Review: King Priam, English Touring Opera, Snape Maltings, March 29

King Priam, ETO, picture by Richard Hubert Smith

King Priam, ETO, picture by Richard Hubert Smith - Credit: Archant

Coventry, May 1962 witnessed the premieres of two outstanding works by two leading composers of the era. Britten’s War Requiem, commissioned for the consecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral was, amongst other things, a public statement of the composer’s abhorrence of war. King Priam, Tippett’s second opera, although set in the Trojan War, is primarily concerned with the choices, trials and sufferings of individuals caught in the conflict. King Priam and Queen Hecuba receive the chilling prophecy that their young son, Paris will cause Priam’s death. The parents opt to have the child killed but their orders are not carried out and the prediction is fulfilled.

English Touring Opera’s production at Snape began with an arresting brass fanfare, establishing the military setting and the orchestral playing was dynamic and incisive throughout. Andrew Slater was compelling and sombre as he outlined the tragic future , Roderick Earle captured Priam’s divided loyalties – ‘A Father and a King’ with excellent emotional range and Laure Meloy was a steely Hecuba. Grant Doyle was excellent as the flamboyant elder son Hector and Charne Rochford as Achilles made the most of his war cry at the end of Act 2 as well as finding a wistful vein in his aria with Patroclus.

A central feature of the story is the elopement of Paris with Helen, wife of King Menelaus. Indulgent and ‘wrong’ as their passion may be, the opera poses the fair question ‘why make us feel this way if we are not to respond?’ Niamh Kelly’s Helen was cool yet seductive and Nicholas Sharratt invested Paris with impetuosity as well as ardent love. Camilla Roberts as a warmly feminine Andromache, Clarissa Meek as the Nurse and Caryl Hughes as a young Paris all made their individual marks as did Piotr Lempa’s Patroclus and Adrian Dwyer’s Hermes. The chorus sang crisply and added an element of authority and gravitas. Conductor Michael Rosewell had the measure of the work and the orchestral playing crackled with intensity.

No-one pretends that Tippett is an easy listen. But he was a composer – and man – of exceptional intelligence and integrity and it was extremely encouraging that so many turned out to see this opera. The production has been shortlisted for an Olivier award and deservedly so. All that is needed now is for it to win. It is a superb achievement and those who saw it will surely agree.

Gareth Jones.

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