STRINGS, SWINGS, A SOPRANO SOARING
In E.M.Forster’s HOWARD’S END, the dreamy Helen Schlegel can’t listen to Beethoven without imagining heroes, goblins, dancing elephants and shipwrecks. If you are prone to a similar synaesthetic response, here comes 75 minutes of bliss. If listening to Britten’s Young Apollo makes you wish for a man juggling bowler-hats and a woman in a long tutu cartwheeling amid dark sinister goat-men, book in now : there are only two more performances. If a really good John Adams glissando brings visions of an artiste’s glorious slithering in aerial silks, Struan Leslie’s remarkable melding of string orchestra with expressive circus will enchant you. And of course if like me you then recklessly add another layer of seemingly unconnected art-memory, the suspension of a dark male figure descending on a trapeze to scoop up a sleeping soprano can have you murmuring Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes to yourself (“Awake, arise my love and fearless be..”).
Nicholas Collon, conducting (and once briefly getting crowdsurfed backwards by the Circus ensemble) shares the wide Maltings stage not only with the strings of his Aurora orchestra but with a dramatic set by Gary McCann, which looks at first like a New York skyline in silhouette but reveals itself as more like a disorganized furniture warehouse, where someone has put the chairs on top of the wardrobes and balanced a bed impossibly overhanging a 10ft void. Into this precarious bed, admirably self-possessed, climbs the glamorous operatic-baroque soprano Sarah Tynan in a sea-green robe and blue cloak. Under the latter, on what looks like a very hard plank, she rests seemingly asleep until woken to sing by her Britten cue and the dark erotic forces of nine circus performers around her trapezing, aerial-hooping, menacingly stalking and crazily cartwheeling.
If there is an award for gamest soprano of the Aldeburgh Festival, she’s won it: some artistes, even operatic ones, would stiffly remind a director of their eminence – “For this I train ten years?” – if asked to spend the first twenty minutes feigning sleep, then get dangled upside down, and manhandled by a chap in fur leggings and numerous elvish figures in tight newsprint Lycra, all while singing Britten’s Les Illuminations . Not to mention getting dizzily hauled 50 feet up on a flimsy hoop into the pitch darkness of the Maltings rafters. What a trouper.
Mais serieusement, as we Francophiles say, is it worth doing, is it good, is it art? This is, after all, the opening flourish of the tres serieux Aldeburgh Festival. So yes, absolutely, it is tremendous. The music which Struan Leslie has put together with the Britten settings of Rimbaud’s weird, surreally sensuous French poems is Debussy and John Adams, and somehow it creates one odd, fantastical dreamscape; to my ear it is all immaculately played, and the circus skills, synchornized almost eerily with the mood and pace of the music, are high in every sense (there’s a segment on two trapezes and a swinging strop which made me grip the seat). Tynan’s voice of course is astonishing: pure violent vigour, breathtaking sweetness, goddess authority.
And it’s witty: the orchestra move around the stage between sections with an air of great enjoyment, and one at least has no inhibition about having a quick swing on the aerial strop himself on the way across, dangling his double-bass in the other hand. An odd, wild, engrossing 75 minutes.
http://www.aldeburgh.co.uk running this Sat and Sun
Cheapest tickets £ 16 and all half price to under-21s. Who will love it!
rating: five mice for audacity