Dr Dee, English National Opera | Opera reviews, news & interviews
Dr Dee, English National Opera
An operatic celebration of England that's as intelligent as it is entertaining
Riding the same wave of affectionate, riotously melancholic Englishness which carried Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem to success, Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee is dark enough to delight even the most cynical of Jubilee naysayers, gorgeous enough in its national pageantry to crown the cultural celebrations of this landmark year.
Originally seen at last year’s Manchester International Festival (a reliable promise of good things). the show has been reworked for its Coliseum staging, and if the result is little clearer in its hallucinatory narrative, its confusion remains as compelling, as black-magical as ever.
Multimedia tableaux reinvent books as coiling, cascading spirals of pages that encircle and oppress Dee
The Elizabethan polymath Dr John Dee – alchemist, physicist, courtier and philosopher – is a figure as beloved of artists as conspiracy theorists, and in his latest incarnation here (in the rangy, restless form of Paul Hilton) we find another dream-vision of his troubled psyche.
While the synopsis might divide the opera into discrete sections – “Knowledge”, “Power”, “Empire” – charting the rise and devastating fall of its hero, the action strays through the material with associative whimsy, chronological rationality drowned in a clamour of images and musical fragments. The loose-fitting dramatic form is held together almost entirely by Rufus Norris’s ingenious staging.
There’s more than a touch of the physical creativity of Complicite here, as Norris marshals an ensemble of dancing, singing actors through multimedia tableaux that reinvent books as coiling, cascading spirals of pages that encircle and oppress Dee, produce a tender shadow-dance for the lovemaking of Dee and his wife, and offer a fantastical image of Elizabeth I suspended in mid-air, trailing golden skirts hanging like curtains to the floor. The doubts and darknesses that haunt Dee become ravens, rendered with jerky vividness by dancers and latterly (in the evening’s final coup de théâtre ) by three live birds, whose cackling arrival on the Coliseum stage from the balcony offers a bathetic eulogy to the great man.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Tweaked plot and lyrics muddy the waters of Gilbert and Sullivan's tricky sexist satire
Spirited student revival of JC Bach's lovely final opera
Into the woods with quality Handel, fine young singers and the brilliant Laurence Cummings
Great conductor and soprano realise Puccini's deepest heartbreak to perfection
Far from wild, this show is far too tame for real operatic drama
Grand designs for an austerity-age opera
Something may be rotten at the London Coliseum, but it isn't the artistic team
A curious tale gets a riotous musical telling
They can sing, dance and make you laugh until you cry: portmanteau G&S at its very best
Top quality operatic voices in first London performance of Massenet exotica since 1880
Young lovers, a comic turn and paternal priest triumphant in Covent Garden staple
A colourful but eccentric production veers between beauty and incomprehensibility