Aldeburgh, Snape Maltings, Dardanus by Jean-Philippe Rameau, IOCO Review, 18.11.2017

Aldeburgh Festival / Snape Maltings Concert Hall © Philip Vile
Aldeburgh Festival / Snape Maltings Concert Hall © Philip Vile

Snape Maltings Aldeburgh Festival

Aldeburgh / Snape Maltings – A Place of Energy and Inspiration

Aldeburgh in Suffolk, UK, is known worldwide for its arts festival devoted mainly to classical music. The festival was founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier. To allow a large venue for the festival, Benjamin Britten, 1913 – 1976, who had lived in Snape, a village, just outside of Aldeburgh, converted a large former malthouse (see foto above) into a concert hall. Most of the malting’s original character, such as the square malthouse roof-vents, was retained. This very special ex-malting Concert Hall was opened by  Queen Elizabeth in 1967.

Snape Maltings Concert Hall © Matt Jolly
Snape Maltings Concert Hall © Matt Jolly

Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings have since become a place of energy and inspiration – one of the world’s leading centres of music and a visitor destination of outstanding natural beauty: Located by the sea, 106 miles northeast of London. IOCO visited Aldeburgh and Snape, also for an opera performance there.

 Dardanus by Jean-Philippe Rameau

BY Janet  Banks

 Benjamin Britten's grave in St. Peter and St Paul's Church, Aldeburgh © IOCO
Benjamin Britten’s grave in St. Peter and St Paul’s Church, Aldeburgh © IOCO

When Jean-Philippe Rameau reworked his tragedie lyrique Dardanus he dispensed with the gods altogether and did away with spectacle. The resulting 1744 version, though a lot less exciting visually than its original, admirably suits the needs of a travelling company such as English Touring Opera, who appeared at the concert hall founded by Benjamin Britten from a 19th-century maltings to be the home of his Aldeburgh Festival.

Director Douglas Rintoul sets the opera in a modern-day war zone, with soldiers, including Dardanus and his rival Antenor, in camouflage and the chorus dressed as if they are living on the streets. When the chorus is pressing the king to kill the captive Dardanus, one of them pulls out a can and sprays ‘MORT’ on the back wall. There has obviously been a conscious decision not to include dance in the production, in spite of interludes which would seem to call for it, and the only colour comes from multi-coloured marbled lighting effects representing the magic of the sorcerer Ismenor, and the red flares of off-stage fighting.

Snape Maltings UK / Dardanus by Rameau - Ensemble © Jane Hobson
Snape Maltings UK / Dardanus by Rameau – Ensemble © Jane Hobson

The positive effect of the sparse staging and muted lighting is to throw into greater relief the beauty of Rameau’s music. Anthony Gregory sings the title role of Jupiter’s son Dardanus with a voice capable of moving the listener with very credible emotion, from his ecstasy in love in Act 2, to his despair imprisoned in a cell at the opening of Act 4.The object of his desire, Iphise, the daughter of his enemy, is sung by Galina Averina with a light and flexible soprano, suited to music of the period but nonetheless capable of real richness on the high notes. Frederick Long is authoritative as the sorcerer Ismenor, whose spells bring about a happy outcome, while Timothy Nelson as Iphise’s rejected fiancé, excels in his expressive middle range. Eleanor Penfold steps from the chorus to sing an exquisite aria calling for peace at the end of Act 3, a still point in the action and one of the evening’s most beautiful moments.

The period instrument players of the Old Street Band under the direction of Jonathan Williams play Rameau’s score with crispness and precision.

—| IOCO Kritik Snape Maltings Aldeburgh Festival |—

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