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Review: The Masque of Might at The Lowry is ‘full of Baroque delight’

Step into the surreal world of Sir David Pountney's eco-opera, Masque of Might, as Opera North resurrects Baroque brilliance at the Lowry, intertwining 17th-century melodies with a modern-day climate crisis narrative.

Famed Opera Director, Sir David Pountney brings Baroque back to the Lowry with his wit-infused eco-opera, Masque of Might, featuring music from genius 17th century composer, Henry Purcell.

As part of Opera North’s Green season, this production, along with the two other performances scheduled over 3 nights, takes place on a repurposed set and features re-used costumes and props.

Opera North’s Green Season

It is an attempt by the famed, national opera company, based in Leeds, to present their performances in the most sustainable and environmentally conscious way possible, even going so far as to encourage audiences to travel to the Lowry by means of public transport.

We do, after all, live in an age where climate disaster looms, and self-serving politicians – more often than not – are the obstacle to any meaningful solution to the problem.

The Masque of Might

This is the central premise behind Masque of Might, where a despotic, climate-denying ruler named Diktat (Callum Thorpe) has brought the earth to the edge of oblivion by turning a blind eye to the climate catastrophe that threatens it.

From on high, two Celestial beings, Nebulous (Andri Björn Róbertsson) and Elena (Anna Dennis) survey the scene and lament the destruction taking place down below. Seeking to get involved: Nebulous heads down to earth, where he is branded a dissident by Diktat’s regime and killed, bringing nature even further out of balance on the ailing planet.

Stricken with grief

Elena heads down to earth, where she makes an alliance with Skeptic (Matthew Brook) and begins to formulate a plan to topple the dictator, diktat (see what they did there?) before it’s too late.

Mankind faces the fury of nature’s wrath before Diktat is finally defeated and the earth begins to heal.

It was at times a little surreal, to say the least…. This is, of course, all to the untrained eye – and ear – of a relatively uninitiated opera novice, who did feel that the choice of baroque, harpsichord-laden music to present a story as uniquely ‘21st century’ as climate change was a peculiar one. A ‘Masque’ is the 17th-century equivalent of a variety show, so as well as opera, it features dancing and occasional bouts of slapstick, which seemed a little incongruous with the weighty and serious message at its heart.

Telletubbies meets Blackadder The Third

Visually, it gives off a bizarre Teletubbies meets Blackadder the Third vibe, as cast members and dancers romp in regency-style garments performing elegant court dances alongside papier mache bees
and sunflowers.

The music, presented by composer, Henry Bicket is taken from a medley of Purcell’s compositions, including The Indian Queen, The Tempest, and The Fairy Queen.

Each of the cast members is fantastic as they do what they do best, belting out the dialogue – which gratefully is in English – that accompanies the music. Of note is Anna Dennis’ rendition of ‘O Let

Me Weep’ from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, which was a powerhouse demonstration of her vocal range.

All musical set-pieces are repurposed to fit the modern narrative and are accompanied on stage by a troupe of 24 chorus members and 4 dancers, choreographed by Denni Sayers.

They parade the stage in a plethora of colourful and well-designed costumes designed by Marie- Jeanne Lecca.

The scenery is environmentally sourced and effectively so, by set designer Leslie Travers, who, aided by David Haneke’s wonderful video design, conjures up scenes from locations as varied as opulent palaces, dismal dungeons, and lush forests.

Its runtime was a little overlong, and it was split rather unevenly into a short first part and a much lengthier post-intermission section that ran for almost an hour and a half.

It plodded along with all the pageantry and deliberate poise that one might imagine from a 17th-century court ball but was effective in expressing its central premise and important eco-message…even if it might have been more easily relayed with a little more modernity.

Masque of Might is the 2nd of 3 Operas at the Lowry over consecutive nights by Opera North, with Puccini’s La Rondine concluding the prestigious opera company’s green season on Friday 17th November.

The performance is sung in English with English subtitles and has a runtime of approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

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