Modern opera often deters me but Julietta makes for a surprisingly enjoyable evening. Designer Antony McDonald has created an enchanting set with a glorious moving accordion which the performers use as a climbing frame for the action.
The story is based on Surrealist play ‘Juliette’ by Georges Neveux. It is a strange but oddly effective narrative… Michel, a Parisian bookseller discovers a small coastal town and slowly becomes aware that the inhabitants have no memory. The world of the present envelops him and he gradually loses his sanity as he realises his own reality is empty and dull. It is his powerful love for Julietta that persuades him to stay in this bizarre dreamland.
The show took a while to warm up… initially the madness feels incongruous with the confident orchestra and beautiful set, the acting just isn’t convincing enough. But as the evening progressed, I felt more absorbed by the crazy surrealist world. Act 2 is particularly captivating as the young couple meet in a nearby forest. While the love scene commences, musicians wander in the background playing instruments nonchalantly. The cast are tight and together… often I get the feeling casts do not enjoy performing more contemporary operatic work, but Julietta seems to spark the ENO chorus. Peter Hoare is exceptional as the lead, Michel Lepic, he sings with clarity of tone and with an affecting passion. I found Julia Sporsen unnerving and scary and her voice soars through the auditorium. Andrew Shore and Henry Waddington impress in the lesser roles.
The orchestra headed up by Edward Gardner seems very comfortable with the quirky modern Martinu score. Despite the obvious dissonances, the music does not lack melody and at times is startlingly beautiful, the ENO orchestra does a commendable job demonstrating its strengths.
Another example of the ENO company producing work that is innovative and creative without losing universal appeal.
Continues until 3 October, book here.