I think Peter Sellars is one of the most imaginative and forceful directors working today, so I was thrilled to see that his production of Purcell's The Indian Queen was running at the ENO. Sellars isn't afraid to announce his presence, which he did after the initial masque of Mayan-esque dances with a company of soldiers rushing the stage, dressed in fatigues and wielding AK-47s.
I wasn't aware of this until after the show, but the Sellars version is a wholesale rewrite. It incorporates writings of the living author Rosario Aguilar, borrows music from dozens of other Purcell works, and changes the story from a Peruvian-Mexican conflict to a colonialism situation: Conquistadors versus Mayans. More knowledgeable people have commented and reviewed the production (predictable, reviewers love it or, more likely, hate it) in the context of its history. Free of the baggage (or is it "ignorant of the context?) I found myself profoundly moved.
Sellars couldn't be more on-the-nose with the points he makes. A Christian hymn of worship is sung by a chorus of Mayans encircled by armed soldiers. A conflicted character is grotesquely fondled. The heroine dies, ascending bathed in white light. But they're always legitimate points, and thought-provoking, and immediate.
...Not to mention surrounded by music of incredible beauty. The modern-instrument orchestra was led by seasoned HIP guru Laurence Cummings, and acquitted themselves with a stylishly HIP-tinged performance. They were augmented by a healthy number of dedicated early instruments - two harpsichords, organ, gamba, two recorders, and three theorbos - which added a good twang to the sound in the hall. All the singers were at a high level, but I couldn't believe what I heard from Lucy Crowe, who gave an absolute masterclass on messa di voce in her extended solos. My opera buddy and I turned to each other after O Solitude with wide eyes and incredulous smiles. Stunning. More random thoughts below!
- I'll admit it - I got teary-eyed. Yay opera!
- This is the second London concert where I've felt my "passion moved" - the aim of rhetorical musicking. It's an incredible experience to willingly surrender your emotions and allow them to be pulled and manipulated.
- Nobody does laments like Purcell.
- Beautiful, contemporary set design, painted by Gronk
- Lucy Crowe is dressed like a Star Trek alien (the peaceful kind)
- Striking, creative pauses in some pieces - were those Cummings, or Sellars?
- Intelligently-handled sex scene
- Vince Yi has a crazy countertenor voice - very soprano-ish
- Everyone eats ice cream at intermission! This is so cute.