Classical and Opera Reviews

Transition Projects @ Kings Place, London

11-12 December 2009


The link between music and film is nothing new. Pioneers of early cinema commissioned scores from some of the most distinguished composers of the day.

But working the other way round accompanying moving images to pre-existing musical works is much more of an experimental and risky business.

In this Transition Projects, and their artistic director Netia Jones, were partly successful.

Working with conductor Ryan Wigglesworth and soprano Claire Booth, the mixed media outfit presented a series of concerts from 9 to 12 December under the title Darkness and Light’ which sought to explore the visual aspects of baroque and twentieth century music.

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is already a theatrical piece, exploring the hopes, fears, desires and neuroses of the commedia dell’arte clown. The black and white video and film backdrop on a large screen above the stage closely followed the text by French poet Albert Girauds. In particular, it highlighted the comic and ironic aspects of Pierrot’s predicaments. This worked especially well in the more surreal of the twenty-one short scenes, such as Beheading’, where Dr Cassander’s head was kicked around like a football, and The Moonfleck’, in which a spot of light bedevilled soprano Claire Booth, singing the title role.

Booth was on very fine form as the moonstruck Pierrot, although the necessity of singing from an open score did undermine the theatrical spontaneity of her performance. She was very ably supported by Ryan Wigglesworth and his small ensemble. Their playing had just the right balance of anarchic modernism and neo-Romantic nostalgia.

Scarlatti’s chamber cantata Correa nel Seno Amato worked rather less well as a visual experience. While the black and white video presentation helpfully included the cantata’s libretto, it did little more than display some attractive rustic scenes. More annoying, was the appearance of a so-called dancer, whose role was restricted to rolling around, bending double and lying prostrate on the stage. Presumably this was supposed to represent the feelings of the lovelorn shepherd whose woes form the main narrative of the text. Surely it would have been better to leave him out altogether and to allow the audience to focus on the music.

Claire Booth again gave a ravishing performance, singing the part of the Goddess of Love who relates the tribulations of the young shepherd. Her florid delivery was almost unrecognisable from the previous day’s expressionistic Pierrot Lunaire. She was again fortunate in having expert support from Laurence Cummings, who directed from the harpsichord. Cummings led a small band of two violins, cello and three theorbos. They skilfully worked their way through Scarlatti’s virtuosic writing, bringing real warmth and beauty to the performance. Indeed, one could quite happily have listened to this beautiful music with eyes firmly closed.



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