-Bentley, Rose Ellen Lewis (Dance Captain), Rudy Portus, Ben Yorke-Griffiths, James Aiden Kay, and Erica Mulken who superbly realise Denni Sayers exquisitely choreographed routines.
Leslie Travers set design not only recycles from what has gone before, it also borrows from the two other productions running alongside which is inspired. Costume designer Marie-Joanne Lecca has similarly re-used costumes as well as creating new costumes by recycling other materials as well as textiles.
The renewed fusion of baroque with the modern is equally met through Paule Constable and Ben Pickersgill’s subtle lighting design with an added touch of green through the use of David Haneke’s video backdrops that provide the much necessary context and often decipherment to the musical pieces with the orchestra with added recorders. harpsichord and theorbos delightfully led by Harry Bicket who perfectly balances the big numbers with the gentler ones.
This is a uniquely inventive piece that cleverly introduces a new audience to Purcell and Purcell to the modern-day which his music comfortably sits alongside: history tells us that we never learn what history tells us which is one of the reasons that this magical moral fairy story recycles so well: if they can trim the ending then I can see this running for years.
Masque of Might is one of three productions touring this season for Opera North, further details at https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on
The Lowry is a theatre and gallery complex at Salford Quays with a wide creative offering, further details https://thelowry.com/whats-on/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 16th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: