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Donizetti Lucrezia
Opera & Film

ENO at The Coliseum, London, 1 February 2011

"Mike Figgis is a very influential guy, very visionary" [Classical Source]


OPERA: Claire Rutter (Lucrezia Borgia)
Michael Fabiano & Elizabeth DeShong - L
Alastair Miles
Director Mike Figgis
Translator/Conductor Paul Daniel
Set Designer Es Devlin; Costumes Brigitte Reiffenstuel Lighting Peter Mumford

Quadcast: 23 February 2011 with a live broadcast on Sky Arts 2 (HD), Sky 3D and live into selected cinemas in 3D around the UK and a deferred relay in 2D into selected cinemas internationally. The fourth element of the ‘quadcast’, onto Sky Arts 1, is directed by Mike Figgis.

Another flawed offering from ENO in its bid to appeal to the contemporary young who are resistive to opera.

Get the flavour of the opera as staged at the Coliseum from a video- trailer, but this does not cover Figgis' meretricious contributions on film-clips [R] which fill up the otherwise short evening gratuitously (with canned sound-track by Enrico Morricone; the orchestra sits still meanwhile).

There are saving graces to this conflation, but those only became evident to us on the way home, studying contributions to the programme book (£5, will those new opera goers have afforded it?) from Roger Parker on the opera and Edward Seckerson on Mike Figgis' contributions; some of the latter will presumably find their way onto the TV transmissions (listen to them talking on line).

The opera (1833) was originally more innovatory in conception than might be immediately obvious; with bel canto vocal display sparing, especially for Lucrezia herself. The traditional costuming at ENO was a welcome relief, but incongruous with Paul Daniels' naff translation into "today talk". As conductor, Daniels did well with what is really a light score for a dark subject, and so did all the lead singers listed above.

The minimalist staging was designed with considerable subtlety by Es Devlin, with some references to classic pictures easy to miss. The chorus, with precise "minimalistic movements" functioned like a classic Greek chorus, outside the main action. Was the budget lower than for ENO's recent extravagances? Most of the sets, small sub-stages constructed with proscenium frames and footlights [illustration above] would do for smaller opera houses; two of them were wheeled apart for the final scene. They looked good and were lit imaginatively.

Figgis' film, in Italian with subtitles, is full of sex/violence titillation, and will presumably be shown on TV broken up in sections, as at the Coliseum; it just does not mix with the opera.

So don't worry if you are late for the cinema transmission, and at home I suggest you use the interpositions of its several scenes as a chance to make coffee or open a can. And afterwards send your comments to Musical Pointers.

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. Having seen the Sky Arts 2 transmission this week on a good TV home cinema set up (but not 3D) I am pleased to say that it all translates to screen well, and with excellent camera management, the production on Devln's sets looks fine. The soloists are seen and heard clearly (without subtitles) to good advantage and some of Figges' film interludes are a little less jarring without seeing them put up on the opera house screen with the orchestra visibly doing nothing...

It does convince me that the choice of this opera for such wide distribution was a canny one, and I wish it well in its commercial future...