Deft but no depth

The Daily Telegraph - - Living & Features - By Jasper Rees Glyn­de­bourne’s pro­duc­tion of The Bar­ber of Seville is avail­able to watch online on de­mand un­til 11.59pm today: tele­graph.­de­bourne

In 30 years the Bar­bican’s con­cert hall can never have been quite so crowded. By the time the bows were taken af­ter the pre­miere of Peter Maxwell Davies’s fi­nal work, there was barely a spare square foot of un­oc­cu­pied space on­stage. The Master of the Queen’s Mu­sic, who died in March, did not go out on a mod­est cham­ber piece for two tin whis­tles and a tri­an­gle but with a teem­ing cel­e­bra­tion of com­mu­nity mu­sic­mak­ing con­ducted by Si­mon Rat­tle.

The Hog­boon is a chil­dren’s opera call­ing for such vast forces that this first per­for­mance seems un­likely to be swiftly fol­lowed by more. Join­ing the massed ranks of the Lon­don Sym­phony Cho­rus were the Guild­hall School Singers and the LSO Dis­cov­ery Choirs. Be­tween them, sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als, hope­ful stu­dents and young am­a­teurs squeezed a re­duced LSO into one cor­ner of the stage, though they were aug­mented by three trum­pets and a pair of per­cus­sion­ists sta­tioned in the cir­cle who de­liv­ered cer­e­mo­nial fan­fares and drum­rolls.

The li­bretto was the com­poser’s own, adapted from Or­ca­dian myths of his adopted home. The story of a tem­pes­tu­ous de­mon of the deep which can be paci­fied by a pure young hero must have been a con­sol­ing tale to set to mu­sic. The is­landers are as­sailed by a ter­ror of Nuck­leavee, who has a par­tic­u­lar hunger to snack on young fe­male flesh, only to be stopped by the sev­enth child of a sev­enth child.

Step for­ward a young fan­ta­sist called Mag­nus who sets forth to defy the Nuck­leavee. On his quest he re­ceives sup­port from a good witch and her cat, plus a friendly spirit (a bari­tone role for Mark Stone), who gives the opera its ti­tle. The mu­sic finds Maxwell Davies at his most in­clu­sive and cel­e­bra­tory, but also sat­is­fy­ingly weird and dis­so­nant. The over­ture – hov­er­ing strings then an abrupt brass fan­fare – evoked the omi­nous mar­itime mu­sic of Peter Grimes, as did the LSO Cho­rus en­ter­ing in mufti as the voice of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Some of the writ­ing had a Prokofie­vian sheen, while the solo role of Mag­nus was a huge chal­lenge for Sebastian Ex­all in terms of range and test­ing in­ter­vals, re­sult­ing in the odd tun­ing is­sue. Direc­tor Karen Gillingham and de­signer Rhiannon New­man-Brown had only at­mo­spheric light­ing and cos­tumes, plus a mound of earth with shrubs, but made re­source­ful nods in all sorts of di­rec­tions. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was evoked in the soil-tilling brothers in dun­ga­rees and their Nordic maid­ens. And there was a miaow­ing echo of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s fe­lines in Ca­pucine Dau­mas’s Cat and her lit­ter of singing kit­tens. The more singers crowded on­stage, the live­lier the en­ter­tain­ment, cul­mi­nat­ing in the de­scent through the stalls of the chil­dren’s choir dressed as danc­ing clumps of sea­weed. Rat­tle on the podium sim­ply melded into this crowded vi­sion and some­how kept every­one singing and play­ing from the same sheet.

Sebastian Ex­all, left, with Mark Stone

Si­mon Rat­tle con­ducts the LSO and sev­eral choirs at the Bar­bican

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