Jonathan Dove/Nick Dear The Palace in the Sky conducted by Stuart Stratford, with Robert Tear, Keel Watson (Nicholas Folwell), Toby Stafford-Allen, Sally June Gain, Diana Moore, Gavin Spokes, Collegium Musicum, CYM Hackney Saturday Music Centre Choir, Percussion Ensemble and players/Simon Foxley, Hackney Youth Jazz Orchestra; Cambridge Heath Salvation Army Band, Alevi Saz Ensemble, Hackney Youth Steel Orchestra, The Hoxton Singers & Old Spice, a multitude of children and adult residents of Hackney. Hackney Empire 5 November 00
The Hackney Empire is a wonderful, precious old Victorian Theatre, lavishly decorated in a style rarely now to be found and it was exploited for this occasion, with participants right up to the roof. The short run was sold out and the atmosphere was electric. The list above represents only a portion of the numerous contributors to its success over a four year preparation, culminating on Guy Fawkes weekend; forgiveness is craved from those whose names have necessarily been omitted.
The story was developed in workshops and Nick Dear has fashioned a libretto to appeal to young and old alike, with powerful local resonances. Many social themes are tapped, and the professional singers and musicians help to give people who have never seen one before, especially schoolchildren, a real flavour of opera. Many of those will come back, and others may want to enter the performing arts as a consequence of this rich experience. ENO and its Baylis Programme staff headed a huge list of contributors and facilitators.
Jonathan Dove has tapped the idiom for which he is well known (e.g. in Flight
for Glyndebourne). Obviously it derives from John Adams, but he has made
it his own and it serves these needs well, without any cop-out for more
sophisticated listeners. It is very clever, and supports perfectly a text
often funny and at other times moving. Robert Tear
was the very persona of a seedy retired London gangster.
Keel Watson (on stage but, because of a throat infection, covered vocally
by Nicholas Folwell for the last performance) is a formidable bass admired
recently in Vivaldi's
Furioso. As Robert Tear's rival for control of the patch, he was a chilling
nouveau-riche tycoon, who exploited his power sexually; the trilling roulades
of Sally June Gain after a shopping spree characterised deliciously her role
as his opera-singer mistress.. His entourage showed the trappings of probably
ill-gotten wealth, and its come-uppance. All the lead soloists had thoroughly
rewarding parts to sing and act. The staging, with high steel structures
representing the growing tower block, was breathtaking, as was the lighting.
The steel band and Turkish lutes contributed to emphasise vividly the multi-national society that is Hackney at the turn of the Millennium, and there was real music for the Salvation Army band to tackle, a challenge they enjoyed. The Street Kids sang out lustily, as children never did sing in my young days. Watching construction site workers is a recognised urban pleasure, and the teams of demolition workers, masons, crane-drivers, iron-workers, pipe-fitters, ventilators, plumbers, carpenters, steeplejacks and caterers - their hard hats colour coded, made a delightful picture, superbly choreographed and trained by Kay Shepherd, under over-all direction by Jo Davies. There was plenty to do for youngsters of 5 and senior citizens alike; the dancing was stupendous, the first act ending with the atmosphere of the Notting Hill Carnival.
With a wonderful La Boheme (Leoncavallo) opening at the Coliseum, this was a great week for ENO. The aspirations of The Palace in the Sky were as high as the tower as was planned to rise; this opera must not be allowed to disappear after just three performances!
Peter Grahame Woolf
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