Magnificent music a triumph in Pilgrim's Progress revival

Nov 8, 2012

First full professional staging of Vaughan Williams's for 60 years opera keeps audiences rapt

What you need to know
The English National Opera has revived Ralph Vaughan Williams's 1951 opera based on John Bunyan's 17th Century allegory The Pilgrim's Progress. The production is staged by celebrated Japanese actor-director Yoshi Oïda, a veteran member of Peter Brook's Parisian theatre company.

Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress attempts to turn Bunyan's Christian morality tale into a more general story of Everyman's spiritual path  through life, depicted as a journey fraught with dangers, trials and temptations.

Martyn Brabbins directs the music, and baritone Roland Wood takes the lead role of Pilgrim.

At the London Coliseum until 28 November.

What the critics like
The first full professional staging of The Pilgrim's Progress for 60 years is a quiet triumph, says Rupert Christiansen in The Daily Telegraph. "Its  luminous simplicity and spiritual sincerity move and exalt." Yoshi Oida's direction and Tom Schenk's design combine for "a maturely sensitive and often gently beautiful production" that keeps audiences rapt.

The great strength of this new staging is that it does justice to this long-neglected score, says Richard Morrison in The Times. Under Brabbins's exemplary musical direction the orchestra plays beautifully. The choral finale, like waves breaking from the stage, is "overwhelmingly ecstatic".

The magnificence of the music is the highlight, says Andrew Clements in The Guardian. Brabbins conducts with wonderful breadth and assurance. The orchestra and chorus make it all seem "sumptuous", while Roland Wood "impressively sustains the role of Pilgrim".

What they don't like
The first act seriously drags, says Michael Church in The Independent. It's a full hour before we get some real drama, and Oida's direction is  "numbingly bland". The Vanity Fair episode is "a cavalcade of camp clichés".

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