The Gloucester Group

A new opera double bill of works composed by the young Gloucester born composer, Louis Mander, who studied music at the University of Birmingham and then completed a Masters Degree in Composition at the Royal College of Music in London, is being performed at The Nave, St. Paul’s Road, N1 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until November 20th. The programme comprises The Mariner and The Clown of God, and lasts about 2 hours with an interval.

The Mariner is based upon the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge Taylor and opens with a wedding feast taking place in a port. One of the guests is waylaid by an old sailor who insists on telling him his story. The scene quickly moves to the deck of a sailing ship in the South Seas where a chorus of mariners sings of their concerns for the dangers they face. The story of the Ancient Mariner then unfurls before us and the wedding guest, complete with the death of the albatross, relays the story of the ghost ship with the spectres of ‘Death’ and ‘Life in Death’ gambling for the lives of the crew.

The direction by Sue Lefton and Ann Pennington is effective in conjuring up the stark cold and salutary experience of the Mariner after he kills the albatross, and the singing of the Ancient Mariner by Alex Duliba is powerful and very musical. He is well supported by some young and well trained voices, albeit that the composer has demanded three tenors for the characters of the Young Mariner, the Wedding Guest and the Pilot’s Mate. The voices of the two spirits sung by sopranos Jane Wilkinson and Merrin Lazyan are well balanced in a striking duet. The music has a very effective atmospheric feel to it, reminiscent of some of Britten’s work, and whilst the trio of piano, harp and accordion works well, I would welcome hearing it fully orchestrated as it would be much enhanced. I was particularly impressed by some of the choral music, and also the use of syncopation in the imagery of the ship toiling through the ocean.

The Clown of God has a libretto by Michael Arditti after a play he wrote concerning the last days of the famous Ballet Russes dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. The piece develops the image of the dancer suffering from acute schizophrenia in a Swiss sanatorium, being treated with an experimental course of insulin injections which result in him experiencing epileptic fits. The effects of this treatment cause him to relive key moments of both his private and his professional life and at the same time confusing people around him with characters from his memory. We see him reliving the fight he had as a child with his mentally disturbed brother; his relationship with Prince Lvov, his first lover; his fiery relationship with his director Diaghilev; his marriage to Romola; who is a frequent visitor to him in the sanatorium; and the effects of the outbreak of the First World War. As he has his final shot of insulin he sees himself as the ultimate victim, Christ.

Louis Mander’s music in this second piece is very different and demonstrates well his skills and creativity as a composer. He uses a waltz when the young Nijinsky dances to great effect but conveys a darkness and hopelessness as opposed to the joy that Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky bring when using a waltz. I was also impressed by his vocal writing and the musical line he develops.

The same singers and instrumentalists were used in this piece, and all worked well. I was particularly impressed by the singing of Marcio Silva as the Count, and Samuel Lobelson as Diaghilev together with Romola sung by Jane Wilkinson. This was a most enjoyable first encounter for me with this young composer’s music and I look forward to hearing more of his work.

To book tickets call: 020 7485 9911 or www.wegottickets.com

- John Bird