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The Knot Garden review at Lindbury Studio Royal Opera House London

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Tippett’s third opera, The Knot Garden, set chins wagging at its first run in 1970 for its exploration of a tangle of relationships underpinned by homosexuality and bisexuality. Despite its references to The Tempest, its destylised everyday-life setting brought a strong sense of immediacy. While the subjects of black and gay liberation may not now seem as pressing, that of war and peace, centring around the tortured freedom-fighter Denise, remains as central as ever.

Emphasising the currency of Tippett’s work, Music Theatre Wales’s touring production features a video installation commissioned from Jane and Louise Wilson – projected on to two moveable screens on the stage – which features images of the decaying concrete construction of Victor Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee, County Durham, as well as film taken in Kew Gardens. While this effectively reflects Tippett’s impression of ‘a labyrinth or rose-garden’, the rapid alternation of the video images can be distracting.

In this chamber version of the opera, re-orchestrated by Meirion Bowen, Michael Rafferty conducts a strong ensemble cast. Helen Field is a passionate and disturbed Denise, though while her stamina is impressive throughout her shattering Act I outburst, her vocal power is less impactful.

For the rest, Elizabeth Watts sings a sweet Flora, while Christopher Lemmings and Rodney Clarke draw out the frolics and the pain of their gay relationship. Gwion Thomas is an insightful Faber and Lucy Schaufer sings his wife Thea with breathtaking resolve. As Mangus, the analyst and MC, Jeremy Huw Williams is dramatically confident, if suffering from a whiff of camp smugness.

Production Information

Lindbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London, April 30, May 3-4 then touring until July 16

Michael Tippett
Michael McCarthy
Music Theatre Wales
Gwion Thomas, Lucy Schaufer, Elizabeth Watts, Helen Field, Rodney Clarke, Christopher Lemmings, Jeremy Huw Williams
Running time
1hr 50mins

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