Saturday, 3 August 2013

Battles Within And Without, Re:Sound

With the Tete-a-Tete and Grimeborn Festivals in London and the variety of the fringe from Camden to Edinburgh, there is a great deal of operatic experimentation on offer in the next few weeks. Manchester-originated music theatre company Re:Sound have got ahead of the 'season' with an intriguing show staging baroque and 20th century choral music.

Battles Within And Without moves its psychological, emotional and reported conflict into the demonstrable open, staging music principally designed for concert performance. The drama and narrative of Judith Weir's Missa del Cid and Monteverdi's Madrigali Guerriri e Amoroso (with the additional Si Dolce) are nothing without the dramatic gesture, even in bare performance and this was the purpose of the show.

By way of acclimatisation, the company first performed contemporaneous choral works in a conventional concert manner. Gesualdo's motets from the Responsories got a treatment that was rather more concerned with the colour and chiaroscuro of the music (and the dying light outside) than the oleaginous, sexual underbelly of its progressive harmony, in keeping with its liturgical texts and the church (St Magnus the Martyr) hosting the performance.

James Macmillan's Bring us O Lord God and Herbet Howells' Take him, Earth, for cherishing were excellent programming choices alongside the Gesualdo, of a consistent harmonic mobility.

The staged works, the second half of the evening, received a comprehensive work-over, within the means and imagination of the company. Those not singing in any given Monteverdi madrigal might be accompanying the performance on instruments from the (expected) harpsichord to the (unexpected) accordion. The staging - interspersed with abstracted audio-visual screening, and punctuated with carefully manipulated lighting - moved from literal role-assumption to more responsive choreography. Particularly impressive was the ensemble singing in music that is often inherently fluid, quasi-parlando (the performance is given without conductor).

Judith Weir's Missa del Cid, as the starting point of the project, incorporated the entire company again. Taking it in turns to narrate between the more formal mass sections, the group continued to use the minimal stage furniture of boxes, introduced during the Monteverdi, adding scrims and veils of scarlet material. I felt that this was the most effective sequence of the evening, essentially because of the more settled harmonic basis of the music, allowing the performers greater ensemble security from which to hazard expression and allow the drama out. The evening I attended was also attended by the composer; I can only imagine that she would be satisfied by treatment and performance alike.

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