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By contrast the women -- Euryanthe in pure (and in Act III, helped by Jennifer Tipton's lighting, sullied) white, Lauren Flanagan's spidery Eglantine (not, I felt, as well sung or convincingly acted as some opined) in aggressive, spidery black, each lend the scene some 'colour', or at least, definition. Much of Macfarlane's splendid, consciously solid, dourly pastel sets -- a series of beige-grey-brown spikes (spiky trees, spiky spears, spiky knives, shaped and coloured like soily icicles), beige chairs, beige tables, beige rooms, plus thick walls, heavy objects, sturdy bodies) -- maintained, powerfully, this forbidding feel; big blocks, like the brains of the apparently mindless, almost Neanderthal militaristic society that peoples them; so does Macfarlane's one splurge of backdrop colour : a starry dark blue sky with what seems to be a weeping, or at least dewy-eyed, moon.

This grieving moon-face is no casual decoration. It is a face with a function, for possibly Jones and MacFarlane's most striking coinceit of this riveting evening was the tomb of 'Emma' -- Adolar's suicide sister, presumably a teenager like Euryanthe : a massive 'shape' of alabastrine white block, in the shape of an elephantine 'beached' human face. Not only is Macfarlane's moon-face, wanly gazing down, a mirror of this, wrenched from the massively three-dimensional into an almost Jugenstil two-dimensional vertical. It has the crucial effect of putting the Emma story -- purportedly the central problem in Helmina von Chezy's linguistically challenged libretto -- right at the heart of the opera.

Anne Schwanewilms as Euryanthe with Lauren Flanagan (above) as the evil Eglantine in the Richard Jones - Mark Elder Glyndebourne 'Euryanthe'. Photo: Mike Hoban
Anne Schwanewilms as Euryanthe with Lauren Flanagan (above) as the evil Eglantine in the Richard Jones - Mark Elder Glyndebourne 'Euryanthe'. Photo: Mike Hoban

Euryanthe, Eglantine and later, even Lysiart climb all over this ominous block, visually immersing themselves, almost caking themselves, in it. A brilliant stroke; for the problem (pace received opinion) is categorically not the Emma saga's ineptness (how easily Wagner might have served up something similar; in a sense The Flying Dutchman unlocks something similar); or its gratuity (it isn't, it's central); rather, the Emma explanation is psychologically astute. But the way it is often seen as something to be played down often renders it, in production, superfluous, tiresome, and embarrassing.

Weber, however, goes for it hell-for-leather, allocating some of his most evocative music to this scene: it's not as if he thought it weak.

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Copyright © 28 July 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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