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When this you see, remember me

06/28/2000 -   - July 7

28 June, 3, 4, 8 July 2000
Virgil Thomson Four saints in thee acts
Mary Plazas (St Terea I), Ethna Robinson (St Teresa II), Mary Nelson (St Settlement), Riccardo Simonetti (St Ignatius), Richard Roberts (St Chavez), Rhys Meirion (St Stephen), Paul Napier-Burrows (St Plan), Rebecca Du Pont Davies (Commère), Mark Richardson (Compère), Michelle Yard (dancer, St Teresa), John Hegginbotham (dancer,St Ignatius)
Andrea Quinn (conductor), Mark Morris (staging and choreography)

Henry Purcell Dido and Aeneas
Ruth Davidson/Mary Nelson (Belinda), Mark Morris/Sarah Connolly (Dido/Sorceress), Guillermo Resto/Riccardo Simonetti (Aeneas), Mireille Radwan-Dana/Mary Nelson (First witch), Charlton Boyd/Mhairi Lawson (Second witch), Rachel Murray/Mhairi Lawson (Second woman/spirit), June Omura/Richard Roberts (Sailor)
Anthony Legge (conductor), Mark Morris (staging and choreography) ENO Chorus and Orchestra, Mark Morris Dance Group

30 June, 1, 5, 6, 7 July 2000
George Frideric Handel L'allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato
Susan Gritton, Linda Richardson (sopranos), Timothy Robinson (tenor), Neal Davies (bass)
Jane Glover (conductor), Mark Morris (staging and choreography) ENO Chorus and Orchestra, Mark Morris Dance Group

It could be objected that a summer season at the English National Opera that features an American dance company and is sponsored by American Airlines is a contradiction in terms. But it is pretty hard to find anyone who will actually do the objecting. Not only are two of the four works involved (Nixon in China was the fourth) by Handel and Purcell, but Mark Morris' dance engages so deeply with the text, music and drama that it seems a natural extension of opera.

L'allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato is Morris' signature work, a sweetly expressive embodiment of Handel's study in emotional character, realigned to emphasise mirth and full of joy throughout. We've seen L'allegro in London before, and if the dancers don't always seem quite so polished this time, the interaction of dance and music is just as exhilarating. Jane Glover and a fine set of singers provide a middle-of-the-road but thoroughly enjoyable performance of the music.

Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's Four saints in three acts is on the surface about as unlike Handel as you could get, a surreal celebration in minstrel show format of saintness and Spanishness, set in a naive heaven. Thomson's music reproduces the childish indulgence of Stein's text perfectly, and Morris takes his cue from this with a sweet cheerful St Teresa dancing in a mystical match with a St Ignatius somewhat out of El Greco. (This St Teresa was not the sort of saint who could see off the Princess Eboli, or sort out the Carmelites.) Heaven and Spain are both jolly orange places where cheerful people dance in innocent formations, a decidedly deracinated version of L'allegro.

But Four saints (which includes quite a number of saints and has four acts) never pretends to aim for anything except enjoyment, the simple pleasure of ritual repetition and verbal excess. Andrea Quinn and the orchestra gave a suitably entertaining reading of the music, but some of the singers seemed to be finding their roles heavy going, not only because of the American pronounciation required by the settings, but also, perhaps because they were set aside from the action in the stage boxes. Riccardo Simonetti (who looks quite remarkably like Gavin Carr these days) was spot on, though, and Mary Plazas and Ethna Robinson were an exuberant pair of Teresa.

Four saints was paired with Morris' other signature work, Dido and Aeneas, altogether a darker proposition. The same dancers, with minimal help from the set, represent the Carthaginians in angular, black-figure pottery style and the witches and spirits in funky modern style. Morris as Dido looks like a classic tragic queen, her white face set off against the dark skin of Guillermo Resto, and both of them larger than life, also as in Athenian vase paintings. As the sorceress, Morris is a modern drama queen, totally self-absorbed.

The singers seemed to find Dido easier to present from off stage, perhaps simply because it is already familiar. Sarah Connolly, who has almost as striking a stage presence as Morris, was a powerful Dido.

H.E. Elsom



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