Xenakis: Oresteia; Linaia Agon New London Children's Choir & Spectrum directed by Guy Protheroe. Royal Opera House - Linbury Studio Theatre 21 January 2000
A mixed blessing the revamped Royal Opera House may be, but the Linbury Studio Theatre is an undoubted success. Situated downstairs in the new building, its credentials as an opera studio appear second to none. With something like a 400 seating capacity, the auditorium is large enough to sustain an atmosphere, without sacrificing the sense of immediacy that chamber opera needs. The concurrent Handel and Xenakis productions, The Myth of Orestes, neatly defines the areas - baroque/early classical and contemporary - that will be the theatre's remit. (PGW has reviewed Handel's Oreste in S&H.) Xenakis's 1966-87 treatment of the potent myth was typically uncompromising and, in Alain Germain's production, never less than entertaining.
Realising an authentically 'Ancient Greek' experience was not without precedent: think of Carl Orff's monumental trilogy of the 1950s and '60s. In contrast to these marmoreal epics, Xenakis's dramaturgy is concise in the extreme. Even with the addition of the Kassandra scene in the 1987 revision, the duration of Oresteia barely exceeds an hour; the internecine events of Aeschylus's trilogy reduced to the bare bones of cause and effect. In keeping with the spirit of the time, the omnipresent 'chorus' becomes central to the narrative, giving the drama a populist dimension that throws the claustrophobic relationships within the House of Atridae into sharp relief.
Xenakis's musical treatment, rich in wind and percussion, never tries for a spurious authenticity, but convincingly captures a sense of time and place. The influence of Byzantine traditional music and accented speech patterns certainly contribute to this, but above all it is the 'feel' of the proceedings, moving freely between the hieratic and the visceral, that makes the realisation a compulsive one. At the close, the Eumenides roamed freely among the audience, dispersing the aluminium strips, which were waved noisily in appreciation of Orestes's acquittal - signifying the victory of natural justice and Reason.
Xenakis's Linaia Agon made a mildly amusing curtain-raiser, the contest between Linos and Apollo eliciting some appropriate theatrics from the trombone and horn/tuba contestants. As a musical game, this lacked the audience involvement of Mozart's Musical Dice Game, K416c (a sort of lottery-meets-composition kit & lots of fun) although Peter Best injected a welcome deadpan humour as the Referee. The Myth of Orestes event was given in association with the English Bach Festival, whose founder, Lina Lalandi, is the dedicatee of Linaia Agon, and whose promotion of a wide range of music and culture over nearly four decades has put many in her debt.
[Orestieia was premièred in UK by Lina Lalandi's English Bach Festival in 1972 and was also featured at the Almeida Festival in the late '80s, leaving me with an indelible impression. It was recorded by Xenakis's publisher, Salabert, at the 1987 Strasbourg Festival, with Spiros Sakkas, the amazing Greek Kassandra who also appeared in London; Salabert SCD8906 - very strongly recommended. PGW]
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