Knight Crew

I try to avoid school matinees. But for Julian Philips's latest opera – using a chorus of 60 schoolchildren and an orchestra of which two-thirds are young players – an audience with loosened ties and untucked shirts seemed preferable to one with bow ties and stuffed shirts. "Man, what did we come here for?" came an inquiry nearby just before the conductor arrived. Minutes later, no answer was necessary.

The latest offering from Glyndebourne's long-running community opera programme, Knight Crew is based on a story by Nicky Singer that brings Arthurian legend to a contemporary canalside gangland. Arthur is Art, a sickly looking teenager; Merlin is bag-lady Myrtle, and Excalibur an old-fashioned sheath-knife that Art vows to keep clean after Mordec, his older brother and reluctant predecessor as gang-leader, uses it to kill Myrtle.

The transplant works well, particularly in the introduction of a mothers' chorus (drawn mostly from mothers of children in the cast) and its refusal to smooth over Art's conflicts with Mordec and Lance, a stray public-school boy whose penchant for judo keeps him, mostly, out of trouble.

Philips has never shied away from co-opting contrasting musical styles for dramatic purposes, and his score is a riot of references, taking in popular and operatic lyric idioms in a way that allows seamless interaction between professional soloists and chorus. Indeed, part of the magic of the music and of John Fulljames's direction is that it allows influence to flow from innocence to experience as well as vice versa, adding a quality to the solo performances, notably of Yvonne Howard (Myrtle) and Pascal Charbonneau (Art), that would have been lacking with a more experienced supporting cast.

Add to the mix Es Devlin's ingenious stage design and Nicholas Collon's excellent, transparent conducting and the overall effect was exhilarating, and not a little humbling.

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