Excuse me while I kiss this guy
Trinity Buoy Wharf
08/17/2004 - and 18, 19 August 2004
Thomas Gray, Laurence Cumming, George Frideric Handel, Jimi Hendrix: Time Flows
Jason Pennycooke (Mr Sands), Yvonne Powell (Mary), Catherine Manley (Francesco Cuzzoni), Rowan Fenner (Faustina Bordoni), Alan Saddington (John Du Burk), Thomas Gray (Hendrix vocals)
Laurence Cummings (Handel music director), Thomas Grey (Hendrix music director), William Relton (director)
London Handel Orchestra, Thomas Gray Band, Streetwise Opera
Streetwise Opera, an opera company of homeless and formerly homeless people, had a notable success last year with its staging of Britten's Canticles in Westminster Abbey. This year, they broke new ground with Time Flows, an original work staged in Trinity Buoy Wharf, just across the river from the defunct Dome in Docklands, which may never have seen a musical performance before. But the virtual setting of the work, subtitled "A Handel and Hendrix Experience" was Brooke Street, in the centre of London, and place in musical history of two of its houses. Both houses, numbers 23 and 25, are now part of the Handel House Museum; George Frideric Handel lived for most of his life in England in number 23, and Jimi Hendrix lived for a few months at the height of his fame in 1968-9 in a flat in the same house.
Two rooms in the warehouse housed the twentieth and eighteenth century respectively, with appropriate bands, and the audience was taken on a tour of the times of Handel and Hendrix. Also on the tour were Sam, a cool poetry lover there for the Hendrix exhibition (which really is currently on at the house), and Mary, a rather uptight Handelian. They met on the street somewhere frantic, with an exotic array of street life, and asked for directions at the same time, obviously setting themselves up for conflict and them romance. In the house, they met the mysterious guide Mr Sands, exuberantly played by Jason Pennycooke, who was clearly going to show them about themselves as well as music and history.
In the following scenes, we were all led between samples of Hendrix's times and work – a stream of starry visitors, with Cliff Richard turned away, a reflection on "Purple Haze" and love – and Handel's – a performance by the rival queens Cuzzoni and Bordoni, with a premium ding-dong. In both times, the house was filled with colorful characters in period dress. Handel and Hendrix were absent, but represented by a tailor's dummy in each room dressed in characteristic clothes. The rooms were linked not only by the movement of the audience, but also by a singer in an aqua dress who walked through each room singing the "River Song", an simple but effective play on the river of time and the Thames right outside the building.
A pair of powerful scenes dealt with the composers' deaths, and created an emotional climate (the dead march from Saul and "Voodoo Chile") that finally brought Sam and Mary together with "Where e'er you walk", before an exuberant conclusion, "Happy we" from Acis and Galatea. Both the idea and the libretto were endearing, if a touch shapeless: various people pointed out some obvious similarities between Handel and Hendrix, virtuoso musicians who came young to London and achieved superlative success, who recycled others' music and made it their own and who never married at least in part because music was central to their lives; but it was more a collection of amusing and interesting snippets than a tightly structured whole. The performance, though, was energetic and affectingly committed, with a delightful parade of characters and a good humored group of guides, and fine musical performances from Thomas Gray and his band and Laurence Cummings and his, plus the sopranos Katherine Manley and Rowan Ferrer, who literally kicked butt. Twentieth- and eighteenth-century performers joined in each others' music, and the divas took enthusiastically to the rock musicians. Similarly, the new music was uncomplicated but effective, setting a straightforward emotional tone for each point of the action.
If there was an overall conclusion, beyond the fact that Handel and Hendrix both wrote some great music that works in almost any performance, it was that Hendrix's twentieth-century individualism, although it contained the seeds of his destruction, has as much emotional impact as Handel's communal-based works. "Angel" and "De Torrente" from Dixit Dominus both hit you in the solar plexus. And both of them in some way drew their sense of life from living in a great city.