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Philip FEENEY (b.1954)
Victoria – ballet in two Acts [115:00]
Choreography, Direction and Scenario by Cathy Marston
Victoria: Abigail Prudames, Albert: Joseph Taylor, Older Princess Beatrice: Pippa Moore, Young Princess Beatrice: Miki Akuta, John Brown: Mlindi Kulashe, Liko: Sean Bates, Benjamin Disraeli: Filippo Di Vilio, Lord Melbourne: Riku Ito, William Gladstone & Uncle Leopold: Gavin McCaig, Victoire: Minju Kang, Conroy: Matthew Topliss
Northern Ballet
Northern Ballet Sinfonia/Jonathan Lo
rec. 2019, Sadler’s Wells, London
Directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon
1080i High Definition Blu-ray disc
Audio formats: LPCM 24-bit stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
All regions
OPUS ARTE Blu-Ray OABD7264D [123 mins]

Among the treats for those of us who live in the South of England is the annual visit of the Leeds based Northern Ballet to Sadler’s Wells, an event eagerly anticipated. As a company, it is always innovative, with a commitment to its own commissions of full-length ballets. Victoria is fully in that tradition, with a strong story and fine music, by Philip Feeney, who is almost a house composer. By my calculation, Victoria is his eight full-length ballet for the company, after works such as Dracula, Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Streetcar named Desire and two very different versions of Cinderella (1993 and 2013). In additions, he has composed various shorter works, as well as more full-length ballets for the Milwaukee Ballet Company. The new production is at least his fourth with Cathy Marston’s choreography. The experience of collaboration with both choreographer and company is evident in the tight-knit work of the new production.

Queen Victoria is not, perhaps, the most obvious subject for a ballet, but the piece works through the well-constructed story devised by Cathy Marston and the dramaturg, Uzma Hameed.

The variety and length of her reign are dealt with through the clever device of beginning with the elderly Victoria bequeathing her substantial diaries to her youngest daughter, Beatrice, for editing. As we know, that editing led to substantial excisions, to the irritation of historians. The remainder of the opera is a series of flashbacks, not in chronological order, with the elder Beatrice continually present on stage, a shy, non-participant figure observing events that take place before her. Too young to have recalled her father Albert, she nevertheless witnesses the announcement that Victoria is now to be queen as well as her falling in love and first pregnancy. The older Beatrice is sensitively portrayed by Pippa Moore, in her final role before retirement. Abigail Prudames, as Victoria, is also onstage for all but about eight minutes. One small disadvantage of the non-linear story-telling is that the outline in the booklet is a indispensable aid; after all, a lithe dancer will not immediately be recognisable as the sombre Gladstone. Feeney does not work through Wagnerian motifs, though he makes use of the piano for the more romantic scenes with Prince Albert.

One of Feeney’s gifts is the ability to create mood with a few simple measures, a gift very apparent in his earlier score for Dracula (Naxos 8.553964), recorded in 1996. Here, as there, telling use is made of tubular bells at key moments. Subtle use is made of pre-recorded tape of electronic music. Overall, the idiom is tonal and tuneful. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia is a chamber-sized orchestra (its usual string configuration is 5-3-2-2-1, with one each of the other instruments), but Feeney makes effective and attractive use of that spareness. The musical language is nowhere pastiche of Victorian music, but recognisably of our own times.
Production values are high. Camerawork is subtle, blue-ray quality fine indeed, and the music well realised despite the odd live-performance wobble. The eight minutes of extras include a useful illustrated interview with Cathy Marston.

Michael Wilkinson

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