When everybody is trying to understand today how Jihadi John made the transition from a shy nice kid to a cold merciless killer, music composer Purcell and playwriter John Dryden already attempted to grasp such a thorny issue in the late 1600s. Wars are nothing new and an insatiable appetite for innocent human blood seems to be the norm, not the exception. Rather worrying because any of us could become the next Jihadi John. However, Purcell takes the story much further than the usual Hollywood blockbuster epic because it shows the characters as humans. It attempts to portray a clash of cultures between the Spanish conquistadores and the native Indians. It attempts to comprehend how such a compassionate religion as Christianity, or currently Islam, emerges as merciless and an excuse for killing innocent people.
The Indian Queen. Courtesy ENO and the photographer Richard Hubert Smith.
Peter Sellars, the director, takes Purcell's rich score and incorporates some of the composer's most ravishing sacred and secular pieces, adding vibrant set designs from Chicano graffiti artist Gronk and choreography by Christopher Williams. Woven throughout the production is spoken text taken from Rosario Aguilar's novel The Lost Chronicles of Terra Firma, which recounts the initial confrontation between Europeans and the Mayans of the New World through a personal account from a female perspective. The result is a spectacle of music, theatre, dance, literature and visual art.
Although the duets do not work, the opera was left unfinished and Purcell's brother completed it, and perhaps they were his, it is full of special moments. Having a countertenor describing a lovemaking scene with such a poetic aria is unforgettable. South Korean countertenor Vince Yi, a star in the making, elevates something so intimate to heaven. Other voices such as countertenor Anthony Roth and sopranos Julia Bullock, a magnetic presence, and Lucy Crowe shows there is no shortage of talent in the ENO. Puerto Rican actress Maritxell Carrero enchants us with her superb storytelling skills reciting texts taken from Aguilar's novel The Lost Chronicles of Terra Firma. Carrero manages to add layers of meaning to the story without interfering in the interaction among the characters of the opera.
The Other Mary and The Indian Queen have a shared theme of retelling history recorded by men through the eyes of women - bringing out the humanity of the work and giving a voice to individuals who, over time, have been erased from history. Sellars is one of the most innovative and powerful forces in the performing arts in the world. A visionary artist, Sellars is known for engaging with social and political issues through art. Chicano painter, printmaker and performance artist Glugio Nicandro (known as 'Gronk') has designed the set for this production. Best known for his murals, Gronk's abstract and vibrant set design comprises large, colourful panels that take inspiration from ancient Mayan art. Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings leads an exceptional cast and the ENO chorus to conduct The Indian Queen. Cummings is Artistic Director of London Handel Festival and Internationale Händel-Festpiele Göttingen. The four dancers: Sonya Cullingford, Alistair Goldsmith, Lucy Starkey and Jack Thomson raise the performance to a new level. Completing the creative team is costume designer Dunya Ramicova and lighting designer James F. Ingalls.
The Indian Queen, actress Maritxell Carrero. Courtesy ENO and the photographer Richard Hubert Smith.
This opera deals with the personality of a warrior switching between a sweet father and a despot husband and cruel soldier. It has nothing to do with the usual tragic love stories we are accustomed in opera. It is vibrant, elegant, profound and relevant to current times and just for that is highly recommended.
For more information about The Indian Queen and the English National Opera, please visit the website www.eno.org