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The Garden review at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London – ‘endearingly whimsical’

Joshua Bloom in The Garden at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. Photo: Mark Allan
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Opera, of course, this isn’t – though Richard Ayres has already composed two of them: The Cricket Recovers, a success at its Aldeburgh launch in 2005, and Peter Pan, premiered in Stuttgart in 2013 and taken up by Welsh National Opera two years later.

His works rarely have names, only numbers. But this new piece – first performed in Utrecht in 2018, and here receiving its UK premiere – has both. The Garden, which is essentially a piece of music-theatre – a genre best represented by such iconic 1960s pieces as Peter Maxwell-Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King – is number 50.

Born in Cornwall in 1965, Ayres moved to the Netherlands in his twenties and has lived there ever since; his work is probably better known on the continent than here.

He has written his own text for this hour-long piece where the main character is a man digging in his garden. He digs deeper and deeper, encountering a worm, a wangee (I have no idea what that is either), and Paolo and Francesca, two lovers from Dante’s Inferno. Next he sits under an apple tree from where he journeys into the air, through the clouds and on to an asteroid. In the final section he converses with an ancient bacterium.

Bass Joshua Bloom manages to encompass multiple personalities in his traversal of this whimsical, often childlike and occasionally childish creation. Ayres’ music is an appealing melange of styles, skilfully realised by the London Sinfonietta under Geoffrey Paterson. Martha Colburn is responsible for some witty video visuals.

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Verdict
Richard Ayres’ endearingly whimsical music-theatre piece is brilliantly carried off by Joshua Bloom
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