Argento
Postcard from Morocco

A Lady with a Hand Mirror – Claire Platt
A Lady with a Cake Box – Samya Waked
A Lady with a Hat Box – Lise Christensen
A Man with Old Luggage – Mark Cunningham
A Man with a Paint Box (Mr Owen) – Adrian Dwyer
A Man with a Show Sample Kit – Rasmus Tofte-Hansen
A Man with a Cornet Case – Joao Fernandes

Conductor – Michael Fulcher
Director – Martin Lloyd-Evans
Set and Lighting Designer – Simon Corder
Costume Designer – Frank Simon
Choreographer – Isabel Mortimer
Imitation – or parody – in music can be sometimes illuminating, interesting or downright irritating. A ’knowing’ nod to another composer can be seen as ’clever’ or just an ’in-joke’, depending on one’s point of view.
Dominick Argento’s eclectic score, first performed by the Center Opera Association, Minneapolis in 1971, suffers from the lack of a real personality of its own. Maybe that is the intention of this quirky piece, described as a “psychological fantasy”, but with so many overtones of, for instance, Britten and Menotti, not to mention direct quotes from Wagner, it is quite difficult to hear Argento’s own voice.
The scenario is set at a railway station with various characters talking about the objects they are carrying with them – anything, it would seem, to divert from real interaction on an emotional level. At the end of the day, it is difficult to see the ’point’ of the work. There appears to be no overriding moral to be drawn or particular lessons to be learnt. Perhaps the intention was to create an amusing divertissement without heavy punches pulled. If that is the case, then the opera works effectively enough on its own terms and it is hard to imagine a better performance or production than this one.
A highly talented cast brought their essentially anonymous characters to life and infused Argento’s often highly challenging vocal lines with dramatic conviction. Particularly impressive was Claire Platt whose initial scene brought to mind ’Lady Billows’ from Britten’s Albert Herring with its wide-ranging tessitura. It would be good to hear her in that role.
However, the entire cast is to be applauded for excellent diction and for giving their characters distinctive personalities. Not by any means an easy task given their essentially cartoon-like personages. Also commendable was the playing of the eight-piece orchestra. The florid virtuosity of much of their music was very well realised.
All told, then, this was an occasion to admire the strengths of the young musicians of the Guildhall and praise the decision to stage this unusual and intriguing opera.

  • Further performances on 10 & 12 June at 7 o’clock
  • Tickets from Barbican Box Office – 020 7638 8891 www.barbican.org.uk – or from GSMD Box Office 45 minutes before the performance

 

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