Raskatov, A Dog’s Heart, English National Opera
Sunday 21 November 2010
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.
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Tory activist asked to step down after Labour candidate Rupa Huq is 'manhandled' while questioning Boris Johnson on the campaign trail
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word, TV review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest account of a woman enduring a still too common fate
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils