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The Story

Ernest loves Gwendolen, but hasn’t told her that his name is really Jack and he has a ward named Cecily who lives in the country. His friend Algernon presents himself to Cecily as Jack’s brother Ernest and they fall in love. Both Cecily and Gwendolen state that they particularly admire the name Ernest, to the anguish of Jack and Algernon. Gwendolen’s mother and Algernon’s aunt Lady Bracknell strongly disapproves. A lot of cucumber sandwiches are eaten.

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Irish composer Gerald Barry’s wildly inventive and idiosyncratic setting of Wilde’s classic play The Importance of Being Earnest has been an extraordinary success. Since its 2011 concert premiere in Los Angeles and its 2013 stage premiere in Nancy, it has enchanted audiences with its high-energy madcap humour, and in 2013 it won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for best large-scale composition. Ramin Gray’s fabulously ridiculous production for the Royal Opera House marked the work’s UK stage premiere.

Barry’s hyperactive score runs helter-skelter through numerous musical languages – everything from serialist pastiche to galumphing concerto grosso gets a look in, riveted through with increasingly giddy variations on ‘Auld Lang Syne’. From the basso profundo Lady Bracknell’s spluttered Beethovenian Schiller to Gwendolen and Cecily’s Sprechstimme battle of spite through megaphones to the accompaniment of 40 solemnly smashed plates, The Importance of Being Earnest is insanely virtuoso, brilliantly hilarious and packed with invention.

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