John Dee Opera Reviewed
The new Dr Dee opera, mentioned a few posts back, premiered at the weekend. It sounds wonderful:
Damon Albarn’s new fantasia – call it a masque or an opera, what does it matter? – devised in collaboration with Rufus Norris and others, is fresh, original and heartfelt. It has its shortcomings, but nothing that can’t be remedied when it transfers to the London Coliseum next summer. Already it is streets ahead of other rock-based composers’ attempts at music theatre.
Following a free but broadly linear narrative, it illustrates, celebrates and meditates on the life of the Elizabethan mathematician, geographer and philosopher John Dee – a possible source for the character of Prospero in The Tempest.
In the pit, a chamber orchestra plays; above the stage sits Albarn himself, with a consort of 16th-century instruments, plus African drummer and harp. In a series of interjections, charged with the melancholy of Dowland’s lute songs, Albarn provides choric commentary on the action, lamenting the loss of a spiritually rich England.