Atthis, Linbury Studio Theatre: Review

Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas brings his song cycle based on the ancient love poetry of Sappho to the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House for several special performances.

The haunting atmosphere begins the second you step into the auditorium when you are confronted by a large circular screen, with a small platform featuring a sleeping Claire Booth just in front of it.

Conducted by Pierre-Andre Valade, the London Sinfonietta  seemed slightly hesitant at first and as such the music sounded a bit tentative. But this seemed to change as the performance went on and the sound was certainly more confident and self-assured.

The music was bold, dramatic and unlike anything that I have ever heard before. It really seemed to stir up a different image of what it is like to be in the darkness – not necessarily in the night but rather being in the depths of grief and despair.

However, as brilliantly composed the music has been by Haas, it felt like it didn’t quite match the choreography (or to be more precise the choreography didn’t quite match the music) and it came across as uncertain in which direction it was going to take.

But it has to be said that the performances by the dancers Rachel Maybank (Atthis) and Laure Bachelot were extremely powerful and managed to convey the story of what was happening perfectly.

Soprano Claire Booth also provided an excellent performance with her vocals sending chills up the spine more than once throughout. Her strong but haunting performance was really believable and the audience is certainly drawn to what she is singing – completely hypnotic.

Sung in a mixture of Ancient Greek and German translation, the performance is formed of fragments of love poems by Sappho, focusing on those addressed to the young woman Atthis. The poems trace the gradual disintegration of a love affair and it is this that is so well performed on the stage.

While there might have been moments when not everything flowed well together, there is certainly many examples of brilliance in this quirky and dreamlike production.

It is clear to see what director Netia Jones had in mind, but it is more of a question of whether it actually worked as well as it should have done – which I feel in doubt of.

The overall feeling that I was left feeling was complete and utter bewilderment but is still utterly compelling to watch thanks to the fantastic performances from Claire Booth, Laure Bachelot and Rachel Maybank. A very interesting evening.

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