“History is watching you, Nick Serota and Darren Henley…”. Before the curtain went up on Thursday evening, the Chief Executive of the National Opera of England, Stuart Murphy, gave a stern warning in a farewell blast to ENO’s funders in the Arts Council and the DCMS to protect the company for the future. One of the great ironies of the situation was that ENO, on the stage of the Coliseum, was doing exactly what the Arts Council wanted them to do, in that much-controversial term, “reimagining opera”: here, giving one of the most distinctive. concert works of contemporary music to the stage in an exciting staging by Isabella Bywater.
Polish composer Henryk Górecki wrote The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs as his Third Symphony in 1976, its slow-moving score completely unlike the rebarbative pieces Górecki had written up to that point. He first hit me powerfully on the radio in New York back in 1980, in his original Polish recording; Górecki made a rare visit to London in 1989 for a great weekend of his music, from which the atmospheric 1992 recording (certainly not the first, as ENO claimed, but the best), was born. soprano Dawn Upshaw, who became an international hit.
With its religious impulse and bare texts, related to the Holocaust, the Symphony was also a product of the minimalist era (also created by John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil and Arvo Pärt’s Passion of St John) that I feared it might be lost now. But as soon as the uncontrollable double bass began under the calm direction of Lidiya Yankovskaya, the music took its turn.
From a slow-burning start when the resourceful, unrestrained soprano Nicole Chevalier drags herself across the floor to a waiting chair, the rise and fall of Górecki’s methodical expressions is aptly reflected in her startling rise to the heights, anchored to the chair and then. tumbling with sorrow into the grave that remained below.
A shaft of light falls across the gray-framed triangular stage (well-integrated lighting and video by Jon Driscoll and Roberto Vitalini), as the second of the three parts begins, this text texts the captivating prayer to the mother of God from a girl in prison. by the Gestapo in the town of Zakopane. (This luminous nine-minute segment was the foundation of the symphony’s success, as it was concise and suitable for radio play.) We are allowed to know that the girl escaped and lived in the end, so there is a note a tiny bit of hope.
At the beginning of the third movement, the oscillating figures of the orchestra suggest that the gray walls hanging from the war are disturbing, hidden in the unknown (all the costumes were obtained from charity shops). They are finally consigned under a white sheet, and in one kitsch touch of the evening, the soprano sprays golden wings as she rises again.
Although a little out of time, this is an appropriate representation of Górecki’s emotional flow into the radiant major key at the end of the symphony. A triumph of uncertain hope, because we must trust ENO.
Until the 6th of May. Tickets: eno.org; 7845 9300