Agreed, Glyndebourne, review: A daring and magical new opera

Agreed. Picture by Robert Workman
Agreed. Picture by Robert Workman

Seventy-five local singers including students from Bede’s Senior School, East Sussex College, Heathfield Community College and Uckfield College, took to the stage at Glyndebourne last weekend for a triumphal performance of a new opera, which tackled issues highly relevant today.

Agreed had a multi-genre score by British composer and conductor Howard Moody that included elements of classical, world and jazz – some performed by musicians on stage, some by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Glyndebourne Youth Orchestra.

Its theme is summed up in the phrase, ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,’ with relevant echoes of the Brexit debate. Worryingly, this did not end well for the principals, separated by edict and doomed to live and die apart.

The young singers, united in formidable choral excellence, were supported by young professionals Tom Scott-Cowell, Nazan Fikret, Michael Wallace, Zara McFarlane, Louise Winter and dancer Ellyn Hebron.

Soprano Nazan Fikret displayed the most crystalline voice in a demanding role opposite counter tenor Tom Scott-Cowell. While beautifully sung, I always find a counter-tenor voice inappropriate for the role of an ardent, masculine lover, although musical professionals would argue the reverse. I watched him set sail across the sea and thought, ‘Oh no, Nazan, you just wouldn’t fancy him.’

And I found myself getting annoyed with Ellyn Hebron who danced around the stage, rather like the superfluous ballroom dancers during the solo star’s performance on Sunday’s Strictly. Lovely, but why was she there?

Perhaps I’m a philistine. This was a magical experience, an opera that reached into the psyche of troubled young people and, just like life, failed to come up with a realistic answer to the big questions. We are all still at sea, it seems.

Once again the set design was ravishing, on-stage instrumentals including the Kora and Udu, exceptional and the assembled young students displaying talent that was expertly drawn out by conductors, director and the music preparation team. They were confident, sang and moved superbly and seemed to be having a great time. So was I. It made me wonder just how many embryo professional singers languish in our schools – oh for the resumption of music on the mainstream curriculum.

This was Stephen Langridge’s first public duty as Glyndebourne’s new artistic director, It heralds a simply superb and imaginative Festival and Tour.

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