English National Opera have made it their calling to turn concert classics into stage productions. We've seen this before from them with Britten's War Requiem and Handel's Messiah, yet would their most recent reimagining work?

Written in the late 1970s, Górecki's 3rd Symphony, also known as ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs' reached a massive plateau in the early 90s. Catapulted into fame, the work is now cherished by millions of music lovers. Dubbed as ‘Sacred Minimalist, a term the composer appears to have dismissed, the effect of the score is deeply rooted in misery and loss. The real question remains: does it work as a staged production? Director and designer Isabella Bywater has done what she can, though a fierce static, slight aura still lingers.
Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya brought powerful vigour to this popular work, the orchestra solemn in their playing and remarkably quiet at times. London's biggest theatre might impose upon such a delicate and gentle composition, very easy for it to be drowned out. Soprano Nicole Chevalier remained a touching addition to the show, an emboldened sense of reverence and utter grief. Within the third movement, you could notice her getting lost when to come in, it's labyrinth I imagine a nightmare for a lot of singers. Actors used throughout may not be as effective as intended, clad in uniforms and blackened masks.   
The staging does have appeal, each of the three movements is given a separate vitality. Video work by Roberto Vitalini sees an undulating vibrancy, screened upon coarse ropes used as a forrest-like fibre later on. The first moment kept some of the biblical imagery of Mary below Jesus on the cross, though some nice touches would see an aerial act evoking the pieces used in Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life. Though the context of the Holocaust and the earlier Polish uprisings are not really seen on the stage, the third act felt like a lament for Ukraine, the country's colours meshing around the space. A lovely costume at the end moves you more, though I wouldn't spoil it for those hoping to see it. 


It runs till 6th May 

Review: James Ellis        Photo: Clive Barda