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Katja Lehmann's staging and Ruth Paton's designs were both, especially for a première, a disaster, despite some appealing voices (Nell, the femme fatale - Carmen Gutteridge; and a rather attractive, varied Hopkins from Stephen Bowen). Here is a show that screams out for the directorial sharpness of a David Pountney, a Peter Sellars, a Richard Jones. This was a ragbag of tattered, tired, underexplored ideas. So far from 'the issues Brand's opera raises about technologically-mediated human relationships remaining as relevant as ever', one sensed nothing of lower layers at all; merely a visual fuzz. For the l990s, when the Guildhall and RNCM are setting such standards, this was unforgivable, and the production should never have been seen in Cambridge, let alone in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.

James Hancock as Bill, Nell's managerial co-conspirator, despite a fair voice, was sound but unappealing : for all their thrusting intelligence, Brand's duo are a ready-made societal disaster. A totally needless scene change brought pointless delay. Flickering Film Loops did create a kind of helpful period atmosphere, but lacked specific import. Indeed, there was no sense whatever of visual or dramatic pace. The embraces were junior school quality; the acting would have been far better at a prep school. Words were inaudible at the outset (Nell's long aria was the exception), despite Elizabeth Forbes's original translation, rather unappealingly 'updated' by Thomas E Elias. In fact (although this is forever debated) despite the English version, surtitles were here manifestly needed.

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Copyright © 27 January 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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