first night

War and Peace - A Portrait of Conflict in Opera

Emeline Schrub thinks DOE's 'War and Piece' is a must see


         Don’t be mistaken, this opera has nothing to do with Prokofiev’s one: it’s a selection of various opera scenes meant to represent war and peace. Yet war and peace are shown here not as two emotional poles, but as a movement made up of four sections. The first one is pre-war times, and each scene tackles an aspect of it: fatality, separation and solitude. Then come war times, and what is really interesting is the absence of real or tangible angst or sadness. Indeed, we’re never in the middle of the fight, we always witness the scene from a socially or militarily high ranked point of view, and it really feels like what prevails is a feeling of irony: while men die and families are being destroyed, the officers remain concerned by their craving for rewards, and their overly dimensioned ego –which is a very unexpected yet welcome way to present war. And I assert that you absolutely have to see “Non disperar, chi sa?” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, because it was a spectacular and truly amusing performance.

         After an interval, the show began with a post war section, quivering between relief and sadness. That moment was of my favourite. And the show concluded with peace; presenting us with a surprising Humming Chorus, a memorable Flower Duet and a National Anthem that fits the context of the piece.

         I will start with the singers and the orchestra – the were an experience. This because the lighting and design were both really light, which meant I couldn’t see particularly well as I was at the back of the hall (but honestly it just didn’t matter. I wasn’t there to see, I was there to listen). The orchestra was incredible, so was the chorus. Some soloists were, unfortunately, not loud enough, especially for the audience at the bottom of the hall, and especially when the soloists are sat (not being able to see them is not a problem, not being able to hear them is more of an issue). The Farewell moment duet was incredible because the voices of the soloists perfectly meet one another – and trust me, you want to hear Ms Madden and Ms Kidwell’s voices together. I’ve already written about Ms Tomlinson (“Non disperar, chi sa?”), so I’m going to move on to Mr Whyte, who offered a great performance for what I see as a difficult scene, which he perfectly mastered, both in singing and acting. The only downside would be the choreography, that looked full of good will, but didn’t convey any feeling of a military structure, although that was its aim.

         Moving on to the second part, the Honour scene was really moving. But what came next was one of the best moments in the show: Ms Rudge singing “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s Serse. She has an amazing crystal clear, innocent and powerful voice that is mind blowing. Finally, the Flower Duet, performed by Ms Emms and Ms Newell, is really worth your time. It takes you very far away, and is a great way to conclude the show. I say conclude, as there was still the National Anthem to perform, which I didn’t feel was a genuine part of the show, as it brought me back to reality when all that I had listened to before had distanced me from it. However, the standing ovation it got in the end was deserved in every way.

I’d like to thank Mr Li, the production team and the cast for that brilliant show.

9 November 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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