ENO’s first new production of the season brings to the Coliseum Richard Jones’ staging of Martinu’s surrealistic dreamscape, already seen in Paris and Geneva. The opera itself, derived from a play by the French writer Georges Neveux and premiered in Prague in 1938, is not often performed, although ENO, in collaboration with the much-missed New Opera Company, presented it at this same address back in 1978. As on that occasion, Julietta leaves a mixed impression.
Peter Hoare (Michel Lepic) and Julia Sporsen (Julietta) in Julietta at the Coliseum, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
The Czech Martinu, who spent large portions of his career in France and the US, is usually regarded as a minor master who wrote too much for his own good. Though his best known phase is characterised by the fashionable (especially in Paris) language of neo-classicism, Julietta mixes styles promiscuously, and no musical idea seems to last very long. Despite attractive and even inventive orchestral writing - given vital definition here by the company’s music director, Edward Gardner - not much of the opera sticks in the mind.
In many ways the production works well in matching the circular, non-narrative progress of the piece. Antony McDonald’s clever designs focus on - of all things - an accordion (an instrument that makes a brief but notable appearance in the score). Memorable performances, too, from Peter Hoare as the nerdy Michel who falls in love with Julia Sporsen’s enigmatic Julietta - whom he meets, loses and then again searches for in a curious world where no one has any memories. With a stronger score, we’d be haunted by the drama’s strange fascination; as it is, it’s the music that proves forgettable.