Turnage: Greek

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Turnage
LABELS: Argo
WORKS: Greek
PERFORMER: Quentin Hayes, Richard Suart, Fiona Kimm, Helen CharnockThe Greek Ensemble/Richard Bernas
CATALOGUE NO: 440 368-2 DDD
Mark Anthony Turnage’s opera after Steven Berkoff’s eponymous play is a grim, unsettling monument to the yobocracy of the Thatcher Years in Britain and, as such, may come to be regarded as a Zeitoper. This superb Argo recording, however, makes the strongest possible case for a work, which, for all the violence and deliberate brutalism of its sound-world and language – one of the few words with more than four letters is Arsenal and it is the first syllable which carries the stress – contains oases of mesmeric stillness and beauty unlike anything I have heard in a new opera since Britten’s Death in Venice.

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As might be expected from the creator of the dramatic, Francis-Bacon-inspired Three Screaming Popes, Turnage is a natural theatre composer and Berkoff’s striking classical adaptation – Oedipus meets Eastenders – serves as an ideal vehicle for an angry young musician, protesting and lamenting in his first work for the stage.

A short review cannot do justice to the quality of Turnage’s score, but his ‘jazz-band’ orchestration is packed with interesting textures – I love the louche, saxophoney ‘tinta’ of the score – and the dramatic structure of the opera has more than a hint of rhythm and blues in stark alternation. Greek is a provocative, sometimes shocking work and it is admirably performed here by the team assembled for Dennis Marks’s BBC Television production and the subsequent ENO ‘revival’: Quentin Hayes as Eddy (-pus, geddit?), Richard Suart as Dad/Café Manager/Chief of Police, Fiona Kimm – hauntingly beautiful – as Wife/Doreen/Waitress 1/Sphinx 2, and Helen Charnock as Mum/Waitress 2/Sphinx 1. Some prominent names – Marks and Peter Jonas (ENO directors present and past), Sally Groves (aka Mrs Dennis Marks and Turnage’s publisher), and Peter Maniura (producer of Greek for TV) – are among the non-singing Police Squad.

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Greek is an important new work, a tough nut to crack, but one which will repay repeated study. Hugh Canning