The war cry of a pacifist : opera
King Priam Coliseum, London
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Tuesday 07 February 1995
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".
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