The war cry of a pacifist : opera

King Priam Coliseum, London

Before the Visions of Paradise, apparitions of war. Sir Michael Tippett's 90th birthday retrospective began precipitately: the Coliseum plunged into sudden darkness, a din of martial fanfares, a volley of drums. Tippett's extraordinary opera King Priam begins as it means to go on, in pitiless splendour, all straining sinew and arrogant machismo. Once heard, Achilles's vengeful war cry is never forgotten, amplified to inhuman thresholds of pain. It takes a pacifist to understand war this well. With that understanding, comes a humanity that surfaces time and again in such instances as Priam's recurrent motif, "A father and a king", with its healing undertow of violas, cellos and basses. Tippett's opera reaches way beyond Greek mythology - it isabout us, our free will, the choices we make; it's about confronting, challenging the hand of fate. Mythological figures are made flesh here: heroes are made fallible, goddesses turn to scorned women before our eyes.

King Priam takes the heightened language of Greek tragedy and reinvents it for our times. And therein lies the strength of Tom Cairns's staging. Visually, Cairns comes up with a perfect complement to the sound of Tippett's score: a spare, angular, hard-edged modernity with shocks of luminous colour. A huge, upturned Greek urn serves as a symbol of instability. The hunting party in Scene II appears to have sprung to life from a painted frieze: ancient imagery in search of reality.

Priam's tragedy is made real for us. For that we should applaud Andrew Shore, a singer/ actor of extraordinary pathos.That great scene with Achilles, where he begs for the body of his son, is not easy to watch. Thomas Randle is thrillingly secure in the high tessitura of Achilles, not least in his Act 2 song, its guitar accompaniment as strange and timeless as the plangent piano colorations that ripple their way through the score. But this is a uniformly fine cast. The female roles are well differentiated between Janice Cairns's Hecuba (appropriately fierce and unruly of voice), the darker hues ofSusan Bickley (Andromache) and the still, concentrated Jean Rigby (Helen). Paul Daniel galvanises the battle-scarred orchestra. He and Tippett breathe as one.

So, too, Sir Colin Davis and Tippett. On Sunday, he led the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in an exalted performance of A Child of Our Time. The first performance - in March 1944 - offered hope for renewal in a world torn apart by war. This might easily have been the second. The piece is ageless. It's the absolute certainty of its musical gestures that make it so: from the two flutes and solo viola that bear witness in the winter of discontent, to the four voices (the outstanding soloists Deborah Riedel, Florence Quivar, Laurence Dale and the stentorian John Tomlinson) whose wordless plaints, like waves of compassion, lead us to the still waters of "Deep River".

n `Visions of Paradise' continues until 26 Feb at the Barbican, London EC2 (0171-638 4141)

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam