Some composers have grasped the nettle and written operas derived from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Greater ones – Verdi and Britten – have thought about it, and baulked at the prospect.
English Touring Opera is presenting the latest attempt at it, Alexander Goehr’s Promised End, the libretto extracted from Shakespeare’s text by Goehr himself and the late Frank Kermode, and its programme-book has all kinds of material backing up the idea.
Unfortunately this careful accumulation of context is not matched in the way the opera begins. Things are going on, the orchestra clustered backstage right, the singers huddling in front of them like waiting commuters, the simple central raised area the location for some action that is unfolding – but it takes a long time to get into the gist of it.
It is only thanks to the clarity of diction from the singers, Roderick Earle’s Lear and Nigel Robson’s Gloucester in particular, that the action moves forward at all. These are bitty little scenes, imaginatively staged by director James Conway but there is no orchestral progression.
For all that the orchestral sonorities and textures are keenly imagined, the score seems more illustrative than illuminating – just the kind of thing that went down a storm in the 1960s.
Nevertheless, the presentation was brilliantly achieved, and conductor Ryan Wigglesworth did a fantastic job holding the ensemble together.
I suspect everything was miked in this cavernous auditorium. The opera had been kicked out of the more appropriate Festival Theatre by Ayckbourne’s Bedroom Farce. I make no comment.