Brickbats first! Pandarus really is the most irritating of characters it is never made clear why he wants to bring the two lovers together; surely he is something more than an upper-class pimp! Poor Nigel Robson had the added problem of having to sing ever-more exaggerated Brittenesque arpeggios and melismata all night if this is, as has long been assumed, a parody of the younger composers vocal writing then it wears thin pretty quickly. Calkas (father of Cressida) is again a totally one-dimensional character, where as not even Jean Rigbys customary fine performance (in fact one of the finest of the whole evening) could elevate Evadne to anything more than the dour matronly figure that she is.
The storm scene that links Acts One and Two is the most embarrassing of all (it is left to the audiences imagination as to what is going on in the bedroom in a semi-staged performance such as this) it is, let us say, a not too distant cousin of the Storm Interlude from Peter Grimes. Even in a performance of such drive and virtuosity as this one (Richard Hickox obviously loves the work and inspired the Philharmonia Orchestra to give their very best and demonstrate Waltons orchestration at its most brilliant), it is just too close for comfort.
On the positive side Acts Two and Three moved much more swiftly the singing of the two principals, which up to this point had been rather lack-lustre, improved greatly. Roderick Williams stole the Third Act not only does he have a fine voice and striking stage presence, he was probably the best matched singer/character of the whole evening. The closing Sextet, so reminiscent of Verdi, was beautifully done and only shows what Walton might have come up with under the right circumstances.
Make no mistake, and despite its failings, this is striking first opera. Walton himself admitted, "I didnt know enough about the theatre and what would work theatrically". The relative failure of Troilus and Cressida, its initial reception, and the composers difficulty in getting notes on paper are presumably the reasons for Walton not attempting another full-length opera (The Bear is a one-act Extravaganza). If so, then it is our loss.
- Richard Hickoxs recording of Troilus and Cressida is on CHANDOS CHAN 9370/1 (2 CDs)
- The Philharmonia Orchestra returns to the Royal Festival Hall on 30 April for the first of two concerts entitled The Mighty Handful Mikhail Pletnev conducts Mussorgskys Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel) and Rachmaninovs Third Piano Concerto with Alexander Mogilevsky. On 5 May, Yevgeny Svetlanov conducts Scriabin, Liadov, Balakirev and Sibeliuss Violin Concerto with Viktoria Mullova
- Box Office: 0800 652 6717 www.rfh.org.uk
- Philharmonia Orchestra Box Office: 020 7242 0240 (freephone service from 2 May 2002) www.philharmonia.co.uk