A poet, mourning the loss of his lover Raymond receives a phone call: he was offered an order for a prestigious commission. Despite his refusal, he tries to get to work, flattered by the proposal. A mysterious Princess, whom he eventually recognizes as Death, comes to submit a cornelian (incredibly difficult) choice: join his love or accomplish his artistic destiny. For his third opera, Briton Ed Hughes has an original subject, freely based on the relationship of Jean Cocteau and Raymond Radiguet. The libretto by Roger Morris is clever , poetic, and varnished with a hint of humor , but does not offer a great scenic potential, so that the device with video (Loren O’Dair & Peter Kirk ) and light projections ( Will Reynolds) , as we discover on the accompanying DVD, is the best possible approach to this beautiful piece.
It is hardly surprising, listening to this brilliant, energetic music, and whose most immediately noticeable quality is its clarity, to find in the musical pedigree of this composer (born in 1968) the illustrious and productive mentoring of Alexander Goehr and Michael Finnissy. We have here a distinctive aesthetic in the orchestration, the language is open and attractive, very harmonically inventive. The fluid vocal lines are managed by five young singers, all excellent. Baritone Edward Grint perhaps doe not display sufficient tension inherent to his role, while mezzo Lucy Williams has a wide enough range to satisfy all the threat in a provocative and flirtatious charm that, however, we would like to see more dramatized . Orpheus, like Eurydice called as a reference to the Cocteau film, is treated much more lyrically. A secondary role (but well served by tenor Andrew Radley as the deceased spirit of Raymond) brings an unreal touch very beneficial to the atmosphere of the opera.
One can add to this an electronic, slightly parsimonious but very neat first interlude, good treatments for the live voices, an instrumental ensemble very precise and directed with great attention and we have here all the ingredients for a production of high standing.