Ulysses Comes Home, Planet Ice, Birmingham

Click to follow

"Troy destroyed! Inventor of Trojan Horse goes missing!" bellow the Birmingham Evening Mail posters. Up an ugly gangway, past the mobile lavatories, into an aching abyss that was once the second city's ice rink - this is Monteverdi, Birmingham style.

"Troy destroyed! Inventor of Trojan Horse goes missing!" bellow the Birmingham Evening Mail posters. Up an ugly gangway, past the mobile lavatories, into an aching abyss that was once the second city's ice rink - this is Monteverdi, Birmingham style.

Ulysses Comes Home, Graham Vick's concept of people's opera, is sometimes a bit wonky, a mite hit and miss, but always a challenge, always fun and always honest. Patronising? Rarely. Does it diminish? For opera pundits, a bit. If you're cagey about forklift-truck, burger-bar opera, you'd best give it a wide berth.

Birmingham Opera Company rejigs cast-off buildings with all the gusto of Griff Rhys Jones' Restoration. Look out for the locals, erupting from the outset, hammering home the idea of alienation - societal inclusion; spatial separation; a welter of immigration officers fending off unwanted entrants from an imaginary Ithaca. He's a scruffy-looking chap, this wrecked Ulysses (Paul Nilon), dumped by crane from a Phaeacian fishing boat. Do we really want him at all?

Eurymachus doesn't - the slithery-suited suitor (played by the promising tenor Andrew Clarke), who'd rather copulate with a maid (Susan Atherton) on Penelope's conjugal bed. Antinous (Robert Anderson, a splendid baritone) doesn't. Certainly not the odiously camp Irus (Andrew Forbes-Lane, superb).

There were inherent first-half problems. Distanced by acres of wire mesh from the conductor Robert Howarth's neat band, you ached for more chirping woodwind. A spicy, nasal regal for Keel Watson's Neptune helped to galvanise events. Emma Selway's Penelope, skitting chastely hither and thither across huge spaces like a caged would-be escapee from Marat-Sade, engaged us less in her crucial early aria than in her deranged confusion at the close, when she cannot address the shock of his actual return.

Monteverdi, like Mozart, cries out for rhythmic assurance. You must hear the text, too. On each count, this first night periodically creaked. Three jolly sailors and the suitors' trio provided rhythmic flair - tenor Nicholas Watts' mellifluous Pisandrus was the cast's most elegant Monteverdian. Unlike Melantho and Penelope, we could hear every syllable of Wendy Dawn Thompson's Minerva, Ulysses' Homeric alter ego.

Adrian Thompson's Eumaeus(the loyal swineherd) matched the emotional range of his master. Nilon, shuffling almost comically, hero-turned-beggar, is a performer of aching pathos. He sucks you into Ulysses' pain as surely as the score does. In the focused second half, tiny touches - the hunched "good" trio on one side, flinching before the suitors' braggadacio, or Ulysses' floppy beggar's hat lingering onstage like a stilled memory after he has unleashed his arrows - speak mountains. In-yer-face, maybe; but from the heart, too.

To Saturday (0121-440 3838)

Comments