Knight Crew, Glyndebourne

4.00

With wounded soldiers shipped in to Covent Garden by the egregious Joanna Lumley, and the idiocies of ‘Popstar to Operastar’ giving way to Kiri Te Kanawa’s X-Factor search for talent on Radio 2, one might think that the campaign to widen opera’s audience has been terminally hijacked by showbiz.

But that would be to discount the heroic work done by opera-company education departments up and down the country, and above all by their brand-leaders at Glyndebourne. Glyndebourne’s head of education Katie Tearle has presided over a series of brilliant events - starting on Hastings Pier in 1990 - in which local children have been induced to put on operas dealing with subjects which are as near the knuckle today as the rough-trade exploits of Don Giovanni were for eighteenth-century Vienna.

This time round it’s the story of King Arthur updated to a twenty-first century urban wasteland, courtesy of a libretto by Nicky Singer who was inspired by an encounter with a typically deprived and ‘antisocial’ youth on a Holloway estate: her realisation that ‘respect’ was simply a modern version of medieval knightly honour became the pivotal idea for a plot which translates Arthurian symbolism into terms of turf wars and street-gang rituals. This being very much a community project, the 50-strong amateur chorus has been selected first through workshops in schools and youth centres, then through ‘skills’ workshops, then through auditions, and has then been given a top-dressing of six professional singers; the 30 amateur players in the orchestra have been beefed up with 30 professional instrumentalists.

The moment the curtain rises on Es Devlin’s slowly rotating giant cube, onto which a desperate face is projected while the modern-day Arthur launches into a plangent recitative, we know beyond any shadow of doubt that we are in safe hands. The orchestral sound is marvellously translucent, the vocal line could have come from Britten: Glyndebourne’s first composer-in-residence Julian Philips is a master of pastiche. And when Knight Crew make their appearance - dimly lit and drably costumed like creatures from the underworld - one senses director John Fulljames’s characteristically sure touch.

The plot turns on teenage love and valour against the backdrop of permanent war with a neighbouring gang. But it also has an other-worldly dimension represented by a bag-lady with the vision of a seer, whose senseless murder sets in train a series of mystical events which test the moral mettle of all concerned. With a knife which kills without getting blood on itself, and with a book which foretells the future, we are in the sort of magical territory which Harry Potter readers take for granted; what lifts this drama onto a different plane is the Puccinian intensity with which the characters are impelled to destroy each other and/or themselves, as events progress towards their mysterious denouement. One of the most poignant scenes has strong echoes of the Damilola Taylor tragedy.

For a ‘community’ opera this is an extraordinarily accomplished piece of work, with the Mothers’ Chorus - some of whom are the real-life mothers of the fictional gangsters - being outstandingly good (full marks to chorus-master Gareth Malone, otherwise known as presenter of the BBC’s ‘The Choir’). Soprano Claire Wild and tenor Pascal Charbonneau are wonderfully convincing as the chief protagonists, with mezzo Yvonne Howard doubling brilliantly as the bag-lady and Arthur’s despairing mother. The endlessly mutating set with its skilfully projected climactic scenes recalls the glory days of English National Opera, the libretto trades intelligently on the monosyllabic terseness of street slang, and the music draws boldly on Bernstein and Stravinsky. Whether this new work ‘has legs’ is a moot point - it demands major skills and resources - but it’s certainly a major achievement.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'