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Grimmest Beauty: The Juniper Tree

by on 30 March 2017

The Juniper Tree

by Philip Glass and Robert Moran, libretto Arthur Yorinks

UK Premiere

Helen Astrid at The Hammond Theatre 30th and 31st March

Mini-review by Thomas Forsythe

“My mother she killed me, my father he ate me, my little sister gathered my bones”.  These words of The Son are almost a synopsis of The Juniper Tree, which brings together Philip Glass and the Brothers Grimm in a powerfully potent mix.  The UK Premiere of this two-act opera opened tonight for the briefest of runs: two performances only.

This is a mesmerisingly memorable production, a must for opera fan, fairy tale aficionado, and drama enthusiast alike.

The music is a collaboration between Philip Glass and Robert Moran.   Although they initially composed separately, their creations interweave into a beautifully figured integrated whole; the insistent contrapuntal development of Glass with the soaring lyricism of Moran.

The ticket price is worth it for any one of the principals, but special mention must be made of baritone James Corrigan as The Husband, whose rich resonance and touching characterisation make a solid foundation for the vocal success of the piece, and Angus Whitworth as The Son.  This boy treble is one to watch out for: his singing voice has a bell-like quality and his acting cleanly depicts the inevitability of The Son’s murder and of the transformative nature of his re-incarnation, firstly as a bird and eventually as a boy once more.

Outstanding though, is Canadian soprano, Mariya Krywanluk as The Step Mother.  She has an amazingly athletic singing voice, but her acting and facial and body language epitomise the archetypical wicked stepmother.  If looks could kill …  But kill The Step Mother does, decapitates The Son, dismembering him and boiling his flesh.  If that isn’t enough, she makes it into a stew and serves it up to the boy’s father.  Grimm fairy tales don’t get much grimmer than this!

Then in contrast The Son’s bones are transmuted into a beautiful bird which soars amid the uplifting lyrical music.  Here the design is superb, with clever use of black-light sequences from Lighting Designer Daniel Dar-Nell against Laura Jane Stanfield’s evocative set. But the realistic flight of the bird is due to extraordinary movement choreography, uncredited.

Director, Donna Stirrup and Conductor, Andy Langley have compiled the most beautiful of offerings for a spring opera and one that demands to be seen again and again.

Thomas Forsythe

March 2017


From → Opera, Reviews

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