Home Featured Proms & ENO: Glass Handel review – arias meet beatboxing in a creative but baffling cacophony | Proms 2022

Proms & ENO: Glass Handel review – arias meet beatboxing in a creative but baffling cacophony | Proms 2022

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Proms & ENO: Glass Handel review – arias meet beatboxing in a creative but baffling cacophony | Proms 2022


Another week, another foray beyond BBC Proms HQ. The latest Prom to leave the Royal Albert Hall was an “operatic experience” at Printworks London – once the largest printing factory in western Europe, and since 2017 reincarnated as a massive club and gig venue. It’s the kind of cavernous space that generates its own electric atmosphere long before any performance starts. (More’s the pity that this first Prom at the Printworks will also be the last: the entire complex is now set to close to allow for “redevelopment”.) As we stood waiting for the start in neon-shot darkness, an electronic soundscape of breathing – or perhaps it was the wind or the sea? – mingled with whispers of bafflement.

Bafflement turned out to be essential to this event masterminded by countertenor and operatic uber-showman Anthony Roth Costanzo in collaboration with English National Opera. Handel arias alternated with chunks of Philip Glass, punctuated by ear-bending beatboxing by Jason Singh, all subtle purrs and rattles, clicks and pops. Short films were projected on to the walls, minutely synched to the music: a Monty Python-ish medieval knight; dogs playing (leaping in comical slow-motion for one of Handel’s heart-wrenching slow sections); an adolescent girl weeping on a runway in a desert; a surreal sequence of erotic puddings, cigarettes and sausages in lurid 1960s colour.

People hold strip-lights while a person in a puff-sleeve dress walks between them
Bafflement essential: Anthony Roth Constanzo in Proms @ Printworks. Photograph: Mark Allan/BBC

Meanwhile, Roth Costanzo processed between stages at opposite ends of the print hall, accompanied by identically dressed models carrying strip lights and followed by mesmerised audience members. There were dancers, and British artist Glenn Brown painted a man sporting a cavalier hat with an enormous feather.

The results of this creative cacophony were spectacular, its hyperactive pace allowing no time for reflection. Roth Costanzo was mic’d up and – like so much else in this show – often visible only on the big screen. I found myself yearning for some intimacy and narrative. Instead, amid the rhythmic loops and repetitive harmonic licks of the Glass (exceptionally tight playing here from the ENO orchestra under Karen Kamensek), the Handel arias were also transformed into an abstract soundtrack – though to what, I have no idea.