Into the Little Hill / Down by the Greenwood Side - Royal Opera House, 14 February 2009
***now updated with review links - scroll down***
Oh yus! Just one week after a snow-bound Die Tote Stadt was cancelled, disaster shunted another Covent Garden performance off stage. But this time, thanks to the iron will and smart thinking of composer/conductor George Benjamin, this Show Went On.
First up was a glitch-free performance of Birtwistle’s brief Down by the Greenwood Side, a burst of twisted musical and physical aggression that's long on the spoken word, short on musical incident, more like soundtracked theatre than opera. In John Fulljames's vagrant Punch and Judy show the violence was elevated to ritual status. Excellent performances from actors, singer (Claire Booth) and the London Sinfonietta.
Ten minutes into the London premiere of Benjamin's own Into the Little Hill, the Linbury lighting fizzled away into blackness, followed swiftly by the music. A 'technical problem' which they hoped to fix 'soon' was announced. After a long, long wait in the gloom, punctuated by increasingly resigned updates, we were finally released into the fully lit Linbury bar to enjoy a drink on the house and await further instruction.
People started melting away. The CCTV screen showed a still-dark stage. The singers, Claire Booth and Susan Bickley, joined us. Not promising. But George Benjamin had an idea. The oldest one in the book maybe, but don't knock it, it works. If you can't get the audience in to the show, bring the show to the audience.
And thus it came to pass, at 10.30, more than an hour after the performance should have ended, it began -- in the bar of the Linbury Studio. A hefty chunk of the audience had already disappeared. No problem, more space for the rest of us. We took our seats on the floor, on the steps and around the scattered tables. George Benjamin shoehorned the London Sinfonietta into a semicircle, with the two singers leaning against the bar behind.
................ but wut happened next .................?