Magazine article The Spectator

Inspiration in a Factory

Magazine article The Spectator

Inspiration in a Factory

Article excerpt

King Idomeno



Royal Albert Hall

Last year Birmingham Opera Company imported La traviata from Verona, and performed it to huge and enthusiastic audiences. Result: the Arts Council, in its infinite malignant imbecility, axed its grant, along with that of many other institutions which survive on an annual budget that would keep one of the metropolitan 'centres of excellence' going for a week or two.

Gratifyingly, the outcry was such that the BOC was 'reprieved', and, to demonstrate how up and running it is, has staged one of Mozart's most impressive but lengthy and demanding operas in a disused rubber factory on the outskirts of Birmingham. The local community has been heavily involved, as usual, and any visitor from elsewhere has as his first task finding where the Sherborne Building is and getting there, encountering on the way the amazing ghastliness of the city's spaghetti junctions. Once arrived at the industrial estate, in a cloudburst as it happened, I waited until a 'guard' told me I was a Trojan captive, and stuck a yellow label on my lapel. Let into the huge cold leaky building, forbidden to sit, so standing on large hillocks of earth (the guards moved us constantly), I saw a good account of King Idomeneo, as the translation by Amanda Holden has it. Paul Nilon, hero and veteran of many comparable occasions, sang the cruelly tough title role with unquenched virtuosity and his passionate commitment, and acted it, so far as possible under the circumstances, with equal conviction. He is a marvellous artist. As his son Idamante, who released us from captivity so that we were free to roam, some way into the action, Mark Wilde was just as fine, a major operatic artist in the making. Ilia, his Trojan beloved, was the intense Anna Dennis, and the central quartet was completed by Donna Bateman as Electra, dressed as a Christmas tree fairy but dispatching her terrifying arias with aplomb. It was both strange and nice to hear old-fashioned warm-toned playing from the small but strong orchestra, conducted by William Lacey. The acoustics are not reliable in such a place, but most of the time I found it possible to get myself into tolerable auditory contact. Many scores of locals writhed, danced, gesticulated, sang, shoved people around politely, and anyway kept fit.

Graham Vick was, as usual, the inspiration and director of the proceedings.

The sell-out audiences show how successful, and deservedly so, he is. Yet I wonder if one -- anyone -- does finally get into a closer, more concentrated relationship to a complex work by having its action dispersed over a large space, so that the audience has to spot where the next bit is going to happen. …

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