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Emotional Degradation

Music Theatre Wales presents
Philippe Boesmans' 'Julie',
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Music Theatre Wales is the leading British company devoted to touring contemporary opera, and they have been quick off the mark in staging Julie, by Belgian composer Philippe Boesmans. It was premièred at La Monnaie, Brussels, where Boesmans is composer in residence, in March 2005 (recorded and released on CD -- Cypres CYP 4626). MTW's UK première production (seen at Buxton Opera House, Buxton, Derbyshire, UK, 19 July 2007), in Anna Herklotz's English translation, fully realises its powerful theatricality.

A more-or-less straightforward setting of Strindberg's 1888 play Miss Julie, it clamps three characters together in an emotional pressure-cooker of sexual and class tensions. The aristocratic Julie, on the rebound from a broken engagement and pushing at the social boundaries of her upbringing, has taken a fancy to Jean, her father the Count's valet. He is engaged to the cook, Christine, but Julie attempts to wrench him away from her, setting off a chain reaction of desire, memories and aspirations, leading to a tragic conclusion.

In the title role Arlene Rolph gives one of the most powerful operatic performances I've seen. She brilliantly conveys the neediness behind Julie's sexually-charged body language -- slinky movements, provocative tilts of the head -- and compellingly charts her slow descent into emotional degradation.

Andrew Rupp's Jean subtly suggests a man caught between an incipient tendency to bullying and readiness to invert the accepted social order, and subservience to the wishes of the Count (an off-stage presence throughout).

As Christine, Emma Gane does well to engage our interest in what could have been a somewhat colourless character, handling the role's often very high tessitura with flair.

All three sing Boesmans' flexible, mainly conversational vocal lines with assurance and admirably clear diction.

Director John McCarthy clearly charts the shifts of power simply by his placing of the characters on Simon Banham's minimally-furnished set, which is open to the rear with the orchestra placed behind. Jean and Christine wear functional, unremarkable clothes, making Julie's vivid red dress the only strong splash of colour. Ace McCarron's lighting faithfully points up the changes in dramatic tension.

Michael Rafferty conducts with a sure feel for Boesmans' intricate web of angular expressionistic writing, flowing lyricism and vivid orchestral colour.

MTW will be taking Julie on the road again in the autumn, including two performances at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio Theatre in November.

Copyright © 24 July 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK






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