<< -- 3 -- Robert Hugill FRENETIC PACE
The plot rather disintegrates in Act 3, a series of encounters between the masked protagonists. Only at the end, when the masks come off, are things resolved and Leander and Leonore are united. Colonel Mors closes the masquerade complete with a coffin into which all the masks are buried along with Mors himself, only to be reborn as a young woman. But the majority of the act is given over to dance, for the chorus and for the dancers. Doors feature heavily here, which facilitates Pountney's continued frenetic pace of the action.
The dances include a dance of the Vanities; here Pountney and choreographer Renato Zanella include Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and a body builder amongst the archetypes, the sort of cleverness which did not really sit well with Nielsen's light-hearted opera.
And that was my problem with the production. Nielsen's comedy of character was subsumed in the frenetic, farcical pace of the production, the surreal visual elements and the rather puerile sexual double-entendres in Pountney's own rhyming English version of the libretto. Somewhere under all this cleverness, Nielsen's opera got a bit lost.
Emma Bell as Leonora and Michael Schade as Leander. Photo © 2005 Bill Cooper
Still, it was a visual feast and musically the evening was superb. All the cast were ideal, and Schade and Bell as the young lovers were ravishing. Ketelsen is quite a find and was entrancing as the Figaro like servant, reminding me of a young Thomas Hampson; I do hope we can hear more of him. Michael Schonwandt drew fine playing from the Royal Opera House orchestra and we were able to appreciate the joys of Nielsen's score, where the familiar Nielsen of the symphonies is mixed up with the less familiar (to us) Nielsen of the popular songs and dances.
As for Nielsen's opera, I hope to hear it again in a smaller scale production; one which embraces its character rather than one which tries far too hard to be clever and funny.