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Catchee Damon Albarn’s Monkey| Music | This is London

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Monkey - Journey To The West

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Dir : Chen Shi-Zheng.

Cast : Andre De Ridder (cond)

Description : Andre De Ridder conducts Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s 21st century-take on the ancient Chinese legend with a cast that includes over 40 Chinese circus acrobats, singers and martial artists under the direction of Chen Shi-Zheng. Performed in Mandarin with English surtitles.

Monkey business : the dazzling, delightful opera at Covent Garden

Creative : Chen Shi-Zheng (director) Damon Albarn (composer) and Jamie Hewlett (designer)

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If only all opera were as alive and various as this. Latex in excess, kung fu, flying fish, jugglers, roller-skaters, plate-spinners and the White Skeleton Demon - not to mention zombie flesh-eaters on stage instead of the usual corporate skin creepers you find in the row behind you.

All this, together with dazzling video graphics, luscious songs and the secret of eternal life explained in under two hours. Damon Albarn’s self-styled "pop opera", Monkey : Journey To The West, is a sensual delight and a life-enhancing triumph.

Created with Gorillaz graphic artist Jamie Hewlett and written by Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng, it was first seen in Manchester last year, a coproduction with the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and the Staatsoper Berlin. The album is due out shortly.

Albarn, 40, best known as charismatic Blur frontman and mastermind of the cult cartoon group Gorillaz, has always had eclectic musical tastes, from rock to African drumming. He’s classically trained with a fine ear for sonic colour and an obsession with modal patterns used in Chinese music.

You can hear all this in the fertile, amplified score, which uses Eastern and Western instruments in happy juxtaposition - woodblocks and pipas, trumpet, strings and the magical, ululating Ondes Martenot, the swoopy electronic machine made famous by Messiaen, one of Albarn’s heroes.

It is an episodic story in which Monkey travels the world in search of enlightenment with big numbers rather than a sustained musical development. Heavenly Peach Banquet and the pounding, minimaliststyle choruses immediately stick in the head.