<< -- 3 -- Roderic Dunnett POWER OF UNDERSTATEMENT
Birtwistle's music is scored for just oboist, clarinettist, percussionist
and keyboard player (joint music directors Nikola Kodjabashia and Kawai
Shiu double in the last two roles, making four percussionists in all). For
all the permutations that produced, the music seemed slightly apologetic.
Yet Birtwistle timed all the key moments right -- witness the oboe-led 'Sweet
river of Spring' chorus, syncopated clip-clops, or black whisperings (almost
like a tuba) beneath the Messenger speech. Hall uses not only 'prosopa'
-- masks (as he has elsewhere in Greek Tragedy) -- but the same three actors,
doubling all the principal roles in the Greek manner. Thus the bewitching
Greg Hicks -- Peter Hall's erstwhile Orestes, Tiresias (in Sophocles) and,
most recently, Tantalus -- 'trebles' as the vengeful God, the blind seer
Tiresias (the one comic scene, cavorting with David Ryall's bedecked, cavorting
Cadmus) and -- perhaps most impressively of all -- the Messenger who reports
the offstage horrors, teasing out his tale to ominous woodwind in thirds,
and engaging specific mannerisms for each character like eerie Leitmotifs.
This Dionysus wavers and quivers like a sensual reed; no wonder young Pentheus
As news seeps back of the Maenad women's bloody doings, Pentheus (his
name in Greek means, more or less, 'grief'), his interest not blunted but
fired, succumbs to his buried lustful yearnings (rank disorder has now replaced
his order fetish) before the chorus, now triumphant, launches into Euripides'
great chorus 'Ito dika phaneros' -- 'Go, Justice, forth!' Colin Teevan's
translation produces some memorable images ('The world seemed like a bloody
abbatoir'; 'like some psychotic army') which rarely cheat on Euripides.
Does Birtwistle produce as memorable musical imagery to match
Pentheus's long solitary march up Alison Chitty's accursed (or healing,
depending on your view) walkway, or for the explosion and catclysm that
splinters the palace? Well no, actually -- but then Hall himself misses one
key opportunity, having Dionysus emerge not from the opened chasm of his
splintered prison, but lamely (for a second time) through the audience.
Copyright © 7 June 2002
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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