But it would make too little of this new opera by Ryan Wigglesworth, given its world premiere at the Coliseum, to say that it begins and ends as a critique of one fly-by-night president. After 400 years Shakespeare's profound truths have outlived many a trumped-up nobody, and will do so again.
Rory Kinnear, making his debut as a director, comes with his own impressive backstory in theatre, film and television roles, in which his intellect and humanity have always shone through. He is convinced that winter – whether it be the winter of the seasons, a people or the soul – can always be outsmarted by spring, as he observes in his commentary on the opera's four-year gestation. The dark-light-dark sandwich of the three acts may leave us in the shade, but we know that the dawn will break again.
It is swaggering Leontes' unfounded jealousy and his failure to recognise simple kindness that leads him to expel his old friend, with whom he suspects his heavily pregnant wife Hermione of having an affair. When the couple's only child dies, she falls into a dead faint and the baby, once born, is rejected.
In Vicky Mortimer's striking white set, with its curved, shifting walls, we are inside and outside the power base in seconds, at the nerve centre, or with the increasingly resistant crowed. And when the action moves from blighted Sicily to sunny Bohemia, there is colour and shared simple materials in a society enriched by laughter and dancing.
It is in Bohemia that the baby, taken at great risk by the caring Antigonus, has grown up, and fallen in love with the son of the expelled friend. There will be a reconciliation, and time to make amends.
In Wigglesworth's score, with its translucent and expressive orchestration, such events are foreseen: the ride back from the oracle gallops ahead long before the precious prediction arrives, and the trip to Sicily begins in the lilting orchestral waves. If the vocal writing is not particularly melodic it is powerful, and the singing is universally excellent, with particularly fine work from Sophie Bevan as Hermione, Iain Paterson as Leontes, Timothy Robinson as Camillo, Neal Davies as Antigonus and Anthony Gregory as the prince Florizel.
Samantha Price as his beloved Perdita, the once abandoned baby, is also lovely and moves beautifully in the couple's charming, sexy dance, choreography by Imogen Knight. Wigglesworth conducts his own score, the orchestra of English National Opera and the chorus on terrific form.
With several striking moments – an apocalyptic rending of the palace walls (which, symbolically, lets in the light), the poppy-coloured rain that falls like blessings on the village women, a perilous voyage – this Winter's Tale can hold its own against productions of the play, and Christopher Wheeldon's captivating ballet. It is darker, but also, perhaps the most optimistic for humanity.
As the banished friend Polixenes sings: "An ill planet reigns, but I must be patient. I will not weep."
|What||The Winter's Tale review, English National Opera|
|Where||English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
27 Feb 17 – 14 Mar 17, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£12 - £99|
|Website||Click here for further information and booking|