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Review: Dr Dee: An English Opera @ Palace Theatre, Manchester
FORGET Pop Star to Opera Star on the TV, this is the real thing.
Blur’s Damon Albarn has teamed up with award-winning director Rufus Norris in this special commission which is one of the flagship offerings of the Manchester International festival.
It’s an interpretation of the life of John Dee, Elizabethan scientist, astronomer, cartographer and all-round genius who died in poverty after getting involved with a dodgy psychic and being accused of dabbling in dark arts to further his knowledge thus ruining his reputation.
Visually the production is stunning, Dee’s equations and theories fly in front of your eyes; human ravens stalk the tortured genius with menace and huge concertina-like walls of paper criss-cross the stage as the story develops.
Albarn perches Puck-like above the action on his own minstrel’s gallery accompanied by a band of musicians playing a variety of weird Elizabethan instruments, completely caught up in the music.
Vocally, Albarn is surprisingly effective. Against the classically trained voices below him, he offers a vulnerable, emotional counterpart.
Dr Dee is quite a challenge for the uninitiated and my advice would be, read the programme notes before the show starts.
It’s also a little bit of a triumph of style over substance, with perhaps a little more of the fascinating story needing to be told more overtly.
That said, as a total experience, Albarn has one again proved that he’s a huge amount of talent and passion.