Review Sāvitri & Blond Eckbert, Guildhall School, London by James Ellis

Image credit: David Monteith-Hodge
 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Very much well done to the music students at the Guildhall for a curious double bill evening at the opera. Holst’s Sāvitri is taken from the Indian epic the Mahābhārata and looks at love beating death, a theme seen in opera for zonks. It’s a very English affair, Holst has little time for any commitment to traditional Indian music, unlike later English ones like Sir John Tavener.

There is Wagner and Richard Strauss to be heard, but it is the tea and cricket heritage that rings out. Lorna McLea is a resounding Sāvitri, Steven van Derek Linden her partner Satyavān also strong with death just in his door step, vocals which proves promise. As baddie, Death is played by Jacob Harrison, intimidating in delivery and statue, though his kryptonite being love over death foils his plans over our super woman. The real nice touch is a vocalising ladies chorus which suggested an exotic nature, a fad heard in other Indian inspired music of the era.

A much stranger second work by Judith Weir followed. We just heard her new work at the Coronation and I had the pleasure of meeting her last year, her friendly and passion for music making never wains. In Blond Eckbert based on the story but Ludwig Tieck, we get an absorbing and nasty piece. Dubbec a “pocket version” of the opera, the whole endeavour was weird and wonderful. The story became more of an oddity, the woods and fate being major themes and visuals. The Bird is Louisa Stirland, a narrator who tells the tale she has been enamoured in for years, high, vocals and irregular movement. Feeling like quite a demanding role, she makes it look easy.

Eckbert is Emyr Lloyd Jones a role filled with regrets and anxiety. Well placed here, he maintains the tension needed and has power to it all. Berthe, his wife is Rachel Roper who might be the most fascinating character, the plot vastly surrounding her circumstance. Her recounting of her abusive youth and espace was well poised. Jonah Halton as Walther holds a lot of the story in his hands, there are spoilers here for those curious. With his slight build and thick moustache, all is not what it seems and his tone is terrific. The reveal concerning his characters is quite shocking also disturbing. The score as well has loads of suspense and quirky, flavourful orchestral writing.

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