Absurd, unpleasant and wonderfully pertinent: Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park

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In a month in which the British political landscape has more often resembled a Beckettian wasteland than a functional European democracy – Waiting for Brexit now seems to be reaching its excruciating final chapter – a night with Gerald Barry’s absurdist, existentially fraught opera The Intelligence Park could not have been more appropriate. (So much so, in fact, that by the end of the first act I was half-wondering if those in charge of programming at the Royal Opera House had also spent the summer daylighting as SpAds). For those hoping to be baffled, beguiled, affronted and tickled all in one go then director Nigel Lowery’s brand-new production – the first since its premiere almost 30 years ago – did not disappoint.

The Intelligence Park is, to use that increasingly ubiquitous and invariably irritating term, ‘meta’ on multiple levels. Firstly, and most obviously, it is an opera about an opera: Robert Paradies, an 18th-century Irish bourgeoisie, played by baritone Michel de Souza, is composing an opera seria on the romantic entanglements of a warrior, Wattle, and his enchantress lover, Daub. But when Paradies becomes enamoured by his betrothed’s singing teacher, an Italian castrato named Serafino (Patrick Terry), he becomes increasingly distracted from his creative pursuits. He, of course, is not the only one keen on the handsome cantore: his wife-to-be Jerusha (Rhian Lois) falls under the same spell, and, much to the ire of her father, the magistrate Sir Joshua Cramer (Stephen Richardson), she elopes with Serafino. (Pleasingly, the love triangle is based on the real-life adventures of 18th-century castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci).

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