One-time favourite at the court of Elizabeth I, Dr Dee (born in 1527) was a prominent mathematician and alchemist whose voracious appetite for knowledge finally led to his downfall.
Flashing back from the deathbed where he lies, an out-of-favour old man nursed by his daughter, Albarn and Norris conjure key moments of his life with masques, shadows, and computer graphics of swirling, complex calculations.
It’s not always immediately clear what’s going on (and surtitles might have helped) but it almost doesn’t matter as Dee’s love of books is conveyed by ever-expanding concertinaed tomes and his gilded royal patron is raised on high above her amassed flotilla.
And when, in a Faustian pact with the medium Edward Kelley (countertenor Christopher Robson) he agrees to share his wife in exchange for the ability to communicate with the angels, her horror is palpable.
The orchestra in the pit is enhanced by musicians on a rising platform and, perched aloft, the guitar-playing Albarn watches over his creation, his husky tones blending with the more musical theatre voice of Paul Hilton’s intense, driven Dee in Norris’s eye-catching production.
English National Opera at the London Coliseum
St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES
Tube: Charing Cross
Until 7th July
£29 – £125