of part of the legend of Troy follows the Homeric characters through
their love, loyalties and vengeance. The plot leads us to the
final slaughter of King Priam at the altar of his burning city.
The opera also chimes in with Tippett’s pacifist feelings, speaking
of the inevitability and futility of war.
Despite the grand
themes, this ‘Opera Feature Film’ is micro-set in more ways than
one. David Fielding’s sets are stylised and minimal. The spaces
the characters inhabit are small – rooms, or tents, and Spartan
in their decor, with white initially as the primary background,
becoming increasingly smoke-blackened as the struggle progresses.
There is a timeless feel to the main characters, but with corrugated
iron and white, neon-lit corridors. There are also the shiny 1980s
suits of Paris and the male wedding guests, with military greatcoats
and ant-stab armour later on. This is clearly a story intended
for today, as well as being the stuff of legend.
the characters contained in a chamber-musical setting, the orchestra
also seems to have been wedged into a miniature pit, which suits
the action but makes for detailed but relatively unspectacular
sound. Nicholas Hytner production places in the foreground the
ideas and the power of the characters. The singers who give
narration and commentary sometimes look at you directly from
your TV screen, which can be quite unsettling, and increases
the sense of involvement.
Rodney Macann heads a strong cast, giving a compelling performance
as Priam. With such close-up camera-work the acting ability of
each singer is exposed, and it often has the feel of a grand opera
being carried out on your living-room carpet. Sarah Walker gives
a moving portrayal of Hector’s wife, Andromache. Howard Haskin
is Priam’s rebellious and convincingly youthful son Paris, who
elopes with Helen, wife of the Greek King of Sparta, starting
the great Trojan War as a consequence. Christopher Gillett also
deserves mention as an expressive, pure sounding Hermes.
There are few enough
recordings of King Priam around, so this DVD is something
of a must for Tippett collectors. As a performance and recording
there is the even earlier 1980 recording with David Atherton and
the excellent London Sinfonietta, who certainly have the edge
as regards orchestral playing. This Chandos CD release also has
the magic of Heather Harper, whose feeling for Tippett’s idiom
has rarely been bettered. As far as recorded sound goes it does
the business as well if not better than the unavoidably cramped-sounding
Kent Opera Orchestra. While this filmed production strives for
a modern/classic look, there are a few giveaways which date it
somewhat. A few of the suits look as if they might have been borrowed
from Star Trek - The Next Generation. Small caveats aside,
this is a powerfully sung performance, and while the atmosphere
of a good stage performance is hard to beat, this TV film version
still has a great deal going for it after 13 years. Just over
fifty years on from its inception this remains one of Tippett’s
most challenging scores. The drama is strained through a highly
rarefied filter of abstract restraint which is tellingly modern
even now. The music speaks with a directness which allows the
characters and the all-important narrative to flow without static
lingering, and it is these characteristics which are given free
rein in this film.