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All is dull and deadly

Linbury Studio
01/31/2002 -  and 1, 2 February 2002
Toshio Hosokawa: Vision of Lear
Nicholas Garrett (King Lear), Jonathan Gunthorpe (Albany), William Allenby (Cornwall), Martin Robson (Gloucester), Paul Keohone (Edgar), Christopher Lemmings (Edmund), Lorenzo Car˛la (Oswald), Carol Rowlands (Goneril), Patricia Rozario (Regan), Michelle Jarman (Cordelia), Roz Parker (narrator)

Modern Band

Gregory Rose (conductor), Harry Ross (director)

Toshio Hosokawa's opera Vision of Lear, receiving its UK premiere in the Linbury Studio at Covent Garden, isn't the long awaited Lear opera, but it is performable, accessible and respectful of Shakespeare. It presents the King Lear story as the nightmare of a salaryman losing him mind as his job security crumbles. The idea is plausible: Lear's kingship is an emblem of order in society, and his dissolution is terrifying because it threatens us all. Japanese corporate culture, based in loyalty and security, is still cited in management textbooks as a shining example of orderliness and morality, although in reality the Japanese economy is in desperate shape. Perhaps those on the inside of the disaster in Japan can see the enormity of Lear's situation as being close to their own, and most people understand that losing your job can be like your universe falling apart.

But Shakespeare's Lear has not only pathos, but also grandeur, and that was distinctly missing here. In addition, Tadashi Suzuki's selection from Shakespeare's text in the libretto concentrates on the parallels between Goneril and Regan's scheming and office politics. This results in a lot of tedious to-ing and fro-ing and provides an odd context for the explicit horror of Gloucester's blinding and the heartbreaking comedy of his attempted suicide and final meeting with Lear.

Of course the emotional range of King Lear, from cosmic rage through prosaic cruelty to aeschrology, has always been one of the problems in adapting the play as opera: music can only do so much with any given resources. Hosokawa, who studied in Darmstadt and is based in Germany, has produced a score that is appealing as music, a deceptively gossamer evocation of urban anxiety that uses nine instruments (strings, harp, piano, flute, clarinet) and mixed Japanese and western percussion, and his voice lines are idiomatic and apparently singable. But the drama is flattened and the opera's ninety minutes are more like an extended episode of Dallas than the tornado of despair and redemption that they ideally would be. The loss of Cordelia (after the first act) and of Kent remove the doomed pure goodness that makes Lear so heartbreaking.

The cast, orchestra and production all took the work seriously and the performances were committed and well rehearsed, verging on slick. The set consisted mainly of eight wheeled office chairs with set in white panels that moved with them and formed schematic walls and screens, again smoothly minimalist most of the time, although the shopping trolley as "Dover cliff" misfired. The cast were first rate. Nicholas Garrett was obviously far too young, even with talced hair, and he was more salaryman than king, but his performance was consistently intense. Carol Rowlands was a bitch princess of a Goneril and Martin Robson was a sympathetic Gloucester. Paul Keohone as Edgar and Christopher Lemmings as Edmund were almost indistinguishable, at least until Edgar became poor Tom, a crazy homeless man.

H.E. Elsom



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