The Return of Ulysses at the Roundhouse: the music and the drama save the stupid placement
Doing an opera in the Roundhouse is stupid. Very stupid. Mostly because you cannot have a unamplified spectacle done in a round stage/auditorium with the singers facing different directions. Sound is a directional thing, you know, with waves propagating towards a specific direction. And the voice is projected on a single direction. This is the most basic thing in acoustics. And voice is the most basic thing in opera. So this does not work. Period. You can have amplified music with omni-directional set of speakers, perfect. But not traditional opera.
Also the Roundhouse as a venue is totally flawed by the fact that more than half of its seats have vision obstructed by columns. But not one, no, two of three on your direct vision line to the stage. Again. Stupid. Probably in the 60s someone thought that having an industrial place converted into an arts venue was a cool thing and the fact of bad acoustics and vision were minor things. But come on! We are in 2018. We can accept mistakes and stop being silly·
Another mistake is translating the opera into English. Is the Royal Opera House taking every chance they have outside the Convent Garden to do this? Is it not enough of stupid traditions the English National Opera doing it?. It is pointless. It doesn’t help the drama. If you ask, 75% of the people listening to an opera in English for the first time cannot understand the words and they need to read the surtitles. Actually having English surtitles in England for Enlish sung music explain it quite well. So translating into English does not help the drama, just can break the poetry on it.
Anyway here is the magic, Monteverdi music is so good, it was so well performed that it overcame these problems and resulted on a enjoyable experience. Based on the stupid premise of having a round stage director John Fulljames manages to create an intelligent setting that the audience can enjoy.
As with every Monteverdi opera the musical director choices are crucial. Here Christian Curnyn opted for a rich continuo approach with violins and cornets for the ritornellos and minor embellishments. Nothing spectacular but nothing too dry nor dull.
Roderick Williams was an amazing and powerful Ulysses. Caitlin Hulcup was replacing the unwell Rice and she did a very good job. The rest of the cast was also quite good.