Damon Albarn is known for many things: being the Blur frontman, a Britpop pioneer, world music champion, one half of the mad minds behind cartoon supergroup Gorillaz, and now opera composer, too, with his latest stage endeavour, Dr Dee, about to hit London.
Much is made of Albarn’s musical chameleonship – you can hardly see the Gallaghers leaving their Champagne Supernovas behind to forge a new career as oboe obsessives – but the focus on the man behind the show rather than the show itself not just misses the point, but a sterling production and story, too.
Dr Dee tells of 16th-century renaissance man Doctor Dee, who rose to prominence in the Elizabethan age through his work in everything from alchemy and astrology to philosophy and physics. A latter-year obsession with the occult sent Dee on a downward spiral, though, that resulted in him dying discredited, penniless and disgraced. “The piece is a great illustration of the way in which ENO as a company blurs the boundaries between various creative art forms and offers a fantastic opportunity for introducing new audiences to opera,” ENO head of
press Elizabeth Barrett says.
“With Damon Albarn and Rufus Norris at the helm, it brings together one of the UK’s most talented musicians and the vision of one of our top directors, in what’s undoubtedly one of the cultural highlights of the summer.”
The production features pop vocals, performed mostly by Albarn, and orchestral music on 16th-century instrumentation, as Dee’s story is told across five centuries of English history and through the three realms of earth, heaven and hell. This is not, as they say, your father’s opera.
There are a whole host of operatic and classical productions hitting the city over the coming months, too, from the traditional to the contemporary, and you don’t have to be a diehard aficionado to enjoy them. Big Dance, the nationwide dance fest, has shows such as Sampled, geared specifically towards those for whom a night at the opera is not always top of the list, which boasts a diverse line- up of dance talent, genres and acts. “Sadlers Wells presents dance in all its forms, from hip-hop to flamenco, contemporary to tango,” theatre Artistic Director Alastair Spalding says.
“We wanted to offer the chance to see the widest range of dance styles at a low cost. Sampled offers a taster of the types of productions we put on our stages to audiences that might not consider seeing other forms of dance. “There’s a diverse line-up from some of the world’s greatest choreographers and artists, alongside showcase works from new and emerging talents, such as flamenco guitarist Paco Peña, who will be showing an excerpt from his new show Quimeras fusing Spanish and traditional South African music, and dance and hip hop pioneer Jonzi D performing Aeroplane Man.” So don’t be afraid, take a deep breath and embark on your own cultural odyssey.
Dr Dee, English National Opera
June 25, 26, 28 & 29, and July 4, 6, and 7
£15 | WC2N 4ES | Tube | Leicester Square
Sampled, Peacock Theatre. June 29 &30
£12 | WC2A 2HT Tube | Covent Garden
Image: Howard Barlow