29 September 2012

Julietta at the ENO

Julietta was bit of a whim.

I was looking through the ENO programme and ended up booking four operas. Julietta was included simply because it is by a Czech composer, Martinu, and the synopsis included the word "surrealist".

Without the constraint of friends' budgets this time I went for a seat in the front row of the Upper Circle which set me back around £65. I could have gone for something cheaper but that always carries the risk of getting somebody tall and/or awkward in front of me. It's worth paying the extra for peace of mind.

Julietta is surreal as promised.

A travelling salesman returns to a seaside town where he briefly met a girl, Julietta, only to discover that nobody in the town has any memories and they live like goldfish endless repeating their daily routines.

A story, or sorts, develops from this but it is too strange to provide any sort of narrative thread. Even the simple concept of time cannot be trusted. This comes to a head when the salesman heads in to the woods to find Julietta only to be confronted by other images of himself on the same quest.

There are other nice moments that play on the lack of continuity or history. In one another traveller sells fake histories and tells an old couple about the time that they first met, they, of course, cannot remember this themselves.

The music plays along with the theme, guiding and nudging the action almost unnoticed. This is like film music in that it tells you how to feel almost subliminally. There are no great tunes to hang on to but it is not that sort of music and they are not needed.

The highpoint of the production is the suitably surreal staging. We have this accordion that slides across the stage and, later on, the large typewriter that features in the poster.

The ending is as confused as the rest of it. I've since read the  synopsis on Wikipedia and I am not sure that helps. Suffice to say it is not happy and you never expect it to be.

The mood is slow and measured throughout. This is shown in the way the characters move, the dull colours they wear, the equally slow movement and dull colours in the set, and the subtle music.

And it is this mood that defines the opera, rather than the individual aspects of the story or the music. We are sleepwalking through somebody else's dream and we awake refreshed but unsure of what we have just witnessed.

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