For all that Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale is a profound study of human error, forgiveness and redemption, there’s always the problem of Leontes. One second he’s the loving husband, the next he’s accusing his wife of adultery with their friend Polixenes – without even a handkerchief as evidence.
Ryan Wigglesworth’s opera, as directed by Rory Kinnear, allows us to believe in Leontes’ insane jealousy. In the entwined woodwind lines we hear Hermione really canoodling with Polixenes, just as Kinnear shows them in flirtatious embrace. Most strikingly, Leontes is here a narcissistic military man of fragile ego – Vicki Mortimer’s revolving Act 1 set is dominated by his statue.
Wigglesworth’s gripping first act evokes the story’s wintry ambience with gelid sonorities and rhythms that freeze like icicles. The rustic second act provides a much-needed change of pace. In the play, spiritual transformation is engendered via the renewal of nature. In the opera, a new political order is afoot in Bohemia. What is needed in Act 3 is a deeply soul-searching monologue for the contrite Leontes. His “Stars” doesn’t quite fit the bill. Nor is the coming to life of Hermione’s statue the epiphanic moment the situation demands.
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