Review – King Arthur

Feb 28 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✭ Very British and very good!

The Edinburgh Studio Opera's production of King Arthur. Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, February 2013. Photo © Rosie Curtis

The full cast of Edinburgh Studio Opera’s King Arthur. Photo © Rosie Curtis

Opera-buff, SNP activist and staunch supporter of the Yes campaign, Hugh Kerr, is just back from a week of hot opera action in London town. How would a student show, semi-staged in a Kirk recently used for a Royal Wedding, shape up? He had his doubts, as he told Æ:

“The prospect of reviewing a student production of an opera written in 1691 didn’t fill me with joy, particularly as last week four hours of baroque opera proved a little too long and I left the English National Opera production of Medea before the end.

“My fears were groundless: Purcell’s King Arthur put on by Edinburgh University students at the Canongate Kirk was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have spent for a long time.

King Arthur is a semi-opera with spoken words. The libretto is by John Dryden and music by Henry Purcell – the greatest composer of his day. Its theme is the battles between the Britons and the Saxons. The director for Edinburgh Studio Opera, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, has freely updated the work to the present day by giving it a Britishness theme and draping the Canongate Kirk in union flags.

“However it is very much a tongue-in-cheek look at Britishness. In a very witty introduction and epilogue, Llewellyn-Jones both puts it in a modern setting and sends it up.

An attempt to comment on the independence debate

“Although this is a semi-opera, there is very little in the way of plot in this production. In his introduction, Llewellyn-Jones reveals: ‘we have removed most of Mr Dryden’s words and left Mr Purcell’s music’. What remains, is a series of song and dances on the theme of the greatness of Britain – some original and some updated. Indeed it ends with Rule Britannia which was written some half a century later than King Arthur.

Katrina Nimmo (left) and Angela Estrada face off Edinburgh Studio Opera’s King Arthur. Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, February 2013. Photo © Rosie Curtis

Katrina Nimmo (left) and Angela Estrada face off in Edinburgh Studio Opera’s King Arthur. Photo © Rosie Curtis

“Llewellyn-Jones uses the whole space of the Canongate Kirk including the aisles and pulpits often draped by union jacks. Clearly this was an attempt to comment on the independence debate but in a very light-hearted satirical manner unlikely to change any views on the issue.

“The music was provided by a 12 member orchestra conducted from the harpsichord by Michael Bawtree and John Kitchin. The cast, of 17 very talented students from Edinburgh University, sang, danced and acted their hearts out. It is unfair to single any of them out but Amy Strachan – who had that day won the John Tovey prize at the University – sang beautifully. The cast not only sang well individually but acted, danced and sang as a chorus with great gusto.

“Last week I was in London and saw 5 operas in 5 days at Covent Garden and the Coliseum however I have to say that none of them gave me as much pleasure as did King Arthur.

“You may not feel more British at the end of it but you will have had a fun evening.”

King Arthur, Together with Sundry Other Musick from the Genius of Mr Henry Purcell. Canongate Kirk,153 Canongate. Wed 27 Feb, Fri 1/Sat 2 March. 7.30pm. Tickets from the XTS pro website.

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  1. Thom Dibdin says:

    Updated to include star rating: “Fantastic! A truly great piece which you would find it nearly impossible to better.” according to Mr Kerr…