Review: BLUE, London Coliseum

The ENO's new production runs until 4 May

By: Apr. 24, 2023
Review: BLUE, London Coliseum
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Review: BLUE, London Coliseum Blue is an opera of two acts. It starts with a tightly framed small-scale focus on family; a nameless black New York cop and the growing rift between him and his teenage son, an activist more interested in breaking the law than protecting it. The seeds of political conflict are sown firmly.

But little of the endearing charm found in the first act finds its way into the second. After the son's death, sudden but predictable, Tazewell Thompson's text seeks solace by looking outwards to religion and Christian iconography; the father-son relationship becomes that of God and Christ sacrificed for the good of humanity.

It's a curious direction to take it. Unfortunately the God-Christ analogy doesn't tie the loose conceptual threads together. Pressing socio-political questions about race, fatherhood, and institutional racism go unresolved, a shame given the raw emotions the second act is able to muster. The penultimate scene sees a poignant collective outpouring of grief from the family's community, made all the harder hitting knowing how real these emotions are for black communities.

Regardless of the opera's flaws this production exudes creative flair and confidence. It is a visual feast: a platform on stage rotates within a wider circle. It's a window into its world: washed in, organically morphing CGI projections of New York that firmly place us in the physical and emotional setting. Up and comer Tinuke Craig, who helmed the critically acclaimed Jitney at the Old Vic last year, garners a palpable sense of claustrophobia and helplessness as characters are caught within the cycle of grief, death and violence.

The music also evokes the setting with its jazzy and choral inflections, deftly evoking the urban rhythm of the city in all its pulsating technicolour. Latter sections rumble with tumultuous percussion as a spine-chilling omen, which onomatopoeically echo the brutal wail of police sirens. Any residual rhapsodic comfort has long dissipated.

For all the score's neat flourishes it, alongside conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, seems to add more breadth than depth. It's pleasant to listen to but in a cinematic way. It's always subservient to the visuals.

With that said, strong performances prop up the production across the board. Kenneth Kellogg and Nadine Benjamin as the father and mother offer immense vocal warmth as loving parents only for the vocals to turn to blood boiling anger in the second act. Benjamin is often accompanied by a trio of girlfriends who too, artfully capture the turn from the tenderness of sisterly friendship to the heavy darkness of grief.

This production undeniably bleeds emotional fury, but Blue as an opera just doesn't have the conceptual weight to deliver the gut punch that it seeks.

Blue runs at the English National Opera until 4 May

Photo Credit: Zoe Martin


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