Purcell’s The Indian Queen: A Pastiche by Peter Sellars

SpainSpain H. Purcell: The Indian Queen, Orchestra and Chorus Opera Perm (MusicAeterna), Teodor Currentzis (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real, 5.11.2013 (JMI)


Indian Queen Photo: Javier Real
Indian Queen
Photo: Javier del  Real

New Production: Teatro Real in co-production with Opera Perm and London’s English National Opera.
Direction: Peter Sellars
Sets: Gronk
Costumes: Dunya Ramicova
Lighting: James F. Ingalls
Choreography:  Christopher Williams

Teculihuatzin (Doña Luisa): Julia Bullock
Hunahpú: Vince Yi
Doña Isabel : Nadine Koutcher
Ixbalanqué: Christopher Dumaux
Pedrarias Dávila: Markus Brutscher
Pedro de Alvarado: Noah Stewart
Mayan Priest: Luthando Qave
Leonor: Maritxell Carrero.


The discovery and conquest of America by Spain is the central theme of the Teatro Real’s programming during the months of October and November. Last month Die Eroberung von Mexico (The Conquest of Mexico) by Wolfgang Rihm was performed. Now comes The Indian Queen, by Henry Purcell. These two operas have a very large time span between them: the Rihm is contemporary, while the Purcell belongs to the 17th century.

Henry Purcell is for me one of the greatest composers in the history of music. This opera (rather opera-ballet) is the last he wrote and it has been left unfinished. This production presented by Teatro Real does not follow what Purcell actually wrote, but is instead a kind of pastiche. Peter Sellars adds to the score different pieces by Purcell and follows a new libretto with texts by the Nicaraguan writer Rosario Aguilar. The production is successful but, at nearly fours, it is unreasonable to expect the audience to leave the theater at midnight on a work day.

The bare stage is unadorned except for the addition of painted panels: some with abstract motifs, others with figurative ones and some purely naïf in style. Costumes are brought upto date with the Spaniards dressed as assault troopers and the American Indians in colorful civilian clothes. The indigenous priests wore white garments. Given the importance of ballet in this work, it seems to me somewhat stingy to have just 4 dancers.

The stage direction draws lively movements from the choir, makes excellent use of the figure of the Narrator and has acting that in all cases is truly remarkable.

The musical direction was entrusted to Teodor Currentz who was called upon frequently during the term of Gerard Mortier. I found his reading very delicate and fully convincing. Purcell ‘s music is extraordinary and requires great sensitivity from the conductor to be performed properly. Mr. Currentz  has gotten this completely. Under his direction the baroque period orchestra with an outstanding choir was, for me, the best part of the whole production.

The cast consisted of little-known singers who, in general, offered interesting performances both vocally and dramatically.

The protagonist, the  Indian Queen, was the American soprano Julia Bullock whose name, Teculihuatzin was renamed after she was delivered to Pedro de Alvarado.

Her voice was not outstanding, but her singing was done with good taste and her stage performance excelled .

The countertenor – rather soprano – Vince Yi played the role of Hunahpú, the  twin God, and offered a less artificial voice than what we would normally expect from a countertenor. The other twin god, countertenor Christophe Dumaux, as Ixbalanqué,  gave a remarkable vocal performance both facile and agile. Nadine Koutcher who portrayed Isabel, wife of Pedrarias Dávila, exhibited an attractive soprano voice,   reduced in size, yet well handled. American tenor Noah Stewart was Pedro de Alvarado. His role required more words than music, but in the second half of the opera, his singing was quite moving. The German tenor, Markus Brutscher, was well-suite to the role of Pedrarias Dávila. Baritone Luthando Qave completed the cast as the Mayan priest. I should also mention the performance of Maritxell Carrero as Narrator, playing the role of Leonor.

Teatro Real was about three-quarters filled. There were defections after the interval, no doubt due to the show’s  late hour ending. The final reception was warm, with applause for all the  artists. Peter Sellars was received with cheers and some isolated booing.

José Mª. Irurzun





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