Live from Covent Garden – 13th June at the Royal Opera House online
Opening the first live performance at the House since its closure on 17th March, Louise Alder and Antonio Pappano achieved a moving interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s On This Island, an arrangement of W. H. Auden’s poems. The backdrop of an empty auditorium struck an inevitably haunting note, throwing the strength of Alder’s vocal into relief but also triggering a number of questions as to the material re-entry of the performing arts into the public sphere. What followed was a timely reminder of the calibre of the companies of the Royal Opera and Ballet, musicians, vocalists and dancers alike, inhabiting a space not free of contradiction – much of which pre-dated the current crises.
The programme continued with a number of striking vocal performances – Toby Spence and Gerald Finley imbued pieces by George Butterworth, Mark-Anthony Turnage and further Britten with an energy that the accompanying texts would struggle to support standing alone, while closing pieces by Handel and Bizet managed to mediate the noteworthy Englishness of the first half. A ballet interlude – so termed, but a standout piece in its own right – choreographed by the Royal Ballet’s Wayne McGregor served as a highlight, with Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales making thoughtful use of an abundance of space set to a very minimal backdrop and accompaniment.
In considering the complete effect of this live emission, it would be disingenuous not to note the weighty problematics of a repeated emphasis on the “existential threat to the performing arts” and its juxtaposition with the present company using the gesture of kneeling – and it is a gesture – to mark the murder of George Floyd. The Royal Opera House acknowledges that it has its work cut out in addressing what could be called, in simple terms, a persistent elitism inherent to its existence. And this review should end both by commending the technical skill of its artists, and by questioning whether an attempt to entertain or to uplift, framed in these terms, might serve also – perhaps unintentionally – to distract.
Image: Louise Alder
Live from Covent Garden – 13th June is available to view on Vimeo or on the Royal Opera House’s YouTube channel from 13th June until 27th June 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.