Adrian Dwyer as D’Esperaudieu and Michel de Souza as Paradies in Music Theatre Wales' production of The Intelligence Park
Review: The Intelligence Park3:17, 23rd October 2019
The Intelligence Park – Gerald Barry
Music Theatre Wales at the Royal Opera House
Review by Tom Sutcliffe
A brilliant revival of Gerald Barry’s zany operatic debut
The Irish composer Gerald Barry is one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music, and the advocacy of that voice by his 19-years-younger fellow composer Thomas Adès bespeaks one of the more remarkable associations in music history: a faint echo of Haydn and Mozart. Both Barry and Adès are deeply serious in facing up to the challenge of writing operas that can join the hard-to-enter repertoire – and both are definite achievers.
Barry’s music is not designed as an effect or governed by any interest in creating atmosphere. His musical language is full frontal, evocative of nothing but itself. His liking for wrong-note discords and hyperactive melodic fluency are part of a confident, instantly recognisable musical individuality that fits well with dramatic incidents. The frankness is refreshing with little debt to the past or wish to imitate – though there is something Handelian and solid about the rhythmic certainty and the conscious aural eccentricity in which the sounds revel.
Whether Barry’s first opera, The Intelligence Park – currently being revived by Music Theatre Wales at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre for the first time since its premiere staging by David Fielding at the Almeida 30 years ago – will ever be a repertoire work, I doubt. Vincent Deane’s libretto is gloriously zany, supplying an ample narrative engine to carry audiences along. But the clarity of sung text is not as well-refined as Barry’s later operatic output.
Designer Nigel Lowery’s characteristic visually nuanced treatment proves him to be one of England’s most original and brilliant designers (and for many years also a director). He has long been neglected in the UK, though employed and appreciated by companies in Germany and Switzerland.
The look of this weird operatic world as imagined by Lowery is acutely stylised but striking and charming to watch. The life-size dummies – apparent guests at the magistrate Cramer’s party – reappear a number of times. The characters Wattle and Daub in the opera that the hero (Paradies) is struggling to compose are wonderfully imagined.
The work mirrors Barry’s own struggle to write an opera, which took him nine years. It is such an extended story that it might well have ended up of Wagnerian length. Perhaps the need to cut slowed composition down. But the subplot of a gay castrato and his partner and the location in 18th-century Dublin on top of everything else makes it hard to work out (from the audience’s point of view) quite what is going on. Which Barry of course intended – perverseness about the obvious being native to his musical preferences as composer. Money and an heiress cap it all, and the death of her magistrate father could have led to a happy and comfortable ending; but Paradies, our composer, naturally refuses to accept what Cramer’s death will offer.
The challenge of Barry’s vocal writing is severe – and without surtitles we would have been even more lost. In vocal range the parts are challenged at many extremes. Sounding good is not Barry’s point – and it did not happen too often. Michel de Souza as Paradies faced the challenge quite well. Adrian Dwyer managed to bring some shine to D’Esperaudieu, the companion’s role. Stephen Richardson as Cramer, a solid bass for age and social stature, is a Barry veteran – and it showed. American countertenor Patrick Terry was the castrato Serafino whose beauty unsettles Paradies’ emotional orientation. He will have more rewarding vocal opportunities as Britten’s Oberon. Rhian Lois as Cramer’s daughter Jerusha and Stephanie Marshall as Serafino’s partner Faranesi (a trouser role) both created some sense of gentleness. Jessica Cottis conducted with persuasive attention to detail. Congratulations all round!
The Intelligence Park will be performed by Music Theatre Wales and London Sinfonietta at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 4 November