Magazine article The Spectator

Cast Adrift

Magazine article The Spectator

Cast Adrift

Article excerpt

The Burial at Thebes

The Globe

Walton double bill

Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

What is our best chance of experiencing Greek tragedies as works that are alive and lifegiving, as we can sometimes experience Shakespeare? I'm taking it that we don't understand Greek, but there are major problems even for those who do. Seamus Heaney, like many fine poets, has provided a version of two of Sophocles' plays, and Dominique Le Gendre has made an opera of his text of Antigone, called The Burial at Thebes in Heaney's version. The opera received its première at Shakespeare's Globe last week. Peter Manning, concertmaster of the Royal Opera Orchestra, conducted. It was a remarkably dismal occasion, despite the balmy weather and the silent crowded house. For this opera never begins to engage the interest. That despite the fact that a second Nobel Prize winner was recruited to design and direct: but Derek Walcott, though he has had a lot of theatrical experience, had failed to make up his mind about whether, for instance, the actors should simply stand and declaim, or move around, touch one another, be expressive, or cultivate a ritualistic style, à la Oedipus Rex of Stravinsky. In the end, the mode of production was eclectic, each style, or bit of style, getting in the way of the others.

The action is relocated in the Caribbean, for no better reason, so far as I can tell, than that the composer and the director have their roots there. I do wish adaptors, directors etc. would start making themselves relevant to great works of art instead of attempting to make works relevant to them. Manning claims in the press release that 'above all, this project is about aspiration and humanity rather than arts politics paying lip-service to multi-culturalism', but I'm afraid that it is as the latter, precisely, that it comes across, insofar as it comes across at all. The only thing the music does here is to make the words unintelligible. If I hadn't had the text to follow I'd have had no idea what most of the characters were singing, though the ones with lower-register voices were, as always, somewhat clearer.

There was no hope, though, of closely following a drama which is of universal significance, dealing with a stand-off between the most deeply held convictions of the individual and the dictates of the state.

Creon the King was played by Brian Green, who was more convincing as speaking actor than as singer. Antigone, the tessitura of whose role prohibited intelligibility, was the miscast Idit Arad. …

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