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Review: GODS OF THE GAME, Grange Park Opera

New opera takes us to the dirty deeds and dirty play in the World Cup Finals of 2030

Review: GODS OF THE GAME, Grange Park Opera Review: GODS OF THE GAME, Grange Park Opera Thumb through the profiles of sopranos, mezzos, tenors, conductors, directors etc in a Royal Opera House programme and you'll see a rainbow of nationalities represented and you'll think, niche though it may be, opera is global. You might wonder about any other art forms that can send so diverse a body of men or women out to entertain us and, stretching the definition a little (but not at all in the case of the Gods cited in this show) and you get football.

So it's a good fit, especially in a World Cup year, to premiere an opera about the game (not so beautiful these days) and stage it in the football hotbed of er... Surrey. Actually, the wondrous Grange Park Opera is a fine venue, and the City hotshots who might live a mere Kevin De Bruyne free kick away will find plenty of their international dealmaking shenanigans represented in the show too.

Phil Porter's libretto is a typical slice of operatic hokum, but it's never less than engaging and you can have a lot of fun working out which real life figures have inspired his creations. I could come up with at least three for each of them, but, defamation laws being what they are...

Appropriately, it's a show of two halves. In the first, we meet Viko the serious-minded superstar from South America whose vision of football was formed in the favelas and who is tiring of the cynicism he encounters at the top of the game. His childhood friend, Eva, is captain of the women's national team and she's just as romantic about the game, but she retains her faith in the powers-that-be. For now.

Preening and posing for selfies, Soren strides in and, a bit later, you're not that surprised to see him wearing a number 7 shirt. He and Viko have history on the field and are about to go head-to-head in the bidding for the right to host the 2030 World Cups (plural, men's and women's held concurrently - which isn't the worst idea I've heard). They'll have to win the delegates' votes and, to do that, they'll have to find favour with FIFA President Puzzo - and there's only one way of doing that, as his official film-maker, Martina, is finding out.

The second half takes us to the finals themselves, to the pressure of the matches, to the face-off between pragmatism and principles and to Lee Mack in the commentator's booth and Jamie and Gary in the studio. Eva has an epiphany and Viko, Soren and Puzzo? Well, let's just say the boy done good.

If it takes a while to avoid the thought, "That's Mo Salah" every time Michel De Souza's Viko is on stage, his rich baritone and impressive bearing wins us over - that's if the splendid Grange Park Opera Chorus and superb Gascoigne Orchestra (Bamber not Paul) hasn't already convinced you that this is serious stuff musically. Milly Forrest has to reach to be heard over the music at times, but she plays a tricky role well and, crucially, looks like a player. Idunnu Münch's mezzo is just about the best voice on show, but the part of Martina is underwritten and her talents underused as a consequence.

It's no surprise to learn that David Webb was a handy youth player as the tenor looks every inch an athlete and hits a worldie into the back of the net with an aria you've heard before - but like Soren does it. Alan Ewing's Puzzo is skin-crawlingly sleazy but, as elsewhere, if there's a touch of caricature in the character, there's no compromise in the music (credited to a back five of Julian Philips, Aran O'Grady, Ábel Esbenshade, Blasio Kavuma and Lucy Armstrong).

Filmed for Sky Arts and to be available on demand, I'm sure this production will win many new fans for opera and show that there's plenty of scope to enjoy Puccini and Platini, Rossini and Rossi, Mozart and Moore. After all, the big fella up front did - one Luciano Pavarotti.

Gods Of The Game is at Grange Park Opera until 16 October and will appear on Sky Arts and On Demand

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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