Raskatov, A Dog’s Heart, English National Opera


The premise is simple: can Professor Filipp Filippovich take a starving mongrel from the street and with a simple transplant of a man’s testicles and pituitary gland make him human?

And if he can, what then? It’s a dog’s life, they say, but for whom? Mikhail Bulgarov’s unsettling novel comes from a long line of scabrous Soviet satires and the point it makes is as simple and pertinent as its premise: what exactly separates man from beast and isn’t it man who is ultimately, for all outward appearances, the more beastly? From Bulgarov’s perspective it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and Alexander Raskatov’s operatic realisation has Complicité’s Simon McBurney on the case. As theatrical imaginations go his is topsy-turvy and then some. So – the burning question – is it the dog’s bollocks?

Well, yes and no. Raskatov’s rampant musicalisation (libretto Cesare Mazzonis) puts the emphasis on mood and atmosphere with long tranches of what sounds and feels like underscoring pointing up his grotesque parodies of sung speech, most of which comes at us in a series of strident declamations and exclamations. Some of the portraiture is on the money: Zina, the maid – pertly caricatured by Nancy Allen Lundy – zings along in an insanely stratospheric and acrobatic coloratura which keeps her in a perpetual state of animated hysteria. And, of course, there’s Sharik, the manky mongrel, who has two voices – the powerful and exciting countertenor of Andrew Watts – and the bestial growling of megaphone amplified Elena Vassilieva. Actually there’s a third when Sharik becomes Sharikov, the foul-mouthed, spitting, pissing, nose-picking, balalaika-strumming, lout of the species – the excellent Peter Hoare - whose act one curtain line makes us an offer we can (with some relief) refuse.

But mostly Raskatov’s score suggests a kind of onomatopoeic “loony toons” borrowing freely from the cartoonish sound world of the young Shostakovich and others with his liberal use of the flexatone and “lion’s roar” beside much belching of tuba and assorted brass glissandi. But there isn’t the daring and audacity or sheer invention that you find in even something as flawed as Shostakovich’s The Nose, for instance, and act one, where the music doesn’t just feel but really is thinly spread, needs serious cutting. Not even McBurney and his devilish box of tricks – not least Finn Ross’ video design and the resourceful puppetry of Blind Summit - can quite keep it off the floor - though I do have in mind even now Sharik’s deliverance from blizzard to doggy heaven (and pussy galore) a moment of pure McBurney magic.

Act two, though, ups the ante in both pace and potency and there’s a Tom and Jerry cat chase which reeks of the kind of inventive havoc that only McBurney could have devised. Who but he would not just suggest but realise a biblical flood behind locked doors and then connect that image with the rivers of blood which flow when the Professor (the gaunt and imposing Steven Page) urgently seeks to salvage his reputation and reverse his experiment.

And all the while the proletariat sing their doleful chants until the stunning pay-off where man and beast become indistinguishable and images of Soviet workers are superimposed with those of dogs like Sharik and a whole clutch of megaphones turn the chanting into a bestial wailing. Composer and director become one at that point; suddenly it’s not just McBurney’s show.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas