Gerard Barry’s first opera, The Intelligence Park, has taken just shy of thirty years to attain its second staging – the first being at the Almeida Theatre in 1990. Barry is much more of a known quantity these days. This production is set in a in fabulously-coloured cartoonish toy-theatre encased in a black-brick-wall surround. It is imposing yet superbly artificial, and there is extremely clever use of props and puppetry. However, the wordy libretto by Vincent Deane doesn’t always help the plot.
The storyline, largely set in Dublin, centres around Sir Joshua Cramer’s attempts to marry his daughter Jerusha to composer Robert Paradies. A significant testamentary inheritance will be guaranteed for Paradies. However, the composer is suffering from artistic block whilst writing his opera. Paradies’s friend Faranesi tries to encourage him by telling of the singer Serafino, who happens to be Jerusha’s teacher. Paradies hears Serafino and is stunned – his creativity is gradually re-awakened. However, the plot thickens when it becomes apparent Jerusha is in love with Serafino and is planning to elope. Eventually Cramer captures his daughter and Serafino and separates them. Paradies pleads with him to save Serafino’s life – he needs him to sing in his opera. Cramer has an apoplectic fit and dies; he has already made his will and so Paradies could inherit if he marries, but he declines.
Barry’s music is vibrant, rhythmically propulsive, intense and often thrilling. There is much that seems to echo Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and the deployment of a countertenor for Serafino brings in some Brittenesque tints too.
Jessica Cottis leads a spirited performance by the London Sinfonietta and all the singers show great commitment and cope admirably with their generally angular, range-juggling and busy vocal lines and all make their dramatic presence felt.
Ultimately though, despite some stock situations for comic business, the wit of the plot doesn’t emerge emphatically enough. Nigel Lowery’s zany staging does all it probably can.
- Further performance at Linbury Theatre on October 4, then at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff (October 8), Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (October 12) and Birmingham Repertory Theatre (November 4)