Thursday, 24 June 2010

ENO's "Idomeneo", or, how to c*ck up a really good idea.


Not that young chap Mozart’s finest hour, but lovely stuff nonetheless. ENO field a terrific cast and a very odd production, and I come out at the end feeling wildly frustrated. The production is almost worse than a downright ropey one would have been, because it is very nearly superb, but fluffs it totally by continuously restating its cleverest ideas, over and over like a nervous tic, until one wants to shake the director.

The basic idea of relocating the action to the contemporary corporate/political world is a good one. The device of the lover’s debate/duet being sung during a formal meal was interesting, first time around; it neatly pointed up the misery of having to hide your feelings in public, of being a Public Face and not able to have messy things like emotions visible - much less allow them to affect one's behaviour, when Duty has to come first. The device of having besuited corporate functionaries hurrying about the stage with clipboards was effective, for about a scene.

But as the repetition of these ideas - endless successions of waiters bustling, endless pacing Suits in noisy shoes - goes on it becomes first irritating, then distracting and finally infuriating, and I begin wanting to shout “No more bl**dy waiters, please!” It isn’t until the third Act that the constant stage business, and busyness, calms down enough to let the music and the performers carry the piece properly.

This is particularly rough when, in the amazing Paul Nilon, and in Robert Murray, Sarah Tynan and Emma Bell, the ENO have four principals who can handle every delicate nuance of their music, every lovely phrase and fancy frill, and who also act their socks off. It seems almost mean of Katie Mitchell to have surrounded them with endless fussy distractions on stage, rather than setting things up and then having the confidence in her concept and in the piece itself to let these great acting singers - and the orchestra, in excellent form as usual – just take it from there.

It was also unwise, I felt, to make so much of a figure of fun out of Electra; being the unwanted one in a love triangle is hell, as I can vouch - it is not funny at all. Hell for the participant, and boring for their friends, but funny? - no. Besides, it means you have the comic relief committing suicide at the end, and that's a big jump for the audience to make.

On a different note, I'm really sorry to learn that Nicholas Mahut lost – finally – his protracted battle with the Human Barn Door Isner at Wimbledon. It seems bizarre that I watched the first part of this match on Tuesday after work, and they have only just finished playing now. But to me it looked, at least on Tuesday, as if the underlying battle was that old cliché, David and Goliath, aka brains versus brawn; and I’m afraid in that situation I am firmly on the side of brains. Call it intellectual snobbery. Besides, Mahut looks like an elf. Intellectual snobbery with a side-preference for elvish men, then...

Going home now, to reheat the rest of that curry, and get back to my drawing.

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