first night

Venus and Adonis

Donnchadh O'Connail chats to himself about a finely tuned production of Venus and Adonis

 (Afternoon. The drawing room of LUCIEN LOUNGEWELL, aristocratic swell, who is slumped on the divan fanning himself with his boater. WIGGINS, his butler, is dusting the canapés on the sideboard.)


WIGGINS: Would sir care for refreshments?


LUCIEN: No thank you. Really, the Durham summer is such a bore. Having to hold one’s garden party indoors – it’s bordering on socialism!


WIGGINS: Speaking of which – rain, not the equitable distribution of income – the miserable weather forced the opera to move as well.


LUCIEN: Indeed?


WIGGINS: Venus and Adonis, by John Blow. It was due to be performed in the Fellows Garden, but had to be relocated to the Great Hall.


LUCIEN: A case of rain stopping play, eh?


WIGGINS: Not at all, sir. It takes more than the English summer to put a stop to the Durham Opera Ensemble. The production was charming, the singing exquisite, the whole thing a most pleasant hour and a bit.


LUCIEN: Love story, is it? Love is grossly over-rated, Wiggins.


WIGGINS: I’m sorry to hear that, sir. It is indeed a baroque piece of courtly love and classical themes. Venus and Adonis are passionately in love, but a hunt arrives and persuades Adonis to join them...


LUCIEN: (chuckles) They always do. Say no to a hunt and chances are you’ll wake up the following morning with a stag’s head on your pillow, what?


WIGGINS: A somewhat anachronistic but undeniably droll reference, sir. Polly Leech and Freddie Coltart were handsomely matched as the couple. Miss Leech has a manner sufficiently regal to convey her divine status, but not unyielding, as befits the goddess of love. She proved particularly adept on the trills with which Venus is apt to greet any event. Mr. Coltart’s voice was strong but not overpowering – indeed, it was a feature of the production that the levels between the different singers, and between the singers and the orchestra, were so balanced. Between them, Leech and Coltart managed the trick of singing with passion but not over-emoting, just as the piece demanded. This was particularly evident during the death scene...


LUCIEN: (perking up) Death, you say?


WIGGINS: I am afraid so. Adonis is gored by a boar, and dies in his true love’s arms. Fate, it turns out, has domain even over the gods themselves.


LUCIEN: He’s well off out of it. Best thing to do in a woman’s arms, if you ask me...


WIGGINS: A refreshingly original sentiment, sir. Beth Cooper had the perfect expressive face and mischievous manner to play Cupid. In my untutored opinion, the most striking voice in the ensemble belonged to Rosy Rowell, who only had a few lines near the start - but the standard was impressively high across the board. Sam Morgan kept his orchestra tight as a bow-string, and found time to lend his voice to cover one of the singers. Anna Bailey’s direction was for the most part simple and clear, although sticklers for detail...


LUCIEN: ...such as yourself...


WIGGINS: Oh, I wouldn’t call myself a stickler, sir...


LUCIEN: Nonsense, Wiggins. You can stickle with the best of them.


WIGGINS: Thank you, sir. Sticklers might question whether the acting in Adonis’ death scene was expressive enough, and wonder if the dancing had the requisite precision or emotional focus. Otherwise, it was a difficult production to fault. 

22 June 2011

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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