Peter Sellars directs Purcell’s ‘The Indian Queen’

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Henry Purcell
WORKS: The Indian Queen
PERFORMER: Julia Bullock, Nadine Koutcher, Christophe Dumaux, Vince Yi, Markus Brutscher, Noah Stewart, Luthando Qave, Maritxell Carrero; MusicAeterna/Teodor Currentzis; dir. Peter Sellars (Madrid, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: Sony 88875049519


Purcell’s semi-opera The Indian Queen is a slender, pretty thing, barely long enough for one CD. Peter Sellars’s The Indian Queen, filmed here during its 2013 run at Teatro Réal de Madrid, sprawls across two DVDs. On the one hand, there is a lot more music: airs from The Fairy Queen, Oedipus and Pausanias; devotional or philosophical songs including ‘With Sick and Famish’d Eyes’ and ‘O Solitude’; anthems including Remember not, Lord, our offences and Hear my prayer, O Lord. On the other hand, there is a lot of silence or ambient rainforest sounds as the six dancers group themselves into insect or animal shapes, and long passages from Rosario Aguilar’s 1992 novel of conversion, corruption and violence in the Spanish conquest of South America, La niña blanca y los pájaros sin pies, declaimed by actress Maritxell Carrero.

The conquistadors wear fatigues and carry sub-machine guns, while the set designs, by LA street artist Gronk, are brilliantly and bloodily daubed with Mayan and military motifs. As with much of Sellars’s recent work, the women nurture while the men destroy. With Sellars directing both the staged performance and the film of that performance, the camerawork has incredible intimacy and musical sensitivity. He knows which voice parts have the interesting material at which points in the score, and his actors trust him. In contrast to the 2014 ENO revival, the choral numbers are the musical highlights. While Teodor Currentzis’s speeds are sometimes strange, the MusicAeterna Choir and Orchestra of Perm Opera hug every hairpin and cleave to the exotic timbres of the continuo. The cast, too, is better balanced than in London, with sopranos Julia Bullock and Nadine Koutcher outstanding as the lovesick Teculihuatzin and the homesick, horrified Doña Isabel, who witnesses the rape of the indigenous people.


Anna Picard