Apart from seeing the parents and visiting the US embassy, I got three nights out last week at Brighton Festival events.
First up was Dido and Aeneas at the Dome, performed by a group called (IIRC) the New London Consort. They were musically proficient and featured 17th-century instruments, and in part authentic style. But in this work for mostly-female cast (it was originally written for a girls school where Purcell was music master), they took the unusual step of recasting a lot of it for male voices. And not just countertenors, either! Call me old-fashioned, but I find a baritone sorceress mildly disconcerting. The production was billed as semi-staged, but the action was very weak, and they’d have done better to abandon any pretence at staging and just give an honest concert performance. Fortunately it was musically much stronger.
Second was King Arthur (yea, more Purcell) at the Theatre Royal, this time by a group called Armonico Consort. Actually, calling it King Arthur was taking rather a liberty: they’d created their own show, just using Purcell’s music (which was much cut, and rearranged). But the show was good in its own right, and I enjoyed it much better than the previous show, despite the musical standard being a little more uneven.
Third was The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte, in translation), also by Armonico at the Theatre Royal. This was an interesting and enjoyable production despite the horribly banal translation and a musically very uneven performance. On the good side, Tamino, Pamina, Papageno, and most of the minor parts were well on top of their parts and much enjoyed. Unfortunately I couldn’t say the same for the Queen of the Night (decent top Fs, but with a faint hint at a flo-jo in the high coloratura, and an intrusive vibrato) or Sarastro (inadequate lower range, and got hopelessly behind the orchestra in “Isis und Osiris”).
The production was (as it must be) very funny. The character of Papageno was noteworthy: in place of the fairytale birdman, we got the kind of rough fellow who you might think twice before daring to ask to put out a fag (in a nonsmoking area of course), or who might be found on a building site wolf-whistling passing girls. It worked. It might’ve worked even better if they’d cast a professional comedian in the role. Also noteworthy were the three boys, who were (unusually) cast as trebles rather than adult sopranos (unfortunately they didn’t blend, and in consequence sounded rather painful).
In addition to some cuts (which avoided the cut feel of the King Arthur), they’d made efforts to politically correct it. The misogeny was there but much toned-down, and the racism was altogether gone (which pretty much loses the Papageno-Monostatos scene altogether).