July 24, 2008 9:04

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett opera opens in London

'Monkey: A Journey To The West' returns to the UK

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Gorillaz pair Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's opera 'Monkey: A Journey To The West' opened at the Royal Opera House in London last night (July 23).

Returning to the UK for the first time since its premiere at the Manchester International Festival last summer, the collaboration between the pair and Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng received a standing ovation as it made its debut in the UK capital.

Sung in Mandarin, though accompanied by English surtitles, the opera is a retelling of the eastern myth about the Monkey King and his attempts to find redemption though a quest for a sacred book. The opera also features a full cast of acrobats and martial artists alongside the main performers.

The show is also told through a series of animations by Hewlett that recall the style of his Gorillaz videos.

Despite composer Albarn insisting the work be written in Mandarin, there was a nod to the show's new location during a skit featuring lead character Monkey.

Taking a break from the action at the side of the stage during a period where the lead is banished from the main storyline, Monkey was offered in English "a smoke" by one of his fellow characters, only for the impish lead to furiously shake his head and reply: "Nah it's England, I told you, you can't smoke indoors!"

The performance was attended by all three creators, and though having a seat in the stalls, Albarn - watched by Blur bandmate Dave Rowntree - finished the night in the orchestra pit, helping to gee up the players for the opera's epic finale.

The trio were then called onstage to join the Chinese cast for an enthusiastic curtain call, which saw the opera's cast and creators earn a standing ovation.

'Monkey: A Journey To The West' continues at the Covent Garden venue until Saturday (July 26), before moving to the US for a series of performances.

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett are now planning to release an album titled 'A Journey To The West', based on the original score, which will be released later this summer under the name Monkey.

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