A Dog’s Heart

There’s been a lot of fuss in the media recently about the wisdom of letting
a theatre director loose on opera, but Complicite co-founder Simon McBurney
does a stunning job of staging this new adaptation of Bulgakov’s subversive
satire which was written in 1925 but remained unpublished in his native
Russia until 1987.

You’re unlikely to remember much of Raskatov’s varied, disjointed music
after a single hearing and in reality it proves subservient to the inventive
visual images McBurney creates to tell the story of a starving, stray
mongrel, Sharik, who is seduced by a tasty sausage offered by the privileged
Professor Preobrazhensky, nursed back to health and then (in an operation
graphically shown in silhouette) has his pituitary gland and testicles
replaced with those of a human.

Like Frankenstein’s monster, however, the
result of this manmade experiment turns out to be far from what the
scientist anticipated – the mutt morphs into a swearing, spitting,
sexually-obsessed, balalaika-playing lout, Sharikov, with all the uncouth
characteristics of the proletarian donor.

This is, of course, a critique of communism and Soviet social engineering,
but despite a serious message and a darkening atmosphere, the production is
also endlessly playful. Sharik is a rangy, emaciated puppet (inspired by
Giacometti, created by Blind Summit and doubly voiced by countertenor Andrew
Watts and a soprano growling through a megaphone).

Sharikov’s relentless
pursuit of a cat ends in a deluge of water. And McBurney’s clever use of
video projection adds layers of association, threat and subtlety to an
unconventional UK premiere which deserves to attract both open-minded opera
aficionados and those new to the art form.


English National Opera at the London Coliseum St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES
Charing Cross tube
0871 911 0200
£11 – £52
Until 4th

– Louise Kingsley