Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • PUNCH AND JUDY • ENO @ Young Vic • 2008

Young Vic Theatre by Jakebrook [Wikimedia]

Young Vic Theatre by Jakebrook [Wikimedia]

Harrison Birtwistle is not the easiest of composers for an audience to get along with. His music is complex. His choice of subject matter can be obscure and in his operas the theatrical approach to telling a story can be startling. So if you like a challenge and do not wish to sit passively in your orchestra stalls seat he may well be the composer for you.

I have to confess I struggle with his music. His sound world is such a wild and baffling place at times and very far removed from the everyday and the ordinary classical fare as peddled by Radio 3 and such. But to give the man his due, I struggle in a similar way with the music of Wagner, another composer who knew what he wanted to hear and who went right ahead and wrote it regardless.

Punch and Judy, Birtwistle’s first opera, was premiered in 1968 at the Aldeburgh Festival. I imagine it was quite a shock to the good folk of Suffolk when this violent and singular piece first poured forth from the stage. Forty years on, it has lost none of its ability to disturb and unsettle.

Musically, it is still a challenge. For the singers it is a demanding score which I am sure requires all their virtuosic ability plus a serious amount of stamina. Orchestrally, it is scored for chamber forces but packs a more symphonic-sounding punch. Dramatically, it has a murderous leading ‘man’, who first burns his baby, then murders his wife and ends up tangling with the Devil himself.

All of this is served up in a cyclical music drama which combines seaside puppet shows with a Greek theatre chorus and incorporates techniques culled from Bach’s Passions. The three Passion chorales and two Passion arias are points when the characters step out of the story and comment directly on what is occurring. These account for a lot of the emotional depth that Birtwistle has managed to insert into this grisly sideshow of a story.

This current staging, part of the first joint venture between the Young Vic and the ENO, is a cross-pollination which has spawned an excellent production. The ENO have brought some of their finest singers to the Young Vic stage.

As Punch, Andrew Shore has to be the first and only baritone around who could attempt to perform this role. He has proved himself on many occasions as a consummate actor who just happens to be an opera singer and once again he manages to illuminate his role perfectly. His ability to mix the sinister and comic is masterly.

Lucy Schaufer, Shore’s dramatic match, is as full-voiced a Judy as you could hope to get, while Ashley Holland keeps the entire piece properly grounded with his pivotal role of Choregos (Greek Chorus).

The production is directed by Daniel Kramer, who as a newcomer to the operatic stage seems to have taken to this particularly choppy water like the proverbial ‘duck’. His production is full of excellently conceived and placed images which help steer the production towards clarity and success.

Punch and Judy is a strange and furious piece which somehow manages to retain that child-like enjoyment of extreme violence enshrined in the original puppet show, while at the same time probing the adult consciences of its operatic audience.

Jack Hughes © 2008

Originally published on R&V 22-04-08

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

artbymandy

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

juniordoctorblog.com

pulseless electrical activity.

The Observation Post

mistermuse, half-poet and half-wit

Wild Star Landing

Poetry, Facts, Fiction, Inspired by Travel, Art, Science, Nature & Philosophy

Turtle Bunbury

Historian * Author * Presenter * Speaker * Guide

Fierce Writing

Not so much Rage Against the Machine as Slightly Peeved the Taps Won't Work

Victorian Footnotes

Bringing back the forgotten

Etan Smallman

Freelance journalist

Michael Ehrhardt

Permanenter Ausstellungsraum

jessicanorrie

Writing about writing; words about the world

It's all in the Past!

Writing about current events from a historical perspective.

Mrinalini Raj

I LEAVE YOUR ROAD TO WALK ON MY GRASS.

History Quirks

The Casual Past

vintageinkstand

Words and images from the past

janiceduke.wordpress.com/

The adventures of Janice Duke and her Magical Travelling Paint Box

Caz Greenham...Storyteller...Author...

Creator and Author of The Adventures of Eric Seagull 'Storyteller' series

Movies From The Silent Era

A repository for movies from the silent era

Art Universal

Art as a Sensory

Henry Brooke

Musings, Memories and Miscellanea

Matthew Toffolo's Summary

Daily summary of the life/movie world.

When Angels Fly

Author site of S. Jackson & A. Raymond

off the leash

History, technology, books and baseball.

FLOW ART STATION

THE ENLIGHTENED ART MAGAZINE

Writer Site

Memoir, poetry, & writing theory

hungryfaces

faces gourmet world of fashion, design and art

From guestwriters

Lifestyle magazine and Readers Digest

The Vintage Toy Advertiser

Suffering ink-stained fingers and occasional staple wounds to bring you wonderful images of vintage toy ads and other retro paperworks

Sauce Box

Never get lost in the Sauce

scribblesofstageandscreen

Theatre, Film and TV.

Smart History Blog

Compelling Stories of Russian History

Newcastle Photography

Photography Blog by Chris Egon Searle

Brave and Reckless

Reclaiming my inner badass at 50

Gretchen Del Rio's Art Blog

Watercolor paintings

Today in History

"Tell me a fact, and I'll learn. Tell me a truth, and I'll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever." - Steve Sabol, NFL Films

The Architect & I

The Nazis assigned him a number but I wanted the world to know his name.

Basic Archaeology

Archaeology News, Interesting Facts and More

Travalanche

Being a web log for the observations of actor, author, cartoonist, comedian, critic, director, humorist, journalist, master of ceremonies, performance artist, playwright, producer, publicist, public speaker, songwriter, and variety booker Trav S.D.

1stangel.co.uk/loisbryanphotography/

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art

vixlowthion

A Green future for the Isle of Wight

TOKIDOKI (NOMAD)

a world travel photo blog by Jackie Hadel

swo8

Music means something

%d bloggers like this: