sun 21/07/2024

Dardanus, English Touring Opera review - mixed fortunes for warzone updating | reviews, news & interviews

Dardanus, English Touring Opera review - mixed fortunes for warzone updating

Dardanus, English Touring Opera review - mixed fortunes for warzone updating

Serviceable modern-dress production puts Rameau’s music centre stage

Grant Doyle as Teucer, Galina Averina as Iphise, Anthony Gregory as DardanusAll photos Bill Knight for The Arts Desk

Baroque opera is always a challenge to stage, and Rameau’s Dardanus is no exception. In its original form, the story, of love in times of war, was infused with allegorical characters and mythological scenes. It flopped, and so Rameau and a new librettist thoroughly revised the work to focus more on the human drama.

But even with the changes, the plot is still slow and nebulous, and ends about half an hour before the opera does. Fortunately, Rameau’s music is continually engaging, a kaleidoscope of moods and colours that more than justifies its lengthy duration.

Galina Averina as Iphise Dardanus, English Touring Opera The story tells of Iphise (Galina Averina, pictured left), the daughter of Phrygian King Teucer (Grant Doyle) who is betrothed to his retainer Anténor (Timothy Nelson), but in love with her father’s foe, Prince Dardanus (Anthony Gregory). Offstage battles dictate the course of their love, and each has recourse to a soothsayer, Isménor (Frederick Long), before Dardanus ends up imprisoned by Teucer, eventually to be freed by a repentant Anténor and reunited with Iphise. Venus (Eleanor Penfold) makes an appearance at the end to bless the union, a vestige of the more allegory-laden first version of the opera.

Venus and the soothsayer notwithstanding, the libretto fits well into the modern-day setting of Douglas Rintoul’s production. The single set (designer Cordelia Chisholm) is a concrete bunker in an unnamed warzone: the desert fatigues and copious sand suggest the Middle East, but we’re not told. The various settings are distinguished with modest lighting effects (lighting designer Mark Howland), and offstage gun battles are similarly evoked through flashing lights across the back of the set.

The cast is led from the top by the leading couple, Galina Averina and Anthony Gregory. Averina has a focused soprano tone, impressive clarity in all registers, and beautifully nimble ornaments, although her vibrato might irk Rameau purists. They are unlikely to complain, though, about Gregory, who has a light, conversational delivery, intimate but suitably dramatic. The title role is the most dramatically varied of the opera, and Gregory gives a convincing and emotionally sophisticated portrayal. The supporting roles are less secure. Timothy Nelson, as Anténor, struggles with the upper register, where he has recurring tuning problems. Grant Doyle looks the part of the overbearing king, but much of the music lies too low for his voice. Stronger support, though from Alessandro Fisher in the small role of Arcas (and no-doubt secure too as understudy to Gregory) and Eleanor Penfold as Venus (pictured below), she and the supporting cast making a convincing case for the modest stagecraft during the instrumental chaconne that ends the opera.Eleanor Penfold as Cupid Dardanus, English Touring Opera Conductor Jonathan Williams leads a lively and lucid account of Rameau’s diverse score. His tempos are never rushed, but the rhythmic intensity, especially in the many dance numbers, propels the music. He also brings impressive coherence to each of the acts by deftly weaving together the often contrasting successive numbers. Period-instrument accompaniment is provided by The Old Street Band. Their tone is bold and forthright, painting Ramaeu’s textures in clean primary colours. The orchestral balance is string-heavy, but with the woodwinds occasionally coming to the fore, the oboes energising the dances, and the flutes and bassoons giving a ghostly resonance to the mournful arias of the prison act. This is a serviceable production, and a welcome introduction to the UK stage for the revised version of Rameau’s opera, but the music is definitely the main draw here.  


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