Blue Reviews – London Coliseum

A reviews round-up for English National Opera’s Blue at the London Coliseum.

This is the UK premiere for acclaimed, Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori‘s opera, directed by acclaimed British theatre Tinuke Craig (Jitney).

This intimate family drama with a devastating emotional core stars Zwakele Tshabalala as the Son, Nadine Benjamin as the Mother, and Kenneth Kellogg as the Father.

Set in Harlem, New York, an activist son clashes with his police officer father, with the repercussions of police brutality on black families and communities at the centre of the opera.

The librettist of Blue is by Tazewell Thompson, the ENO orchestra is conducted Matthew Kofi Waldren, set and costumes are by Alex Lowde, lighting by James Farncombe, video by Ravi Deepres, and sound by Yvonne Gilbert.

Blue is playing at the London Coliseum until 4 May 2023

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Blue reviews

The Stage

"Compelling production by Tinuke Craig"

"Compelling debut work tackles racist violence and family tragedy"

"Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s opera does not shy away from uncomfortable truths, in a compelling production by Tinuke Craig that’s bolstered by fine musical performances and an innovative set."

"... the excellent individual performances from Nadine Benjamin as the Mother, American baritone Kenneth Kellogg – the role’s originator – as the Father, and ENO Harewood Artist Zwakele Tshabalala as the Son."

"Composer Tesori’s stylistically wide-ranging score is well played by the ENO orchestra under Matthew Kofi Waldren, who directs with precision and energy."

Inge Kjemtrup, The Stage
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The Guardian

"Racial violence, love and loss in a lyrical and angry work of unflinching power"

"Jeanine Tesori’s opera, with its tragically familiar narrative of police brutality, is compellingly told in Tinuke Craig’s nuanced production for English National Opera."

"Setting a text by Tazewell Thompson, it’s an angry but lyrical work that deals unflinchingly with the impact of racial discrimination, police brutality and racially motivated violence on a Black family in present day Harlem. The narrative is horribly and tragically familiar."

"Tesori’s score largely adheres to traditional structures of arias and ensembles, though it also has a directness of expression that proves persuasive."

"There are blazing central performances – wonderfully sung and acted with passionate conviction – from Nadine Benjamin and Kenneth Kellogg as the mother and father. Zwakele Tshabalala is touching as the headstrong yet vulnerable son..."

"... Kofi Waldren conducts with considerable commitment and finesse. The playing is exemplary."

Tim Ashley, The Guardian
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The Telegraph

"A promising, topical drama crushed by its own earnestness"

"Hingeing on a father-son clash within an African American family, this garlanded US import never quite comes to dramatic life"

"Blue is a sincere statement about a serious issue. But that seriousness is also the problem for a work that never quite seems to get out from under its own weight. Action is stifled and drama smothered altogether in a sequence of tableaux in which figures (The Mother, The Son, The Reverend, The Father) take it in turns to tell us what they think and feel. They have to do this, because Thompson’s laborious libretto gives them no opportunity to show us instead."

"A strong cast, conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, give their all."

"Certainties make for good politics, good protest. Good opera? Not so much. Blue is topical and urgent, but if that’s what you’re after then you’d do better to turn on the news."

Alexandra Coghlan, The Telegraph
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The Times

"At full tilt, a thrillingly combative opera"

"I was expecting something rather more belligerent, volatile and shocking from Jeanine Tesori’s 2018 opera Blue..."

"Both these episodes, tersely scripted by Tazewell Thompson, are the stuff of true opera: thrillingly combative, tense and inspiring Tesori’s most powerful music... What considerably reduces the intensity, however, is the protracted, low-key opening..."

"The singing throughout by the ten-strong cast is exemplary (though the amplification is unnecessarily oppressive in places) and Tesori’s immaculate crafted score — which has jazzy moments as well as lyrical grace — is efficiently conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren."

Richard Morrison, The Times
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The Financial Times

"Grief, race and police brutality"

"ENO’s production of Jeanine Tesori’s new opera tells of a father-son conflict which ends in tragedy"

"Opera often gives musical expansiveness to emotions beyond the scale of speech. You can feel American composer Jeanine Tesori applying that expansiveness throughout her opera"

"In act one Tesori’s efforts tend to misfire, sometimes in ludicrous ways, even though there is an absorbing narrative that raises a spectrum of emotion. In act two there is almost no story, only different aspects of grief over the loss of an adolescent child, yet the music and the emotion all touch the same target with deeply affecting power."

"Not only does Ronald Samm’s performance as the priest, eloquently uniting words and music, raise the opera’s tension in a new way, but now the verbally lucid Kellogg meets his music with a vocal power not evident before."

Alastair Macaulay, The Financial Times
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The Evening Standard

"This production will gather momentum and intensity"

"South London-born soprano Nadine Benjamin is particularly outstanding among the singers"

"Tazewell Thompson’s libretto has its playful or humorous moments but doesn’t hold back its anger..."

"Important things happen, but scene by scene the action feels inert. The central figures are called, plainly, The Mother, The Father and The Son, which suggests types rather than fleshed-out characters."

"The 10 singers, erratically amplified, give it their all, with Nadine Benjamin outstanding: her final cry of anguish is terrifying, but there is also tenderness and steely determination. Kenneth Kellogg’s Father is on the stolid side, and we don’t hear enough of Zwakele Tshabalala as The Son."

Nick Kimberley, The Evening Standard
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📷 Main photo: Blue - ENO 2023. Zwakele Tshabalala. Photo by Zoe Martin

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