Hilary Chan reviews the Opera Society’s contemporary take on Venus and Adonis.
Venus and Adonis, composed by John Blow in the late seventeenth century for the court of King Charles II, was given a modernistic turn by Juliet Boobbyer, who decided to set the adaptation in 21st century St Andrews. This directorial decision seemed promising on various levels, with the potential of framing the Baroque score with contemporary intimacy while meditating on the timeless theme—love and lust, life and death, dichotomies in cyclic pursuit of each other.
Unfortunately, it unfolded quite incompetently on stage. The opera started under a somnambulistic spell: the cast presented themselves in shapeless clusters, (and thereafter often returned to this audience-unfriendly arrangement); their voices did not project five rows past the stage to where I was seated. Mature intentions to include subtle humour about university life instead came across as jagged and pretentious due to the stiff and awkward body language of the performers. Though the actress portraying Venus had a resonant voice, striking heartstrings when she called out to her lover, this was a rare display of emotion, for she appeared discouragingly uninterested in most of the scenes following. (What heartbroken paramour carefully brushes her hair behind her shoulders before letting out a shriek at the dying lover?) Occasional slips by other singers and the orchestra did not improve the situation.
The performers were not only ones to blame for this disappointment. Certain stage designs simply didn’t work; disco lights and dancing could not come to match the pastoral score, and the photos of St Andrews at the background, a time-nibbled old town, communicated so harmoniously with the music that only the performers, sloppily dressed and unnaturally positioned, seemed grudgingly irrelevant. In general, the nuance of bringing an old opera to the modern setting was not well thought through.
That being said, the actors were deeply talented singers, and the main performers portraying Cupid, Adonis and Venus, handled many of the score’s tribulations masterfully—if only they would project themselves to show off their art. Had director and performers alike injected more professional vigour, Venus and Adonis could have been an impressive show.
Featured image credits: Amanda McAfee / OperaSoc