Hackney Music Development Trust   top image

HMDT's Community Projects | Shadowball | One Projects | Operaction Hackney | Adult Learning | The Music Box | Opportunities Through Musicspacer

HMDT home | Welcome to HMDT | PRS Composers | Publications | About Us | Downloads and Forms | Opportunities | Funders | Support HMDT | Policies

On London Fields

RPS logo
On London Fields - Hackney Music Development Trust Winner of 2005 RPS Education Award

Click here to visit RPS site




Made possible with the generous support of:


< Back to On London Fields

Opera Magazine Review

On London Fields

Hackney Empire, November 20

The actual performances of the new community opera by Matthew King (music) and Alasdair Middleton (words) - this, a matinee, was the second of only three - surely constitute the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It was commissioned by the Hackney Music Development Trust, and the months and months of preparation and workshopping must have been a hugely valuable experience for all involved, whether they were appearing on stage or not. For instance, portions of text written by participants in the Creative Writing Course, part of Hackney's Learning Through the Arts project, were eventually included in Middleton's libretto. The event really was a community enterprise, part of the borough's purposeful policy of regeneration, and it was good that it should have happened in the theatre that is emerging as somewhere near the epicentre of that policy.

The scale was daunting. There were five orchestras, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in the pit, plus jazz and brass bands (Henze would like that) dotted about the auditorium. The unflappable conductor Jonathan Gill deserves highest praise for keeping it all more or less together. There were more than 150 singers, of every known age, race and gender, divided into six groups. I especially enjoyed the 'I Can Sing' Youth Choir (they could), and the no-longer-young Sharp Hoxtoners, who delivered acid comments from the sidelines.

The action revolved around a historical Hackney character, the 17th-century seer Hannah Trapnel, a supporter of the Parliamentary cause in the Civil War who was later persecuted and indeed imprisoned under Cromwell's Protectorate. The plot was as ideologically confused as - let's face it - Fidelio; we started with the execution of Charles I, presented very much as a Good Thing, but then encountered the Puritans, led by the unhistorical but nicely named Sir Bawnagayne Surly. One was reminded of Hilaire Belloc's 'always keep a-hold of Nurse for fear of finding something worse'. We were also reminded that the Levellers were active in Hackney: a ferocious chorus of black ladies, the Robinson Singers, wielding hammers and sickles ('No more property!') may have sent a shiver down the spines of any tourists from up west. This was one of many moments reminiscent of Alan Bush's operas. Middleton's libretto was characterized by short, punchy lines, ideal for setting, and his rhyming of 'papists' with 'rapists' (one of the few moments of political incorrectness) would have delighted the Rev. Ian Paisley.

King's score rightly mined just about every music-theatre genre, with music-hall ragtime for the Hoxtoners, a near-quote from Nixon in China for the chorus at 'Our hero is the common man', Lloyd Webber-ish 'operatic' for the love duet, a salute to Weill's 'Lonely House', and dance rhythms reflecting Hackney's multi-ethnic population. Hannah prophesied to a tango which, again, Weill would have enjoyed (his Burning Bush, unlike Schoenberg's, addresses Moses in waltz time).

I mentioned the love duet: in among the Alan Bush-ery was a 'normal' married couple worried about what the future might hold for the child they were expecting (not a lot, given that the father would be shot by the Puritans), and the pair were most touchingly portrayed by Alison Buchanan and Simon Thorpe. Jonathan Gunthorpe, more menacing visually than vocally, was Sir Bawnagayne. The company was lucky to have Sally Burgess as Hannah, her stage presence as riveting as always but her diction less clear than in the past, which compromised the impact of Hannah's prophecies. Indeed, after a tight first act, the longer second lapsed into near-incoherence, and the audience grew restless. A little editing needed. Otherwise, nothing but praise for Martin Lloyd-Evans's disciplined direction in Andrea Carr's economical designs. And any reservations have to be seen in the context of those other six sevenths of the iceberg.            








Back to top



HMDT Music
Second Floor
22 Aldermans Hill
London N13 4PN
Tel: 020 8882 8825
Fax: 020 8882 6253


© 2005 HMDT Music. All Rights Reserved.
contact HMDT
contact web manager