(Helen Meany’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2.)
A woman is motionless on a plinth, her dark head emerging from a white feathered gown that cascades from her neck to the ground far below her. The first thought is of Winnie in Happy Days, buried to her neck in sand, suggesting a rationale for including Benjamin Britten’s final cantata, Phaedra, in the programme. This festival takes a scenic route around Beckett, pursuing lines of connection with artists who were significant to him. This year, it is the turn of TS Eliot and Racine, on whose tragedy, Phèdre, Britten based his 15-minute piece for mezzo soprano and chamber orchestra.
As the audience surrounds Phaedra in the darkness, she rotates slowly, lamenting her plight: doomed by the gods to be enthralled by her stepson Hippolytus. Layers of sound extend the Ulster Orchestra’s percussion, pizzicato and Ruby Philogene’s intense arias, while the white gown disintegrates in dripping water. All elements combine to create an image of frozen grief exquisitely realised by directors Sophie Hunter and Andrew Staples.
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