….the best Pinchgut ever!
I didn’t really expect it to be. Though I admired their courage in picking such an obscure and, at first blush unsuitable, work, it seemd inconceivable that it would be as rapturously beautiful as, say, L’Orfeo or The Fairy Queen. But it was every bit as rapturously beautiful. It took me until the last part of Act I to get drawn in completely, but by then, and until the end, I was totally entranced and transported.
The relationship between the two principals was certainly portrayed as a romantic one, and I see now that it couldn’t easily have been otherwise. At the same time, Sara Macliver is someone any reasonable person would fall in love with irrespective of her gender or their own, and for that matter she didn’t go out of her way to be boyish, so I forgot all about the homoerotic issue and just enjoyed the chemistry and the singing.
And what singing it was! Jonathan’s part might have been written for Macliver — she was divine. Anders Dahlin was magnificent as well. The hautecontre voice turns out to be distinctly lower than countertenor on average, but it ranges from conventional light tenor to occasional falsetto, while sometimes occupying an ambiguous, but still very natural-sounding, territory in between. It’s impressive not just that he can sing so beautifully in this unusual range, but how effortless he makes it seem. The lower-register male voices too were all fine: I especially enjoyed the duet between Saul and Joabel (Dean Robinson and Simon Lobelson).
In the previous post I mentioned the great choruses, but in fact the choral singing is so complex and so integrated with the principals’ singing that’s it’s hard to say where solo ends and chorus begins — indeed the vocal combinations were at times as beautiful and transcendant as some of the best ensemble music of Mozart or Verdi.
My curosity about the bass violin alas remained unstaisfied: there were four or five cello-looking things, and from nine rows back I never figured out exactly which was which. If any string specialists are reading this, I’d be grateful for your help.
I have a few mild complaints:
1. Unlike Murray Black in The Australian, I was perfectly happy to hear the choir members read modern soldiers’ letters between acts. This was meant to imitate the splicing of muisic and spoken drama in the original production; and it did so in a relevant and low-key manner, without taking up too much time. It was quite a useful device to draw the audience into the story — speaking to us in English, reminding us that the drama’s message is a universal one about the futility of war. However, I wish the conductor Antony Walker had been allowed to make his entrance after the readings rather than made to wait. It’s one of the most exciting moments in a musical performance when the conductor strides in, acknowledges the audience, and raises his baton — and with it the audience’s eager anticipation. This, on the other hand, was like unwrapping your favourite chocolate, raising it your mouth, and then being asked to wait while someone makes a speech.
2. I like Paul McMahon’s singing, but I don’t understand why he sat in a corner doing the voice for the Witch of Endor while a pixie-looking girl in a tutu did the body of the Witch of Endor. If he’d been invisble and she’d been miming, it might have made sense, but he wasn’t invisible and she wasn’t miming, so one was being asked simply to accept that this is how the Witch of Endor operates — skipping about in a tutu while speaking through some random soldier sitting in the corner.
3. I’m glad the piece was sung in French, but the accents could have been better. Perhaps I’m too fussy.
4. I wanted more brass. The two brass instruments were sadly silent for most of the time. Perhaps that’s the composer’s fault, but even when they were playing their sound was muffled, rather than distinct and triumphant, as in my CD.
But these are minor quibbles. My overwhelming feeling is of pathetic gratitude to the whole Pinchgut team for bringing yet another sublime masterpiece back to life. There will be one more performance — tonight.