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  • Miles Hedley

VENUS AND ADONIS at Blackheath Halls

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

John Blow’s 17th century work Venus And Adonis, reputedly the first English opera, contains music that is never less than blissful - but a plot that is never more than preposterous. Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous.

So how do you stage such a contrasting piece in this age of super-slick technology and consumer sophistication? Blackheath Halls Opera’s solution was to reimagine it as a fantastical take on a 21st century TV dating show such as Love Island. And the juxtaposition of the baroque and the bizarre was a triumph.

In director James Hurley’s vision, the Great Hall was transformed into a TV studio complete with smug execs, harassed technicians, a panel of judges, self-regarding stars, desperate contestants and a fabulous coterie of cherubs.

And over the course of an hour, they created a show so bitchy, so kitsch and so witty that if it were real all today’s major media companies would surely be fighting one another to buy it.

One of the many joys of the annual Blackheath Halls Opera is that local people and schoolchildren join hands with professional singers and über-talented Trinity Laban undergraduates to bring it to life. This year Claire Lees and Harry Thatcher (above) played the gorgeous protagonists as they got down and dirty to boost the TV ratings for a production team led by Rebecca Leggett, who was absolutely magnificent as an executive who is eventually hoist by her own petard.

And the mood of naked 21st century commercialism was undoubtedly given extra spice by the glorious 350-year-old tunes played by a 22-strong orchestra under harpsichordist and musical director Christopher Stark.

Youngsters from Greenvale School and Charlton Park Academy won all hearts as the shades-wearing, mischief-making Little Cupids and other cherubs alongside the Blackheath Halls Chorus and Youth Opera Company.

They in turn helped imbue the whole event with a rich sense of community that gave a truly moving undertone to the overarching sense of fun of this dazzling production, something of which project manager Rose Ballantyne and her team should be very proud. Bravo, tutti!


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