Holy fool who creates an unholy mess

Classical Music

CRUSHED by one mindless tyranny after another, it's unsurprising that Russian culture makes a hero of the "holy fool" or yurodivy: a spiritual second cousin to our own Shakespearian jester, licensed by lunacy to speak the truths that no one else would dare. There's one in Boris Godunov, who confronts the Tsar with his past crimes and lives to tell the tale because Boris knows the rules of the game. In real life, Shostakovich trusted to a sense of his own yurodivy status to protect him from Stalin - who also knew the rules but played them with twisted logic, acknowledging the relationship between integrity and madness by sending dissidents to mental institutions.

That, of course, stood the idea of the yurodivy on its head. But it also provided Alfred Schnittke with the basis for an opera, Life With an Idiot, which had its British premire last weekend at ENO. Adapted in the early 1990s from a short story by Victor Erofeyev, it's an abrasively surreal example of post-Soviet trauma, boiling down the great traditions of Gogolian absurdity, Kafkaesque nightmare and Dostoevskian gloom into a decidedly rude little show. The programme book describes the libretto as "vivid";I wish I could be in the audience tomorrow to see the ENO sign-interpreter translate its rich vocabulary of genito-anal functions into gestures for the hard-of-hearing. An artistic challenge.

But the plot is simple. As the punishment for some unspecified offence, a narrator (identified only as "I") takes in a lunatic from the asylum. He imagines he has found a holy fool, but no: the fool turns out to be a psychopath with an insatiable libido who destroys his marriage, life and sanity and, for good measure, decapitates his wife with a pair of secateurs. Pasolini's Teorema meets The Little Shop of Horrors.

Schnittke's score is not his tidiest or most endearing. Its acerbic pluralism - running riot through the World Composers' Catalogue of Style - creates a certain energy. But the piece is played out well before it finishes - and given that the running time is just 100 minutes, that's a serious indictment. There are strong central performances from David Barrell and Louisa Kennedy-Richardson, while Alasdair Elliott's Idiot invests the only word he has to sing - "Ekh" - with a resourceful expressivity. But they all come adrift in a production by Jonathan Moore that tries and fails to recreate the street-cred raunchiness of his previous ENO staging, Greek. It just looks scruffily undisciplined, with no feel for the striking way the piece retains the narrative delivery of written prose as the characters describe their actions, while they act them, in the past tense. The text is full of lines that ought to get a laugh. They didn't. But the set did, as its over-complicated changes stuck, its flats shook and the sound of frantic backstage voices - "This way ... push ... no, push!" - filtered across the quieter moments of the score. I've rarely seen a show less ready for an audience.

No city in Belgium is far from the next. This was a problem for the opera houses of Ghent and Antwerp, which had to compete for attention and audiences with the more famous Monnaie in Brussels, an easy drive away. But in 1988 they were combined into a single company, the Flanders Opera, and since then they've won a reputation for contemporary work. Last weekend I went to Ghent for Henze's Prince of Homburg - playing in a production by Nikolaus Lehnhof that originated in Munich - which was very successful, not least with the audience. In mainland Europe, unlike Britain, Henze's operas thrive. Homburg is a fine example from the late 1950s (revised early 1990s) whose fierce, almost indignant opulence charac- terises the composer's music of the period. The story, after Kleist, tells of a soldier who disobeys orders and expects to be executed, but instead wins the hand of the woman he loves (a Tosca in reverse). Its difficulty is that with a swift turnover of events the characters are hard to establish, while their vocal lines are teasing, promising a melodic fullness that never comes. But this was a strong cast, led by Francois le Roux and directed with a clean-cut sense of style. No props beyond three tables on a bare stage.

Philip Pickett had even less for his QEH performance of Matthew Locke's Psyche; but then there was no drama here to stage. Written in 1675, Psyche is one of the earliest examples of English semi-opera, where the action is spoken and the music segregated into self-contained interludes. Here we only had the music (with explanatory narrations declaimed by Edward de Souza as though he was auditioning to be Donald Sinden) and it was enough. Charming, deftly written, nicely done by an extended New London Consort, but not deathless work. Purcell (Locke's pupil) did it better.

`Life With an Idiot': ENO, WC2, 071-632 8300, continues Mon.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
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.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada