Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Eight Songs for a Mad King, Shadwell Opera


I still recall my first experience of Shadwell Opera, a performance of the Crimp-Benjamin Into The Little Hill at a community centre in Limehouse. The drug-taking in the neighbouring park had almost put me off but luckily not enough. The event was a fine, minimal-staging, maximum-quality, up-close operatic recital.

This performance of Peter Maxwell-Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King was equally close (and equally co-opted East London), making use a performing space on top of a disused warehouse by a Hackney canal. An architectural installation - the Potemkin Theatre, an Antepavilion prize installation, had just the right aesthetic for the project: tall and aspirational but temporary and, on closer inspection, folly.

Ben Nelson gave a regal performance of this demanding, extended-voice, all-in role. The ensemble played precisely for Chris Stark. Around the sounds of a hot, Indian summer weekend (complete with the dreg end sounds of the nearby Hackney Carnival) drifted across the space. I was reminded of the end of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex:

Gently, gently, his people drive him away. Farewell, farewell Oedipus —we loved you.