Out go iambic pentameters, out goes ‘pursued by a bear’ and out goes Autolycus that ‘snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’: in comes a neat three-act, two-hour opera with all the large bones of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale intact. This world premiere, under the composer’s baton, is the culmination of Ryan Wigglesworth’s 2012 appointment as ENO’s Composer in Residence, and the 37-year-old’s first opera.
In the first act King Leontes of Sicilia (a towering depiction of autocratic instability by Iain Patterson) succumbs to paranoid jealousy that his pregnant wife Hermione (a radiant Sophie Bevan) has been unfaithful to him with his childhood friend Polixenes (further home-grown ENO star baritone Leigh Melrose). Acclaimed actor Rory Kinnear, directing for the first time, has set it in a modern-day Junta, all state statues and insulated luxury, cleverly evoked by Vicki Mortimer’s set of concentric circles sliding over each other, excluding those outside. These provide a wonderful coup de theatre at the climax of Leontes’s banishment of the baby and Hermione’s apparent death.
The lost daughter, her romance with a beautifully sung Prince Florizel (Anthony Gregory), the currents of time, repentance, and the tantalising possibility of redemption are all sketched in Wigglesworth’s lyrical score. Successful, definitely – but perhaps just a tad too respectful to blaze as incandescently as it might.