FESTIVAL REVIEW: Songs of the Sea

Songs of the Sea was an afternoon of curated music and poetry. The majority of the lyrics were poems set to music and delivered by a three-piece baritone, tenor and pianist. The programme for the two-hours varied in both mood and language, reflecting what poets and writers have looked to the sea for and felt over hundreds of years. The songs were in English, French and German and translations were provided in the programme.

Prior to the event, we picnicked in the grounds of the opera house. Glyndebourne is a typically English idyll, set in vast grounds and far enough away from the motorway that the bird chorus is the predominant background sound. Picnickers flocked to the banks of the river, which weaved through fields where lambs and their mother’s grazed. Closer to the venue, a redbrick house, with blooms of wisteria covering its walls gave a hint of the history of venue. Whilst surrounding the venue itself were sculptures including a reclining nude by Henry Moore. At every turn, there are picture perfect flowers and scenery.

As the lights came down for the Brighton Festival event, the sold-out theatre was hushed for the arrival of the musicians and the extraordinary actor, Rory Kinnear. Known for his television and theatre acting, Kinnear made this a starry recital. As the music and poetry unfolded the carefully put together programme, revealed the sorrow and sadness of lost fishermen; the transitory and effervescent thoughts that the sea brings to mind as well as the celebratory and historic aspects to our discovery and travel on the sea.

The poems, sung and spoken, varied from stories of laments, to Emily Dickinson’s Wild nights in which Dickinson relates the joy of getting lost ending in an ecstatic sensual abandonment. Kinnear performances was just brilliant particularly when delivering Stevie Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning and in the last poem, Edward’s Lear, The Jumblies which escalated as the verses repeated and the story unfolded, much to the audience’s delight. My favourite song was the poem Sea Slumber song by Roden Noel, set to Edward Elgar’s music, which was evocative of the sea at its calmest, the quiet, brightly lit shoreline and which described the tide as music in itself. The afternoon culminated with the Owl and the Pussycat in which musicians and narrator united for a brilliant finish.

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