Review: Monteverdi’s Flying Circus, Bury St Edmunds Festival, Theatre Royal, Friday May 27

Monteverdi’s Flying Circus, Bury St Edmunds Festival, Theatre Royal, Friday May 27

With a somewhat gratuitous title of inevitable resonance for those of us of a certain vintage, I’m not sure what the (notably well dressed) opera-loving audience who turned up at the Theatre Royal on Friday were expecting. What they got was a rather curious mixture of elements which (based on overheard comments) a number in the audience, like me, found rather disappointing.

The intention is clear – bring together a selection of musical extracts from Monteverdi’s three operas, hang them onto a tale based on the final years of the composer, and add some dance, circus skills and other theatrical devices to create an entertaining whole. But, despite the often beautiful music and some good individual performances, for me the evening as a whole lacked substance and coherence.

The rather convoluted story, a mixture of realism, fantasy and dreams, meant that careful reading of the extensive synopsis in the programme notes was a must. With acting which varied from naturalistic to extremely stylised, the characters, for me, never really came alive. Some of the singing was in Italian and some in English – for which there seemed to be no particular rationale – and the English libretto often struck me as rather banal; what the programme described as writer Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s ‘inimitable wit’ seemed often to consist of the use of vulgarity to get a cheap laugh.

Well, maybe I just didn’t get it, but even if this attempt to popularise Monteverdi didn’t exactly hit the spot for me, it did contain some lovely singing, accompanied by highly skilled instrumentalists.

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Wynn Rees

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