Britten’s Owen Wingate began life as a television opera that was completed in 1970. The production at the Carriageworks has a televisual quality about it, particularly its predominately matching the black and white debate between military and family duty, and the hatred of war. It could be have been all very melodramatic but that was avoided as we witness the debate between soldier Owen Wingrave’s embrace of pacifism and the military heritage of his family and his beloved, Kate, who eloquently articulates its values. The orchestra, conducted by Jack Symonds, was disciplined and precise, although a little loud for the singers at the beginning. That precision was matched in the singers, in particular baritone Morgan Pearse as Owen and mezzo soprano Emily Edmonds as Kate who both separately and together brought out the agony of the conflict. Stunning singing and acting! All the other singers captured their characters well although some lacked the power of Pearse and Edmonds.
The action takes place inside and outside a barbed wire fence, suggesting the prison in which the characters dwell. Owen is imprisoned between his pacifism and his duty, Kate by her values and her love for Owen. Only the senior officer, Spencer Coyle and Mrs Coyle, sung by Simon Lobelson and Georgia Bassingthwaite, understand and empathise with Owen’s dilemma. Owen’s friend Lechmere, sung by tenor Pascal Herington, is distressed by the rejection of duty, but ultimately, as a soldier and a rival for Kate’s affection cannot understand it and he betrays Owen – and repents when it is too late.
The conflict among the main characters takes place while there is a singing commentary by a treble ensemble. The boys grip the wire fence as they comment on the action. An impressive group of male actors, soldiers and servants, come and go silently framing the action. Indeed the chorography is one the really striking features of Imara Savage’s production.
The music does not wash over the audience. Intense listening is required of the audience. For any lover of Britten (and good theatre) this production is not to be missed. It is on until 10 August. Well worth a visit or indeed a revisit!
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