Classical reviews: Miss Julie Theatre Royal, Norwich

The great thing about Wednesday's performance of William Alwyn's opera Miss Julie was that it ever took place. It was first recorded for BBC Radio 3 in 1977. With a cast of only four, and a medium-sized orchestra, Strindberg's drama of the ill-fated affair between an aristocratic lady and her valet would, one might have thought, have presented an attractive proposition for one of our major opera houses, constantly in the throes of financial crises. In fact, Wednesday saw the work's first ever professionally staged production - at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, 20 years after its broadcast premiere, and 12 years after the composer's death.

Alwyn himself wrote the libretto, paring down Strindberg's already concise drama to its barest essentials. He leaves out the ballet and chorus, but introduces an extra character - Ulrik, a bawdy drunken gamekeeper - as a cynical, chorus-like commentator on the scene.

Vocally, Alwyn set the text to "adhere to the rhythm and inflexion of human speech", to use his own words. This works successfully for most of the time. The text is almost always audible, and much of the vocal writing is extremely effective. The valet Jean's high baritone captures his assertive self-confidence: passionate lyricism and high-leaping intervals emphasise Miss Julie's volatile insecurity.

Away from moments of dramatic intensity, however, the vocal line can sound very angular. In the interests of clarity, Alwyn has eschewed ensembles wherever possible, although when they do occur - as in the brief trio in Act 2 between Jean, Ulrik, and Kristin, the cook - the writing is very effective.

As one would expect from such an experienced composer (best known for his film scores, including Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The History of Mr Polly), it is a good score, firmly rooted in the early 20th century, with more than a whiff of Strauss, Janacek and, especially, Ravel. But the orchestra does often appear to bombard the vocal line with too many musical ideas of its own, distracting one's mind from the narrative flow.

In Ben Luxon and Peter Wilson's excellent production, it makes for an extremely effective piece of music drama. Judith Howarth as Miss Julie and Karl Daymond as Jean sang superbly, easily projecting over the rich scoring, their impressive stage presence heightened by Hollywood good looks. Excellent singing and characterisation too from Fiona Kimm's cook and Ian Caley's Ulrik, and fine playing from the Britten Sinfonia under Nicholas Cleobury.

Whether it has to wait another 20 years for its next staging is anyone's guess. At just under two and a half hours, it's a trifle short for a full- length opera and a little too long for a double-bill, but, on this showing, a good piece of theatre.

Second performance, 7.30pm tomorrow, Theatre Royal, Norwich. Booking: 01603 630000

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Digital Project Manager/BA

    £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

    Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

    Test Lead (C#, Java, HTML, SQL) Kingston Finance

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

    Access/Teradata Developer, Banking, Bristol £400pd

    £375 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Access / Teradata Developer - Banking - Bristol -...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home