Sunday, 10 July 2011

Dr Dee @ MIF

Image Copyright To Manchester International Festival 2011

2 years ago Manchester saw itself invaded by the international arts community, providing it's landscape as a blank canvas for outsiders to come and transform, however this time it's changed, this time Manchester has transformed itself for the world to see. With great Mancunians returning to help cement Manchester as a cultural haven, it is also a chance for those helped by Manchester to give someone back.

This year sees the return of Damon Albarn to the festival. In 2007 Albarn's Journey To The West began it's stage life at MIF, headlining the festival. This time around his project steps away from the comfort of an existing outfit, and in to an entirely new field, a contemporary English opera about the great Elizabethan alchemist, titled Dr Dee.

Upon entering the theatre one is greeted with an elongated room, cut out to leave a cross section. A plethora of instruments are scattered across the room, from all types of guitars and percussion instruments to unusual sculpted objects, unknown to the western world of music. Unbeknownst to the audience, the orchestra sits quietly below the stage, isolated to an acoustic-only presence, all that remains is a slither of high gloss stage, fulfilling what appears to be the hierarchy of the play, but then the music begins and all changes. The room begins to rise during a procession of key English historical figures, accumulating in a crisp empty stage, sandwiched between the 2 elements of music.

Image Copyright To Manchester International Festival 2011

Albarn and Norriss' have developed a fantastic contemporary English opera. They manage to achieve a new breed of opera, one accessible to a much wider audience, one that keeps to the traditions, but adds a new layer, Albarn and his band.

As the band hovers above the stage you begin to see and hear the magic that has been created. The juxtaposition between Albarns melancholy sound mixed with the perfect tones of the opera singers works to each's advantage. They compliment each other as the performance between them unravels. The billowing spectrum of the opera singers sits perfectly with the sombre tones of Albarn's voice. And it's with the help of the contemporary songs marriage to the English operatic performances that make it so accessible.

The cast perform to an astounding class, most notably the lead performance from Bertie Carvel, and the eerie countertenor Christopher Robson depiction of Dee's mystic Kelley, and help to make the show a triumph. As much as the hype for the show has been about it's writers, praise must go out to Frantic Assembly for their help with the opera's movement. For it was the emphatic characterisation employed through the movement mixed with the inclusion of projection that helped to progress the classical art in to a modern age.

Image Copyright To Manchester International Festival 2011

Dr Dee has emerged as a forward thinking approach to opera, contextualising our wealth of history in a contemporary outfit, without the loss of appeal to the traditional audience, making it suitable for all. Its position and warm reception has added a great contribution to the discussion of the art of opera's evolution. Should it, as well as most forms of art, evolve as one style/type after another or can one thing evolve alongside it's context, disregard for reinventions of an old style, more a progression a single entity. Can a classical art form such as opera survive forever, or should it evolve and contextualise itself more with the now?

MIF Discussion - Should we treat the arts as a progressive evolution or as a disposal form, chucked out and replaced whenever we see fit?

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, first time I hear about Dr Dee, seems quite interesting...