Fables: A Film Opera, Spitalfields Winter Festival, London <br/> The Messiah, Wigmore Hall, London

Stories of survival, rebellion, greed and love come to life in a remarkable marriage of music and film

Anna Picard
Sunday 26 December 2010 01:00

Shoreditch Church was turned into a story-book for the premiere of Fables: A Film Opera. The font was decked with paper roses, the aisles with lobster pots and stoneware jugs of grog. Jewelled birds brushed past raucous fishwives, and a butcher, a baker, and an advertising executive played cards with the Three Little Pigs, just a handful of the 125-strong cast for Streetwise Opera's four half-live, half-filmed operas.

Every member of Streetwise has experienced the alienation of homelessness, the muttered apologies or open hostility of those who hurry by. Hence Andy Mellon and Paul Sartin's tragedy The Hartlepool Monkey, a wiry knot of sea shanties telling the story of the shipwrecked ape who was hanged as a French spy in the Napoleonic wars. Hurtling through the church in Emma Bernard's staged prelude, then lynched by the mob in Tom Marshall's film, the monkey (Darren Power) had eyes wild with terror.

Charmian Bedford led the funeral dirge for Mira Calix's The Boy who Cried Wolf, transformed into a punk satire on poor parenting in Flat-e's film, as bored teenage Boy (Ingrid Katsuteza) threw a community of fairy-tale archetypes into moral panic.

Filmed by Iain Finlay, Orlando Gough's boom-bust fable Hey! Come on Out! mixes professional and amateur voices in close-miked polyphony over a punchy blast of brass, while Daniel Norman's smooth-guy developer seduces a town into casting its toxic waste and personal regrets into a bottomless hole. The strongest fable, however, focuses on a broken heart and a simple folk song. Company members Victor Sande, David Sanchez-Remade and Kevin Woodward, with Revivalist drones and descants for violin and cello, lead Emily Hall's adaptation of The Nightingale and the Rose, a wistful story of unrequited love, sensitively filmed by Gaëlle Denis.

As temperatures in Shropshire plummeted to minus 15C, Mark Padmore's performance of Gurney's Ludlow and Teme with the Aronowitz Ensemble was cancelled. Last-minute tickets to the Early

Opera Company's Messiah secured, a work I imagined I knew inside out, was found to be fresh-minted in Christian Curnyn's delectable performance. From the elegant severity of the Overture to the cool balm of Nicholas Watts's "Comfort ye", the implacable force of Derek Welton's "Thus saith the Lord", Sarah Tynan's flirtatious "Rejoice greatly" and Iestyn Davies's exquisitely decorated "But who may abide", this was a reading in which Charles Jennens' text sprang off the page. With two singers to a part, every line was vivid and expressive. Movements were grouped into scenes, the textures spiked or softened with harpsichord or organ, most winningly in the drowsy idyll of the Pastoral Symphony. In Part One of Messiah, there is no hint of the violence to come, no prophetic gifts from Wise Men. So I left it there, travelling home through snow-muffled streets with Handel's angels in my ears.

'Fables: A Film Opera': Royal Festival Hall (0844 875 0073), 31 Jan, and tour

Next Week

Anna Picard and children brave a notorious Hansel und Gretel

Anna Picard: Classical 2010

High Notes Mitsuko Uchida's South Bank recital of Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin found common threads between the three composers, bathing each in moonlight. At the Proms, Maria Joao Pires's Chopin Nocturnes charmed a capacity audience into pin-drop silence. Sea-spray and childlike wonder were evoked in Howard Skempton's song for voice and bell lyra, Whales Weep Not!, premiered by Lore Lixenberg and Julian Warburton in Birmingham.

Low Notes Covent Garden's comatose Tamerlano, the Classical Opera Company's potty-mouthed Zaide, and Edinburgh's execrable Montezuma.

Top Sops In Peter Sellars' staging of Kafka-Fragments with Dawn Upshaw, Kurtág's aphorisms punctuated the domestic rituals of washing and ironing. Along with Cecilia Bartoli, whose Handel was a blistering display of vocal and emotional engagement, Upshaw makes other divas look lazy.

Best Nights at the Opera Adriana Lecouvreur? Phooey! More exciting by far were the Bolshoi's Eugene Onegin, below, and the Schwetzingen Festival staging of Steffani's Niobe, both at Covent Garden. Michael Grandage's Billy Budd and Richard Jones's Meistersinger glittered at Glyndebourne and in Cardiff. Susan Gritton broke my heart in Capriccio (Grange Park), while conductors Stuart Stratford and Brad Cohen conjured the thrill of La forza del destino and the sorrow of Pelléas et Mélisande in Holland Park.

Hello Soprano Nadine Livingstone, a sweet Susanna in Scottish Opera's balmy Marriage of Figaro. Simon McBurney, whose A Dog's Heart reversed a run of dismal directorial debuts with ENO. Spira Mirabilis, a conductor-less orchestra from Italy.

Goodbye Conductor Sir Charles Mackerras; singers Grace Bumbry, Philip Langridge, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Joan Sutherland; composers Henryk Gorecki and Geoffrey Burgon.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in