Review – Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

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Well, some people have all the luck. I read today about the debut of “Into the Little Hill” taking place in the Royal Opera House bar (due to a power failure at the Linbury), and I thought: Staging? Give me free drinks any old day! But it wasn’t to be my luck: I’d bought my tickets for Wednesday the 18th, and my drinks looked like they’d only be coming along provided I’d paid for them.

However we still had the luck of having the composer of “Into the Little Hill” (George Benjamin) perform the piece, and truth be told I was happy to have seats, even though the two operettas were only 40 minutes each. The first was Harrison Birtwistle’s “Down by the Greenwood Side,” a truly bizarre performance that was modern opera meets a Mummers play as performed by homeless people, including a strange little bag lady (Claire Booth) who kept singing snatches of “The Cruel Mother.” Oddly, the other characters (a hobo “Father Christmas” – Pip Donaghy, St. George – Wela Frasier, some bizarre creature called the “Bold Slasher” – Robert Hastie, and a hysterically menacing “Dr. Blood” – Julian Forsyth – no idea if any of these besides Father Christmas and St. George actually relate to Mummers plays) did almost no singing at all, but instead re-enacted a ritual in which St. George fights and loses to the “Bold Slasher,” then is resurrected by Dr. Blood and proceeds to beat the tar out of the Bold Slasher – well, sort of, only his arms and legs (which fought on their own for a while) and then eventually his head get cut off, which turned the whole thing into some kind of Monty Python sketch. It all ends with the men beating up the bag lady. I didn’t get it at all but it was more or less absorbing, except that I didn’t find the music at all interesting – it was reminding me of my uncomfortable visit to see “Pierrot Lunaire.” 1960s classical music just isn’t for me.

This was followed by “Into the Little Hill,” the star piece for the night, described as a retelling of the tale of the Pied Piper. It was performed by two women, a mezzo (Susan Bickley) who played the role of the mayor and the mother, and a soprano (Claire Booth back again in much more flattering clothes), who played the role of the Mayor’s daughter and the Pied Piper.

The text itself was quite interesting, and the staging was good – it included projections that made it possible to follow the text in some of the more poetic moments – but the music just wsn’t of a style that I cared for at all. I did enjoy the way the “sound” of the Piper’s demand for money (which was not sung) was expressed by what seemed like a fixed piano, but the piece overall left me longing for the days when music was musical. Are composers really so busy rebelling against the plebian nature of musical theater that they are satisfied to throw together disparate notes and expect people to enjoy them? I just wanted to throw my hands in the air. Really, this noise has been going on for so many decades – it’s as if the world of painting got stuck at cubism and never moved forward again! I may just have to give up on seeing performances of this type altogether. While I appreciated the intimacy of the venue and the skill of the singers (and Jon Clark’s lighting design was totally on the money), I didn’t enjoy myself at all and wound up looking at the price on my tickets somewhat bitterly at the end of the night. Things are just too tight for us right now for me to make mistakes like this. I should stick with Baroque and other early music and otherwise not go to opera any more – after 10 years of trying to cultivate a taste for it, it’s probably time to throw in the towel.

(This review is for a performance that took place Wednesday, February 18, 2009. There is a final performance of this show on February 19th.)

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One Response to “Review – Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House”

  1. Best London theater, 2009 « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost […]

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