Dr Dee – An English Opera

Dr Dree An English OperaOnly recently, I learnt that Damon Albarn had been working on a piece of theatre based on the life and works of the great Dr John Dee.

Today I had the pleasure of seeing the production.

Aptly named, Dr Dee – An English Opera is moving, patriotic and lively.  Using a wide range of instruments and theatrical style, Damon Albarn has been quoted as referring to this work as a “Folk Opera”.

MonkeyThree years ago I was lucky enough to see the Operatic rendition of Journey to the West (one of the most influential stories in my life – I highly recommend reading an English translation of the original Chinese classic Journey to the West).

Albarn’s compositions for Monkey were superb and so I knew in advance that I would enjoy his latest operatic offering.

John DeeEqually enticing to me is the subject matter: Dr. John Dee, a man without whom we would probably not have the understanding of Enochian magic that we have today.

(For more on Dee’s take on angelic communication, as detailed in the Book of Enoch, try Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley).

I’m not saying I am a fan of Dee’s magical work; from what I’ve learned previously, he was a little naive in the amount of trust he placed in his less than scrupulous sidekick, Edward Kelley.

Dee's GlyphThis important aspect to Dee’s life is not overlooked in this work. I was mesmerised during scenes of Kelley and Dee channelling spirits.

Albarn is not let down by co-creator, director Rufus Norris.

The stage work is superb from such a small company of players. Bertie Carvel gives Dee a level of passion and drive worthy of the physician-astrologer’s alleged obsessions.

Dee’s presence on stage is only overshadowed by the awesome figure of Francis Walsingham, great grandfather of military intelligence. Walsingham is lent overpowering form by the baritone, Steven Page, whose booming voice and looming stature gripped me throughout his performances.

Dee’s wife is bravely portrayed by Victoria Couper, also noticeable in other roles along with the rest of the company.

Albarn and SingerAlbarn adds to the performance throughout; singing us through the story of Dee’s life in his trademark melancholic style. Damon is also seen to conduct a team of instrumentalists all housed separate from the main action on stage.

Along with these incredible performances, there is great use of screen projection to add to everything happening on stage.

Dr DeeFrom the new world being sucked into Queen Elizabeth to the conversion of stage action to static woodcuts, the projections were far more subtle than those used in Journey to the West.

The show is on at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until July 9th 2011. The programme says it will continue again in London, June 25th 2012 when the show opens at the Coliseum as a part of the London 2012 Festival.

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