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British Youth Opera, Benjamin Britten, Owen Wingrave - Peacock Theatre


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Very occasionally, I watch opera, and this very much depends on the topic or story of the piece. Luckily, I looked at the Sadler’s Wells web site in July, searching for a programme that would help me get through the summer break. This is when I discovered Britten’s Owen Wingrave at the Peacock Theatre, which I saw last night, and also for the first time.

The set and the props are a clever example that something uncomplicated can be very effective and powerful - a black backcloth remains in place throughout the opera and shows an infinite number of lines of names in white font, reminiscent of war memorials; numerous replica rifles hang from the ceiling for a good part of the performance; a group of boys ride on hobby horses to simulate a military parade in Act 1.

The set and props, together with the clear storyline and the performances, created a very powerful atmosphere that drew me in completely. I don’t watch opera often enough to be comfortable without surtitles however last night, with the exception of Owen Wingrave’s peace aria in Act 2, this was less of an issue than I feared initially. The isolation of Owen Wingrave and the oppressive atmosphere at Paramore was incredibly distinct and discomforting. Owen Wingrave’s death in the haunted room of the house, with the group of boys throwing hundreds and hundreds of pedals of red poppies on the floor around his corpse, left me rather emotional.

I most enjoyed Dominic Sedgwick in the title role and James Liu as the narrator, the latter providing a very moving account of the death of a young member of the Wingrave family at the hand of his father centuries ago.

There are further performances of the opera on 6 and 9 September, and excerpts will be performed on 10 September. With some spare seats towards the back of the stalls last night, tickets for the forthcoming performances should still be available.


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