22 June 2013

The Juniper Passion - an expertly integrated performance

Occasionally I review books for publishers, but I don't review theatre or music. So this is not really a review, but simply my response written in a similar style to my book reviews. I offer my thoughts about The Juniper Passion, performed in the Teatro Romano, on the slopes of Monte Cassino, last night. The performance was the world premiere of this new and exciting modern opera.

The Juniper Passion
a dramatic opera in three acts.

Music by
John F Williams 
based on the libretto by
John G Davies

Cassino, Italy 21 June 2013

Tenor: Alessandro Luciano
Soprano: Stephanie Acraman
Soprano: Lilia Carpinelli
Soprano: Julia Booth
Bass-baritone: James Ioelu
Baritone: Joe Beckworth
Baritone: David Griffiths
Tenor: Amitai Pati.

The Juniper Passion Dance Company: Te Arahi Easton, Jared Hemopo, Eddie Elliott, Ben Temoku, Mather Moore, Grace Woollett, Rose Philpott, Sofia McIntyre.

Orchestra: Conservatorio "L. Refice", Frosinone, Italy under the direction of M° Marco Attura.

"To see ourselves in the light of what we share, rather than what we hold separate, is the purpose of this work" 
- John Davies (The Juniper Passion programme booklet, 2013*).

Balance and intergration are the words that come to mind when I think of this world premiere performance more than twelve hours after the event. Yet on some level that is far too meagre a description of the interweaving of the parts that make up this complex opera. Yes, the singing was superb, dramatic, and both potent and poignant.  I can't single out one singer over another, all were supreme. And yes, the dancers were skilled, agile, well rehearsed and slipped easily between staccato movements and twisting, turning, writhing moments of anguish as the story unfolded. But the music, bold, challenging and new, also pulled my attention from the stage at times as I enjoyed the mellow or the soft notes or the thunderous or the menacing aspects of the story as it was told by the orchestra.

Almost overlooked when there was much drama on the stage, but always there in the background, were the images projected onto the gently rippling screen as it moved in the evening breeze. These images subtly filled any gaps that the simple stage setting might have left. However, it was not until I read the programme today that I fully appreciated why certain images had been chosen.

I hadn't read the libretto by John Davies, although I had read all that I could find about The Juniper Passion before going to the historic performance. Intrigued by the description of both dance and opera combined with what one might call a "spectacular event" setting, friends who don't normally attend opera joined me and were delighted that they came. They particularly liked the dance. This observation was interesting for me, because they are not from NZ nor even Italy, and during the performance I wondered if other nations would relate to the wonderful, distinctly New Zealand dance performances. Particular parts of the dance were, on reflection, highlights for me.

The story was powerful, and perhaps at times even contentious. The final act was dramatic, and disturbingly memorable. It is hard to be comfortable with history some times.

Non Italian-speaking friends did lament that the folded programme issued with the ticket was only in Italian, but with the official programme booklet at only 2 euros (and the ticket price only 10 euros) it was not too much to expect patrons to buy the fuller programme in both languages to understand the new opera better and read about it in English.

This was a truly international production, of very high quality. For a kiwi in the audience there was much to be proud of, not only in that the author and composer are New Zealanders, but that our culture, as evidenced in the modern dance routines, shines through as being distinctly Kiwi no matter what the context.

The venue itself is wonderful. Cushions made sitting on the ample tiered seating of the Roman ruins comfortable enough, water was preferable to wine after a day when temperatures soared above 30°C, and the moon rising above Monte Trocchio (the former observation post of the Allied Forces) contributed to making this balmy evening of music, drama, opera and dance an evening to remember.

Now, if I can make it happen, I would like to go to Rome or Nemi to see it again and take in even more of the details that flooded my senses in the roman ruins on the slopes of Monte Cassino.

* To put this quoted text in context, please read it copied here (Legato blog).

Added 26/06/13 To read about the Rome experience, click here What a different yet wonderful evening it was!






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