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An Ocean of Rain

Almeida Theatre, 13 July 2008

Sad to relate, this appears to represent the dying embers of the original Almeida Festival, at which in the latter decades of the last century we Londoners of an exploratory bent were nourished annually, under the artistic direction of such luminaries as Yvar Mikhashoff and later, Pierre Audi.

Survival became tenuous. Around the turn of the century, it became the Almeida Opera & Hoxton New Music Days which in turn, during renovation of Islington's Almeida Theatre, moved to Kings Cross in 2001, supplemented by "John Woolrich's always independent annual trawl of interesting composers" at the Hoxton New Music Festival, which he curated. Since then, we had lost touch.

Yannis Kyriakides' "kind-of-opera" to Daniel Danis's libretto had transferred from the Aldeburgh Festival, which gave it some cachet and encouraged Musical Pointers to cover it. I had not seen The Guardian's warning about its inexplicably choice for this year's prestigious opening... "a semi-interesting work-in-progress - it comes across as bafflingly half-baked - - An Ocean of Rain will doubtless play better in the quirkier setting of London's Almeida theatre", hoped Erica Jeal. [The Aldeburgh Festival 2008 ran from 13-29 June - we didn't see the events programme until it was all over...]

I was assured that it had been further developed for London, but really it remains impossible, overloaded by a pretentious libretto which tries to get in everything imaginable of topical interest. Arriving too late to study the programme, one did not grasp that Kyoto, Kiev, Cairo & Delhi were just the names of some of the (most of them already dead) characters assembled for a working holiday at an orphanage in Haiti... At the end we see them in body bags... Orphans were represented by recorded children's voices. The only still live protagonist had set herself alight with petrol...

The music proceeded with deadening slowness, decently sung by the same female cast as at Aldeburgh. The young instrumental Ensemble MAE from Holland held the attention with evocative scoring for violin, recorders, keyboard, trombone & double bass, playing on stage; for the arrival of the Tsunami they cast their music stands to the floor and the music speeded up, backed by lively visuals on screen.

The list of acknowledgments filled a whole page, but without some drastic rethinking for next year, and an injection of money from contemporary music sources (SPNM ?) this notice may have to serve as an obituary for the great Almeida Festival that was... A full history of the Almeida Music Festivals deserves to be written.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Director's preview interview in The Times: