Review: WNO - Peter Pan @ WMC
It's a baffling experience, as you can't really take him that seriously, he remains a sort of current British Satie (check out his imagined biography on his website). His music is a queasy mix of experimentation and essentially traditional British music: singsongs, vaudeville and folk. Even for a contemporary composer, his music is just plain odd.
Eccentric would be an understatement.
But here, he is at his best. Peter Pan is exceptionally boisterous, laden with charm and brimming with inventive tendencies. His orchestration remains startling, beguiling, lewd and crude.
Some curiosities in the pit included a saw on wood, hammer and nails (to both mimic the building of a house), a wind machine, contrabass clarinet, a full drum kit and even an accordion. Who is better to transcribe this great children's classic into an opera, than Mr Ayres?
WNO have done a brilliant job in attracting children to the show. With £1 tickets for under 16s* and a day of fun and activities before the show, it warmed my heart to know that a heap of kiddies would be seeing an opera for the first time (the mother sat next to me admitting it was also her first time as well). Yes, they may have rustled and made some noise, but the atmosphere in the theatre was unlike any other opera audience.
With an uncompromising libretto by Lavinia Greenlaw, the story has been handled respectfully and given life of its own. This familiar tale of Neverland, Lost Boys and pirates, crocodiles, clocks and bizarre dog babysitters, still lingers with dark undertones. The themes of bereavement, mortality and corruption simmer underneath the work, the struggles of writer J. M. Barrie's catharsis, evident as always.
Keith Warner's direction, grandiose sets (a tram, train track, crocodile and more) by Jason Southgate (and his posse of designers), Nicky Shaw lavish costumes all added great flare for a production whose backstage crew deserve medals. Yes, there is flying in the show, as you would expect. It's handled well, but nothing much more, apart from the moment Wendy is shot of the sky with an arrow, as she plummets to the ground.
The orchestra in their delivery of the music remained as flawless as ever (the truest stars of the show). The chorus as the Lost Boys had some interesting material, if little else with which to work. As Pan, counter tenor Iestyn Morris had stubborn imp-like qualities, with a splash of the new romantic. His pleading to Tinker Bell (a visual projection on the stage and also a cheap looking doll) to wake up after drinking poison, made him sound in his dry, camp voice a cross between Rik Mayall and Hugh Laurie. His encouragement to the musicians to make noise to wake her up, then leads to a brief moment of panto as he asks the audience to make noise. I whooped as best I could, as half the audience played alone.
In the other roles, Marie Arnet (who was of course Lulu) was a sensible creature, keeping her brothers in check and sincerely mothering the Lost Boys. An attempt of an aria about home in the score was pleasant, but none really memorable. As Captain Hook (also playing Mr Darling), Ashley Holland had a whale of a time. Clad in exquisite pirate garb, he stole the show as the fiendish and futile villain, with his crew singing a Gilbert & Sullivan homage sea shanty. Smee, sung by Marc Le Brocq was a barely noticeable supporting character, who should be fussing over Hook, with some comedic value.
As the dog Nana (and also Starkey), Aidan Smith looked a prat in the large black dog suite, only having to sing "woofs" and very little else. Hilary Summers' deep, engrossing voice as Mrs Darling and Tiger Lily (a very PC native American stance here) has gusto and reverence and she wasn't on stage long enough.
I've been judging if there is a middle ground here. Was it enough to please contemporary tastes? Did it actually entertain the children? But if a work can be loved by children and adults alike, it can only remain as a joyous thing.
Lost boys and girls of all ages should fly over to the Millennium Centre for this remarkable treat of music.
Rating: 5 stars
Peter Pan continues at the Wales Millennium Centre until Sunday 31st May, then on tour the Birmingham Hippodrome and Royal Opera House, London. A new production of Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande and a revival of Mozart's The Magic Flute are also part of WNOs summer season, A Terrible Innocence.
*Under 16s cost £1 for Peter Pan, accompanied by an adult.
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