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Opera was a curate's egg.

Byline: Gail-Nina Anderson

The Portrait, Opera North, at Newcastle Theatre Royal RUSSIAN composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 1980 opera isn't top of the pops, but this new production shows it's time for a fresh look at a career that survived Stalin to produce work at once lyrical, absurd and subversive.

The story is from Gogol, master of the grotesque. Struggling painter Chartkov (Paul Nilon) buys a strange portrait (here, a flawed mirror) which showers him with money.

Seduced by the possibilities of wealth, he squanders his talents by pandering to the wealthy populace of St Petersburg.

The satirical gallery of egocentric patrons that ends the first act was frighteningly funny, not least because they were all about 8ft tall, except for a squat creature whose crinoline (I hope) concealed some hidden transport.

In the second half I had a problem with the decision to show Chartkov's realisation that his art is now meaningless through the encroachment of modernism.

Everyone painting the same portrait of Stalin makes a point, but a progression via Warhol to Damien Hirst doesn't imply selling your artistic soul to the devil!

But Nilon performed so brilliantly when his despairing monologues became a video installation that I could have forgiven anything.

The piece is a curate's egg and a curiosity, but it elicited a great performance.

Gail-Nina Anderson

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ARTISTRY A scene from Opera North's new production of Weinberg's The Portrait
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 22, 2011
Words:233
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