Clorinda the Warrior is a fictional character from Torquato Tasso’s epic 16th century poem La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), who has fascinated readers and artists alike for hundreds of years.
This ambitious project takes this early modern character and plays out her tale as interpreted through Monteverdi’s Baroque operatic cantata, Il combattimento di Clorinda e Tancredi before thrusting her into a 21st century world that sadly is no less violent.
These two time-frames are presented as two acts, but they flow speedily one into the other without a pause or interval. This can make for quite a disjointed viewing experience, but perhaps this was the intention. The whole evening appears to be one aimed at unsettling and questioning – we are in the uncertain world of conflict after all.
Set during the first crusades the story tells of Clorinda, a Saracen women, who disguised as a man fights to the death with Christian knight, Tancredi. Traditionally this has been played out as a love story of mistaken identity – two lovers who become adversaries in the most brutally primitive way.
The first act is basically one long fight scene, with tenor, Ed Lyon narrating their story as a somewhat menacing presence, while the musicians perform live to the rear left of the stage, largely in the shadows. Minimal surtitles flash up on projections overhead during the opening scenes, giving us the barest bones of the story. Unless you speak both Italian and Arabic (which some of Monteverdi’s original libretto has been translated to in act 2) your experience will be led by the physicality of the performance and the immersive experience of joining this with opera and overhead projections of battle scenes.
The second act, with a new score by Kareem Roustom, sees a group of women today metaphorically carrying Clorinda’s body and gaining strength in their own battles in a conflict-ridden land. Here Tancredi (Jonathan Goddard) and Lyon take on the role of reporter and cameraman in the conflict, wielding a microphone boom pole like a weapon. The idea is to draw the narrator more fully into the story, and question who tells whose story? That sounds good, but it is also intellectualising what can on the surface appear to be stereotyping media that isn’t helpful in an era of mistrust in the news and the dangerous spread of disinformation.
At times there is so much going on in this hybrid piece that it is hard to know where to direct our attention – do we focus on the narrator or the dancers, the projections or the musicians?
Off stage we hear Clorinda’s voice but despite us looking for her, she never emerges. It is disconcerting, but perhaps that is its intention.
Clorinda Agonistes – Clorinda the Warrior is at The Lowry, Salford on 18 and 19 October 2022 before continuing its tour.
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