The Indian Queen, Coliseum, review: An evening in musical triumph

Peter Sellars's opera is an audacious triumph

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Road-tested in Spain and Russia, Peter Sellars’ typically audacious completion of Purcell’s ‘semi-opera’ The Indian Queen has now arrived in London.

Sellars has replaced the original Dryden text with a literary fantasy by Rosario Aguilar in which the Spanish Conquista furnishes a parable of colonialism, with a mixed-race love-affair as its core; he’s bumped up the existing forty-five minutes of music to nearly three hours, by drawing freely on the treasury of arias, duets, choruses, and dances which the composer left behind.

With outstanding soloists, with the ENO chorus in coruscating form, and with Laurence Cummings and his period instrumentalists generating transcendent beauty in the pit, this is an evening in musical heaven.

And visually it’s a feast. Sellars and his designer Gronk present the drama in the form of broad-brush pageantry against cod-Matisse backdrops, with classical choreography complementing Sellars’ trademark hand-ballet for the chorus; just as the music leaps centuries, so does the story, yet it all feels surprisingly topical.

Countertenor Vince Yi and sopranos Lucy Crowe and Julia Bullock each create moments of heart-stopping beauty; baritone Luthando Qave and tenors Noah Stewart and Thomas Walker offer noble vocal contrasts.

With this sort of show you either nit-pick, or let yourself be carried along on the wings of the director’s imagination. I chose the latter course, and would gladly do so again.