Henze, Berkeley and Weir – Welcome opera revivals

Henze, Berkeley and Weir – Welcome opera revivals

Three great, small-scale operas by Hans Werner Henze, Lennox Berkeley and Judith Weir are on stage this May and June in London and Amsterdam. Phaedra, A Dinner Engagement and Blond Eckbert could not be further apart from one another; one a tragic modernist tale of antiquity, the next a neo-classical comedy of manners, and the last a folk-inspired thriller, but all three represent the very best of what drama can be achieved with a small cast and ensemble.

May 15–20 | Phaedra (2007)
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London | More information

Music: Hans Werner Henze | Libretto: Christian Lehnert

Phaedra was given its premiere in 2007. Hans Werner Henze’s final opera is full of originality, challenging our expectations of what opera can and should be. Re-imagining the classical story of Phaedra and Hippolytus (Hippolyt), the opera places Hippolyt at the centre of the story. Phaedra’s desire for her step-son Hippolyt fills her with self-loathing and so she attempts suicide. Aphrodite stops her, though she is jealous of Hippolyt’s love for Artemis. It has been described as an ‘astonishing achievement’ brimming with ‘otherworldly beauty’, a ‘rich, beguiling and significant work’.

This production, directed by Noa Naamat, is brought to life by The Royal Opera's Jette Parker Young Artists, with Edmund Whitehead conducting Southbank Sinfonia in a score that brims with emotion and brilliance. Only one or two tickets remain, but returns may be available in the coming days.

June 26 – July 1 | A Dinner Engagement (1954)
Royal College of Music, London

Music: Lennox Berkeley | Libretto: Paul Dehn

Students from the Royal College of Music Opera School put on a double bill taking audiences back to the booming fifties with an evening of sparkling musical satire. Paired with Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti is Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement. Hard times have fallen upon Lord and Lady Dunmow, who are struggling to keep up appearances for some very important dinner guests. The Grand Duchess is en route with her son, Prince Philippe, an eligible match for the Dunmows’ beautiful, albeit sulky, daughter Susan. Unfortunately, the aristocrats' attempts at self-catering quickly descend into culinary calamity.

Stephen Unwin directs the production, which boasts designs by Nicky Shaw and lighting by Ralph Stokeld. Michael Rosewell will conduct from a brand-new performing edition of the full score and parts, newly revised by Chester Music and generously supported by The Lennox Berkeley Society, one of several modern versions of Berkeley’s works to be made over the coming years.

June 29 – July 3 | Blond Eckbert (2006) - A Dinner Engagement (1954)
Conservatorium van Amsterdam

Music: Judith Weir | Libretto: the composer, after Ludwig Tieck
Music: Lennox Berkeley | Libretto: Paul Dehn

The Dutch National Opera Academy presents a double bill of two modern British masterpieces, adding to the Berkeley Judith Weir’s tense psychodrama, Blond Eckbert. A magical singing bird tells a story that hides an extraordinary and disturbing secret. A girl, raised in a remote mountain forest by a strange old woman, tries to walk away, but cannot escape. These two special stories about power, passion and redemption through love are led by award-winning British director Robert Chevara and conductor Ed Spanjaard.