Manchester International Festival (MILF, I mean MIF) is back on us (follow on facebook and twitter), and thanks to my mum misreading the Palace Theatre's seating plan my fiancee and I were given two tickets for Damon Albarn's Dr. Dee opera. Although our seats were in the back row of the circle, with extremely limited view, we were able to move much further forward due to their being a surprising large amount of empty seats (it was the Sunday matinee). What are you people doing leaving empty seats at this incredible performance – Damon Albarn has become an artistic composer of note and in the future will be remembered. Would you have left empty seats for world premier runs of pieces by Stravinsky, Wagner, or Cole Porter?
Dr. Dee was John Dee (1527 – 1608ish); English mathematician, scientist, alchemist, master of divination, astronomy, the occult! As the libretto puts it he was John Dee John Dee, Faust, John Dee John Dee, Conjurer! As far as I can tell John Dee was a genius in an age before chemistry was seperate from alchemy, before astronomy was seperate from astrology, before science from magic. He fell under the influence of Edward Kelley, a fraudster who suffered intense hallucinations and delusions which he used to convince Dee to let him fuck his wife. In Dr. Dee Kelley is played by a rotund bald man with a screaming creepy falsetto voice.
John Dee had a huge private library which was destroyed later in his life. His library plays a huge role in Dr. Dee with clever folding paper constructs which move around the stage representing bookshelves. They are used as dance props, stage sets, and quick change screens. Regularly throughout the performance I had a swelling excited feeling that I was seeing something incredible; something important and excellent. The music was a great mix of folky/poppy/rock, Elizabethan dance, world, classical orchestral, opera, musical-theatre. The dancing was fantastic, particularly the ravens playing chess. There was a real raven flying on stage and crowing that haunting caww they do. Intense surreal dream and vision scenes, time travel told through costumes, wonderful prop designs – everything about this show is exciting, developed, and properly done.
Who would have thought that the annoying runt singer in that annoying chirpy Brit-pop band would turn into such a wonderful, era-definining composer. Dr. Dee is up there with Gorillaz Demon Days in terms of achievement and spectacle. Manchester and I are equally honoured to have been a part of this ; and I for one want the DVD. For three quid the programme was pretty good, but I get the feeling it was printed well before the show was written as it contains no pictures of the performance and no real details about the plot (except the biog of John Dee).
Every moment I remember another clever little piece of music, script, projection... and every time I remember something else my ability to write up the show diminishes slightly. Let me put it this way: there are five more performances and tickets left for all of them. If I had the money I would go again. Don't miss it : buy your tickets here. Damon Albarn is a true contemporary/modern composer - forget about Stockhausen and Cage on the one hand (as good as they are, no one is humming them) ; and forget about Andrew Lloyd Webber and fucking Ben Elton on the other (just shit, I mean really really awful).
Final Note: To the people taking pictures on your phones, two things - one; there are signs everywhere expressly forbidding photography. Regardless of whether or not this is for copyright reasons, it is really fucking distracting for everyone else to have little screens lighting up, and cameras flashing in your field of vision. Two; get a fucking life. There are pictures of it everywhere - you do not need to take your own pictures to prove you were there. The more fucking time you spend staring at that little screen, the less you are actually experiencing the art. Pathetic.