10 JANUARY 1964, Page 20


mela- ranee. The Gozzi play is itself a satire, on the works of other eighteenth-century dramatists, and the version by Meyerhold and other mem- bers of the Russian avant-garde which Prokofiev used superimposes an additional layer of satire. The action and the characters are thus on three different planes: first, the aotual characters of the central fairy-tale plot; second, the sorcerers and witches who provide the magical means for propelling this plot along; and third, the two groups who act as intermediaries between the audience and the cast proper—a chorus of clowns, who comment on the action and every now and then lend a helping hand (like produc- ing a fire-bucket, full of water, when the third princess threatens to die of thirst); and four groups of 'spectators' placed strategically in the house who every now and then vociferously demand tragedy, comedy, romance or farce, or make other (even less constructive) comments, all designed to typify audience attitudes.

It will be seen that there is not much place here for theatrical illusion or involvement. Un- fortunately, English audiences do not take very eagerly to alienation of this kind. The laughter at Sadler's Wells which greeted the comments from the mock spectators was clearly laughter at something rather entertainingly unusual, not the slightly uncomfortable laughter of an audi- ence which feels (as it ought to have felt) that it is being got at. Moreover, the production has a very difficult course to steer in order to 'send up' the central plot to just the right degree. The producer, Peter Coe, makes his task particularly awkward by adopting a rather free, unsophisti- cated approach, which allows the humour to be considerably more rumbustious at times than one might wish, and certainly more so than the music—which is rhythmically and orchestrally very subtle—suggests; this is perhaps allowable on the opera's outer levels, but the central one surely demands extreme stylisation and unerring precision. One result was that we sometimes lost interest in the main action altogether, simply because too many arresting things were going on. This happened less in the second act, however, where the course of the action is much more continuous.

But it would be wrong and very unfair to suggest that the evening is anything less than one of enormous fun, even if the fun is of slightly the wrong sort. The clowns, with their wry, loose-limbed gestures and movements, are often irresistibly amusing, and there is a strongly inventive imagination behind it all, for Mr. Coe is a producer who is obviously bursting with ideas, and ideas rich in humour (humour rather than wit, perhaps). Tony Walton's costumes catch the ridiculousness well, though I can't see much point in all the sliding panels of his set. The music itself doesn't call for a great deal of com- ment, because it is so very much the servant of the comedy. It is, speaking generally, rather unmemorable (except for the March, of course, which is unforgettable), but this isn't in itself a weakness, since it performs its principal func-

tion, of pointing character and wit, so admir- ably.

Criticism of the singing as such isn't altogether relevant in this opera. But the two principals— Adrian de Peyer (the Prince) and Kevin Miller (the jester)—were a delight, and the producer had evidently taken considerable pains over obtain- ing decisive characterisations in the multiplicity of smaller parts. The substantial problems of managing the choral ensemble were excellently managed, and the orchestral playing under Frank Doolan was suitably bright and prickly.