Four star review from Opera Now magazine for Noah Mosley's 'finely crafted' new opera: Mad King Suibhne

That Bury Court barn should serve up a wholly new opera comes as no surprise.  The enterprise, flair and innovation of this charming venue in deepest Hampshire knows no bounds.
     The new work, finely crafted, was Noah Mosley's one-acter, Mad King Suibhne, which the composer, who founded King's  College London Opera, adroitly conducted.  The story is adapted (by Ivo Mosley) from a 12th-century Irish poem.  The content is what one might expect: mystic, virtually fairy-tale, with a moral underlay.  A king (Dominic Bowe), driven mad in battle, flees to the forests, shunning responsibility.  He engages with changing seasons, woodland glades, watercourses, plant life, animals and birdlife.  Memory of past wars troubles him.  Only the love of his desolate wife, Queen Eorann, and the shrewd guidance of a Witch (Laura Woods) lure him back to sanity.  Overcoming a rival, emotionally redeemed, he reclaims his throne.
      This is the world of Holst (Savitri), Vaughan Williams (Riders to the Sea) and of James MacMillan's The Sacrifice, with shades of Pelleas and of that one-time favourite, Ruitland Boughton's The Immortal Hour.
     Noah Mosley's score is varied, lively and energised: rich in instrumental colour from a small ensemble, it contains some divine upper string writing, and - these being Celtic lands - makes effective use of the harp and horn.  Parts of it sound like modern Purcell.  There is some exquisite vocal writing - the Queen's song, part a lament, is a notable instance (the aptly named Isolde Roxby, suitably moving); Suibhne's loyal supporter, Lynshechan, was sensitively protrayed by Henry Grant Kerswell.
     The language is somewhat drawn out, even overladen, but it clearly reflects the poetic vision of Celtic mythology.  The intriguing set (Holly Pigott) engaged multiple ladders, shifted by a keenly involved, well-drilled chorus, occasionally corny in gesture.  A flute and bass clarinet hover onstage like a mysterious escort, sometimes joining in the clutch of warming ensemble interludes.  Bowe made a suitably hapless king, questing vainly for a meaning to life, finally bursting out in a Lloyd-Webber-ish triumphal hymn to 'harmony and justice', perhaps the one inept moment in the work.
     The anonymous 16th-century pastiche l'Ospedale, a Moliere-like spoof about the greed and ineptitude of the medical profession ('Keep away from doctors if you want to stay healthy'), was first staged at Wilton's Music Hall in 2015.  The music emerged as rewarding as Monteverdi or Cavalli, thanks to the viola da gamba-led ensemble, Solomon's Knot.  Jonathan Sells as the quack and enchanting countertenor Michal Czerniawski scored high in a hilariously tight updated production from James Hurley.  An indisposed Thomas Herford mimed his role: Edward Hughes san it splendidly from the wings.  James Halliday conducted enticingly: a treat of a second half.

Opera Now magazine, May 2017, Roderic Dunnett   To read the Digital edition of Opera Now, click here