Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Barber of Broadway Brings a Musical Hit to the Opera House; STEPHEN SONDHEIM'S SWEENEY TODD IS A CLEVER CHOICE TO LIFT COVENT GARDEN

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Barber of Broadway Brings a Musical Hit to the Opera House; STEPHEN SONDHEIM'S SWEENEY TODD IS A CLEVER CHOICE TO LIFT COVENT GARDEN

Article excerpt

Byline: FIONA MADDOCKS

sweeney todd

royal opera house

covent garden

THE ingredients were first class, the recipe a modern classic.

The novelty came in the exotic cuisine: a Broadway musical in the opera house. Would it work?

The Royal Opera's first adventure into Stephen Sondheim - a co-production with the Lyric Opera of Chicago - was a triumph, with only the kind of quibbles that such a mixed marriage across musical and theatrical boundaries is certain to produce.

Sweeney Todd, a black hymn to London, proved a clever choice. Premiered in New York in 1979, this gory tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who slits the throats of his victims and puts them in Mrs Lovett's meat pies, is by most reckonings Sondheim's finest.

The music, a mincemeat of Seventies smoothness - think Tubular Bells and sweet violins - with chewy, teeth-breaking nuggets from Shostakovich and Stravinsky, stands up to the scrutiny of operatic performance.

This is not a musical of standalone hits like the Royal Opera's only other foray into the form, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. With Sondheim, familiar themes return but with nervy rhythms shattered like shards of glass, jaggedly transformed.

It makes for a tense, enthralling evening, incisively conducted by American Paul Gemignani, a doyen of Broadway and a Sondheim specialist. If the orchestra can't yet boast that authentic pit band crispness, they are smart enough players to learn. The chorus, too, needs to match soloists in edge and clarity. …

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