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Rule Britannia?

GORDON RUMSON reports on
New Works Calgary, Friday 13 September 2002


It may be quite a few years until the rest of the world allows the inhabitants of the British Isles to forget that they once ruled a giant empire. Kenneth Doren, the multimedia creator of Rule Britannia -- 'A Low Opera in Grand Shite Style' has no such intention. Drawing on texts as diverse as the Sex Pistols, Winston Churchill, William Blake and varied slang expressions, two pianists deliver accompaniment, while a prerecorded singer tackles the texts via video monitors mounted atop the grand pianos. What's Doren after? In the programme notes he writes: 'This "Low Opera" questions current and historical issues while interpreting social codes and philosophies. It's about the personal quest for greatness as well as the poetical beauty of falling from grace.' Further, the opera's characters were created to trace 'the British rise to glory and the events that symbolized the erosion of power'.

Programme cover for 'Rule Britannia and Piano Duo Works'
Programme cover for 'Rule Britannia and Piano Duo Works'

A great deal of effort and creativity was involved in this project. The mezzo soprano alone, Patrice Jegou, deserves praise for the varied musics required. But, the librettist Carl Ayling and the composer/conceptualist Kenneth Doren seem to have made two strategic errors. First, the word f*** (or some such) heard once is a shock. With each further repetition the shock wears off and we just get used to the swear words. The expletives do not make up for a lack of interesting content.

Second, and here I may betray my age, but I rather think 'Punk' has been done. It was done thirty years ago. When I see some poor teenager walking around with metal studs, jumbo military boots, chains, spiked hair and metal through the lips, I just want to scream 'You grandad, dressed like that! Get some style of your own!'

So too here. Punk has been done. The manner of this presentation is as retro as Austin Powers, though not cast quite as far back in time. In fact, even the bedraggled British housewife look was done by Monty Python and I don't even want to think how old that is. People, people, people! Please find a character of your own! Not some hand-me-down from a generation and a half ago. The effect is not of an unveiling of the process of Empire, but of a foul-mouthed, alcohol sodden, drug fried, sex junky parading around a slimy bar.

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Copyright © 11 October 2002 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


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