Betrayal: A Polyphonic Crime Drama, Village Underground, review: I Fagiolini's Gesualdo is gloriously sung but dramatically half-baked

But we did get an hour of glorious singing

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The Independent Culture

People love to slaver over the sex-life of Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa (1560-1613): murdering his wife and her lover when he found them in flagrantio, joyfully ending his days stripped naked and birched by young boys.

But his extraordinarily forward-looking music – Stravinsky was a fan - is no less interesting, and this combination of life and art makes a wonderful toy for musicians with a theatrical bent to play around with, as the six-member a cappella ensemble I Fagiolini did with the aid of an equal number of dancers.

‘A polyphonic crime drama’ is the portentous subtitle of this entertainment devised by John La Bouchardiere and Robert Hollingworth, and we filed into the darkness of a Shoreditch warehouse as into a Halloween party. But the original promise to take us inside Gesualdo’s troubled head proved hollow, as did the promise that we would witness six simultaneous stories: if there was a shape to things, it was impossible to discern.

But we did get an hour of absolutely glorious singing, as Gesualdo’s musical world wandered in and out of focus with its scrunching discords, crazy suspensions, and transcendent moments of resolution. This could be a brilliant show, but before they tour this co-production with the Barbican to Cambridge (from May 20) and Salisbury (from June 3) the directors should urgently adjust the recipe, because it’s still only half baked.    

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