King Priam, English Touring Opera, review

Linbury Theatre, London

There is much to applaud about ETO’s production of Tippett’s King Priam at the Linbury, not least that it’s there at all: good that the Royal Opera House should open its doors to this enterprising company.

ETO’s director James Conway believes this rarely-performed work deserves a regular place in the repertoire, and he and his team have bust a gut to prove it.

Anna Fleischle’s simple but effective set, lit by Guy Hoare, looks properly archaic and serves as palace, army camp, and the walls of Troy; Conway’s direction takes its cue from the opera’s Brechtian combination of short scenes and lyrical interludes to reflect the ‘hard, tough, declamatory style’ Tippett was after.

Michael Rosewell conducts Iain Farrington’s reduced orchestration with brilliant attention to detail, letting the spare accompaniment to each aria – on cello, oboe, flutes, or guitar – eloquently do its job.

Roderick Earle, as Priam, leads an ensemble performance of rare conviction, with Grant Doyle’s Hector, Nicholas Sharratt’s Paris, Charne Rochford’s Achilles, and Adrian Dwyer’s Hermes all outstanding.

But non-hard-core Tippettians should be warned. The relentless, rebarbative angularity of the melodic lines can be purgatory for the ears; for all his strenuous craftsmanship, Tippett never attains even a whiff of beauty.