Alfred, Classical Opera Company, Kings Place
Friday 08 October 2010
Thomas Arne’s early musical works – including ‘The Sheep-Shearing’, ‘The Wild-Goose Chase’, and ‘The Temple of Dullness’ – would never have earned him fame.
And though most people know him as the composer of ‘Rule Britannia’, that was just a detail in the catalogue of his later achievements. His music-drama ‘Alfred’ – of which this formed the closing chorus – was one of ninety stage works with which he asserted his dominance as eighteenth-century London’s most prolific lyric composer.
Last year, under their artistic director Ian Page, the Classical Opera Company presented a version of Arne’s ‘Artaxerxes’ in which Japanese aesthetics were harnessed to music which was English through and through. To mark his tercentenary, they are now performing ‘Alfred’ itself, and making up for lack of scenery with a narrator (Michael Maloney) plus their own orchestra, whose period instruments echo brilliantly in this sensitive acoustic.
‘We are in marshy countryside, and Britain is at war...’ Humble peasant Corin (tenor Anthony Gregory) and his homely wife Emma (soprano Mary Bevan, heavily pregnant and looking her part) extol the charms of their bucolic existence. Leaning pensively against a tree is the disguised Alfred, who offers up a patriotic prayer of extraordinary beauty, since tenor Thomas Hobbs has the most wonderfully expressive sound. We meet Alfred’s son Edward in the shape of countertenor Andrew Radley, whose timbre has a juicy masculinity, and Alfred’s Queen Eltruda, sung by the South African soprano Sarah-Jane Brandon. The cast is completed by mezzo Kitty Whately (yes, on opening night father Kevin was in the stalls) whose big aria of love and loss is exquisitely sung, and by soprano Emma Morwood, who both sounds and looks like the airy Spirit she impersonates.
This work is a mere watercolour compared with Handel’s rich oil-paintings, but in its honest English way it has immense charm, particularly as these young singers deliver it. The flamboyance of the countertenor arias reflects the fact that the castrato for whom they were written was also one of Handel’s favourites; Arne recomposed the second act to employ some temporarily available virtuosi, thus allowing all the singers to take wing. When ‘Rule Britannia’ comes, it’s with a down-home sweetness you’d never expect from its flogging-to-death at the Proms.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sainsbury's '50p challenge' poster telling staff to encourage customers to spend more placed in shop window instead of staff room
- 2 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 3 Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
- 4 Yes, the iPhone 6 is a miracle, but it's Apple's tax affairs that deserve a double take
- 5 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
Before They Pass Away: In pictures
Kylie Minogue, Kiss Me Once tour, London O2 - review: Pop princess still reigns supreme
Miranda Hart and Sarah Millican lead female comedy breakthrough
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'
The Simpsons death: Character killed off - but not the one you thought
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >