The sublime and the ridiculous joyfully unite in this new work by Samuel Adamson, which is part 'Carry on the Glorious Revolution', part ravishing tribute to Henry Purcell. The accession of William and Mary was celebrated in England as a triumph of Protestant rationality, yet here it's the richly bawdy variety of their reign that comes to the fore.
Perhaps that's no surprise, given that the unifying theme of the evening is the trumpet, an instrument that – as a member of the horn family – is as much a source of suggestive wit as it is of celestially beautiful music. Adamson has devised 'Gabriel' – which he describes as 'an entertainment' – together with prodigiously talented trumpeter Alison Balsom, and the result is a treat for the eyes and ears.
We meet a wide range of individuals in brief playlets that lace together to form a secret history of the 1690s. There’s the tragic, young, toy-soldier-obsessed, Duke of Gloucester, condemned to the life of an invalid by ‘water on the brain’, who loves the trumpet for its bellicose qualities. There's Sam Cox’s garrulous waterman – clear ancestor to the London cab driver – who's 'had that Henry Purcell in my boat', and tells tall stories of King Charles’ healing abilities.
The evening’s heart lies in the story of 'Cold Arabella' – played with wonderful dignity by Jessie Buckley – a lesbian soprano forced to conceal her sexuality while fighting off the court lechers. Buckley evokes the fraught humour of her situation, at the same time as performing Purcell with soulful panache. There’s also an enjoyably tangled love story that evokes 'The Faerie Queen'. True to Adamson's tongue-in-orifice style, it includes a scene that pays a startlingly direct tribute to the oral tradition.
Director Dominic Dromgoole proves a consummate lord of misrule, whisking the audience through Adamson's irreverent fragments so that they form a joyous whole. Thanks to the talents of Balsom and 'The English Concert' we are never allowed to forget that Purcell is the true star here: visually absent, but constantly proof that music is not just the food of love but also balm for the soul.
By Rachel Halliburton