The Rose and the Ring – Opera in two Acts and 22 scenes to a libretto by Jackson after William Makepeace Thackeray [sung in English]
Prince Giglio – William Morgan
Prince Bulbo / Count Hogginarmo – Edward Grint
Rosalba / Fairy Blackstick – Robyn Parton
Angelica – Katherine Crompton
Gruffanuff – Katie Coventry
Hedzoff – Peter Ainsher
King Valaroso XXIV – Michael Mofidian
Queen – Sarah Shilson
Tim Pigott-Smith (narrator)
Concertante of London
Sir Nicholas Jackson
Sir Nicholas Jackson – Director
Janette Bonar Law – Designer
Nadia Jackson – Artwork
Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran
Reviewed: 5 May, 2016
Venue: The Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London EC1
The Rose and the Ring was written in 1855 as a Christmas entertainment by the novelist and journalist William Makepeace Thackeray for his two daughters, a “pantomime for great and small children”. The text is imbued with Thackeray’s playful use of language and satirical interpretation of characters from fairytale and myth. Sir Nicholas Jackson has taken Thackeray’s words, often verbatim, and melded them to his own arrangements for chamber orchestra of some of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard Sonatas. The idiom matches Thackeray’s writing with its variety, drama and good humour.
Following a date at Drapers Hall, the setting for this semi-staged performance was the ancient Great Chamber at The Charterhouse, Thackeray’s school during the 1820s. Eight young singers and ten instrumentalists led by Jackson brought the speedily paced burlesque to life.
The twists and turns of Thackeray’s plot are vertiginous, and include the enchanted eponymous objects, which confer great beauty on their owners, regardless of their true personality. There is a bad fairy who does good, a greedy king who is bad, and a servant who is really a princess and who has been brought up by lions and survived life-threatening episodes. Assistance with the plot was given by Tim Piggott-Smith. Thackeray illustrated the tale and his characterful drawings formed a changing backdrop, newly coloured. Given the complications and farce, captions and surtitles would have been a good idea.
The singers, placed behind the players, did a great job in establishing the diverse personalities. They donned different hats according to the character: crowns, tiaras, and a fetching red-plumed affair for the Countess. Edward Grint’s rich baritone was an adornment for Prince Bulbo and Katie Coventry shone as Gruffanuff. They both relished the comic possibilities of their roles. Katherine Crompton as Angelica impressed with warm expression and in negotiating the tricky vocal lines.
Scarlatti and Thackeray may not appear the most natural of bedfellows but the absurdist protocols of pantomime married well with Scarlatti’s baroque formality and lightness. The use of the ‘Cat’s Fugue’ (G-minor Sonata, Kk30) at the entrance of Fairy Blackstick was a delightful touch. Thackeray’s writing hints at profundity: nothing is as it seems, magic charms do not last and are not helpful to the protagonists. Superficial beauty is thought suspect. Thackeray explained that the tale is for children “spoilt by good fortune and improved by hardship.” This evening of fun had a moral message. Jackson’s operatic version is being recorded.