On the last day of October, a group of Ertegun Scholars entered the grounds of Keble College and, after marvelling for a few moments at the ubiquitous red brick rarely seen in Oxford, headed to the O’Reilly Theatre to see the matinee performance of Henry Purcell’s The Prophetess. One could think we decided to come because it was a unique chance to see this opera, which is not often performed; but in fact we were drawn to it mainly because it starred our fellow scholar, Raphaël Millière.
It turned out that Raphaël has a beautiful, powerful baritone voice, and we were impressed by his performance as the emperor Charinus and… a white-collar worker in modern-day London. For Theatron Novum, a theatre and opera production company run by Oxford students, decided to offer a new take on Purcell: Leo Mercer’s libretto is only partially set in ancient Rome, with the frame narrative set in London. It all starts with a young woman who picks up an old book on her morning commute, and soon finds herself transferred into the story world. Some Ertegun Scholars in the audience thought that these two realities were not sufficiently integrated, but, as a student of literature, I found the idea that you can become so engrossed in a book quite charming.
The plot of both the ancient and the modern story revolves around love drama – and we all agreed that one of the female leads involved in it, played by Betty Makharinsky, excelled with her strong and poignant soprano voice. All in all, Theatron Novum made Purcell’s touching music come to life, and we spent a lovely afternoon watching The Prophetess – and then, just as its protagonist had to come back to her busy London life, we returned to our reading lists and essay writing…