Nov 22 2009
Well another review today, this time in the Independent. Seems to like me but I have to say I disagree with the rest of the review! Still here it is.
Scored for six singers and as many instrumentalists, Jonathan Dove’s latest opera is also pitched to a family audience. Where his previous Opera North commission Pinocchio sprawled across three hours without so much as a memorable tune, Swanhunter is succinct and catchy, with a cantering motif for accordion (Murray Grainger) and a witty libretto adapted from The Kalevala by Alasdair Middleton.
With Andrew Rees as Lemminkäinen and Yvonne Howard as his mother, Elizabeth Cragg, Frances Bourne, Nicholas Sharrat and Graeme Broadbent relate (and comment on) the impulsive hero’s quest for a bride in sweetly-blended two-, three- and four-part harmony. Dove’s musical language is unfussy and efficient: the splintered ice of the extreme North is conveyed in sparkling tuned percussion, a horn neighs violently at the appearance of The Devil’s Horse, and the Swan glides to Cragg’s stratospheric vocalise. Excellent ensemble-work aside, the vocal honours go to Howard, whose anxious refrain is expanded into a grand lament as she journeys to the north to reclaim her “cold, torn” son’s corpse.
Designed by Dody Nash, Clare Whistler’s athletic touring production has some ingenious touches. The hooves and antlers of Death’s Elk are garden spades and shears, Lemminkäinen’s home a fairytale turret, the ice-floes smoothly-curved abstract shapes, the costumes cosy padded parkas. At times, the jovial, credit-crunch atmosphere feels like a community theatre workshop in a garden centre, and I wonder if children might not feel a little patronised. Swanhunter and Rumpelstiltskin are both intriguing introductions to music theatre but were Sawer’s cautionary tale and Dove’s Finnish adventure to clash, I know which I’d choose.
‘Swanhunter’: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds (0844 848 2727) 3pm/6.30pm today, then touring