BF: King Priam


The Dome, Brighton, 27 May

The Brighton Festival concluded with a 50th anniversary performance of Tippett’s King Priam. As was to be expected, Tippett’s works have suffered since he died and the neglect has been almost palpable. Thankfully the symphonies are to be revived in full over the next London season but the operas, so popular while he was alive, are almost invisible today. If this anniversary performance was not quite the overwhelming experience it could have been, it was none the less very welcome.

Fifty years on it is the structure of the work which impresses, and Tippett’s use of reflective passages, whether for small groups or individuals. As such Priam’s monologues parallel those by Hermes and Achilles, as well as the constant presence of the Old Man.

This was the first time I had realised the close connection between Priam and King Fisher from Midsummer Marriage both in their intellectual makeup and their music.  Brindley Sherratt proved to be a noble and moving Priam, vocally impressive and emotionally involving. The Achilles of Alan Oke may have lacked something in lyricism but the scenes between himself and Patroclus, and with the grieving Priam, were both very moving. Stephen Chaundy was an arrogant Paris and Jane Irwin a sympathetic Andromache.

While some individual playing from the Britten Sinfonia was pleasing, particularly the brass fanfares and the – un-named – guitarist, much was unbalanced. This was particularly noteworthy for the off-stage forces, which were badly amplified and often too loud. There was also a problem with the constant noisy movement of soloists – Louis Mott’s Helen clumping about the stage as if we could not hear her over the orchestra.

It appeared that Sian Edwards had little control of events on stage, and the chaos at the end of the first act, which was supposed to be a pause but resulted in a mass exodus, was disruptive to the highly sensitive score which we were hoping to immerse ourselves in.

With so much that had been so good earlier in the festival, it seemed a pity that this final event was less than convincing. Ah well, there is always next year. BH

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