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Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Dog's Heart at The ENO

The ENO are shaking things up this season with the UK Premiere of the shocking A Dog’s Heart by Alexander Raskatov based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel. The composer, worked with director Simon McBurney and Complicite from the start, so music, text and action are all inextricably linked. The outcome of this is a piece of art that overwhelms the senses.

The opera is unconventional, and several have contested whether in fact it can even be categorised as such. The music is discordant and lacks the richness of harmony, but the tricky sporadic melodies are tackled well by the cast, in particular the female singers whose voices seamlessly leap from end to end of the pitch spectrum. Nancy Allen Lundy sparkles as Zina the maid, hitting amazingly crisp top notes, and rampaging round the stage as the mad girl. Peter Hoare is brilliantly hideous as the monster of a man, Sharikov. He has a snarling power and sings the grossly worded songs with no shame, I must especially give him credit for proudly baring all on the Colliseum stage and screaming to the audience, ‘Suck my Cock’ just before the interval. It certainly gave us lots to giggle about at half time!

The story revolves around a grotesque operation that turns an ill-treated dog into a man, with horrendous consequences. It possesses a narrative that offended the Soviet authorities so much that they banned it for 60 years. And after seeing the opera I am not surprised it disturbed them. It is the mastery of the Blind Summit Theatre group that is to thank for the beautiful puppetry that recreates the hound, Sharik. Other small animal puppets are also featured. I love the scene towards the end when the poor cat is chased all over the place by the transformed Sharikov.

I was most struck by the beautiful use of film, sometimes as a backdrop, or often as an integral part of the scene. The opening scene takes place between two pieces of gauze onto which is projected falling snow. The fantastic projections are by Finn Ross and depict 1920s Moscow with a gritty realism. Set designs by Michael Levine and costumes by Christina Cunningham also help the scenes come alive.

A visually superb production of a bizarre opera, book here. Continues until 4 December 2010.

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