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September 18, 2012

Julietta, ENO

By Spear's

Here is the ENO’s forte: phenomenal stage sets, lighting and choreography presented with some stunning scenes, carefully detailed reactions and tableaux from a wonderful ensemble

The Czech composer Martinu, born in 1890, is not well-known, even to the keen operagoer. He was prolific and having spent much of his life in Paris his music is predominantly impressionistic and dreamlike, giving it a distinctly contemporary yet melodic feel. Who better to bring to life Julietta, this dreamlike opera with a surreal plot adapted from Georges Neveux’s play, than Terry Jones?

It could be argued that Jones may have played up to the story by ignoring the subtleties of the plot: a young man in search of a girl he once heard singing arrives in a coastal town to find its inhabitants devoid of memories.

The town is dominated by a sixty-foot accordion stretched across the stage where people appear from within. I loved it but the intention to confuse what is real and what is surreal was certainly spelt out for us. No matter, for here is the ENO’s forte: phenomenal stage sets, lighting and choreography presented with some stunning scenes, carefully detailed reactions and tableaux from a wonderful ensemble who acted as a tight artistic unit.

Peter Hoare as Michel was in fantastic voice and is a superb actor; Julia Sporsén who sings Julietta has a wonderful rich tone; and together with the luxury casting of an ensemble comprised of Andrew Shore, Henry Waddington, Emilie Renard, Susan Bickley and Gwyne Howell, we were certainly spoilt.

There were plenty of entertaining treats: a childhood recollection of plastic ducks, crocodiles, a café in the woods with an old couple being fed dreams by a waiter, a lost French horn player wandering the stage, a dreamt-up sumptuous Spanish holiday, some rather odd dancing and the huge collapsed piano accordion where Julietta and Michel chase each other across the keys.

I loved the scoring – detached, obscure, half sung, half spoken – the music is surprisingly wonderful on the ears; this must be a perfect opera for conductor Ed Gardner to get his teeth into. Martinu leaves all the questions of reality and unreality, where we’re going and where we’re from, unanswered. In fact we do not even know if Julietta even exists.

I enjoyed this opera and am looking forward to a bounteous season of ENO productions this autumn, Julius Caesar, Don Giovanni and Carmen among them, so get booking. Their productions don’t disappoint.

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Julietta runs until October 3 (various nights) at the Colosseum

Read more by Melinda Hughes

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