Reaction Weekend

English Touring Opera review – opera so bleak reality seems like bliss

BY Gerald Malone   /  9 January 2021

Depressed by another coronavirus lockdown? Behind the curve in the queue for the vaccine? Stuck in Category 17, with a projected jab date sometime in 2023? Never mind. Cheer up.

Many opera companies have seen it as their civic duty to cheer us up. Online roistering concerts, box-windowed Zooms, cellists performing in their closets, sopranos cracking the bathroom mirrors, basso profundos shaking their very cellars to the foundations. Did not English National Opera give us an upbeat Notting Hill drive-in la Bohème, complete with hippy rappers and VW camper vans?

English Touring Opera is providing a quixotic antidote all its own. Plumbing the depths of depression so that re-emerging from the performances into a world of over-stretched intensive care units, 60,000 Covid-19 cases a day, shuttered schools and a never-never vaccine, seems like light relief. Bliss is it in that escape to be alive!

Perhaps unwittingly, English Touring Opera (ETO) reminds us things could be worse. Much worse. The Heart’s Assurance, by war poets Sidney Keyes and Alun Lewis, set to music by Sir Michael Tippett and A Charm of Lullabies, based on poems of William Blake, Robert Burns, Robert Greene, Thomas Randolph and John Phillip, set to music by Benjamin Britten, are both works aimed at setting the senses on edge. Perhaps overwhelming them.


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