A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Unexpected awe

There had been some buzz around college about Music Theatre Wales' touring production of Mark-Anthony Turnage's first opera Greek, with posters visible on notice boards and a workshop for vocal studies students organised and led by the cast and creative team of the show. Not being a fan of contemporary opera myself, I wasn't planning on going to see the performance in Newport until Joe (counter-tenor in my year) convinced me to give it a chance. Worst case scenario: I'd enjoy two drives, dinner and an interval in good company and endure 90 minutes of contemporary opera. The company was indeed good, as for the opera...

I am lost for words. It was possibly the most enthralling piece of theatre I have ever seen. A minimal production, relying on the acting abilities of the cast of four singers to convey the transposition of the Oedipus myth into cockney London. The strength of the acting was key, as the show strikes a balance between 'sung' operatic passages and what is best described as 'accompanied straight theatre'. For the most part the transitions are seamless and greatly enhance the dramatic impact of what we see on stage. I wouldn't describe the music as easy, but through the use of clear motifs and flirting with popular musical styles, it is accessible enough to allow even a skeptical listener to enter the sonic world of the piece fairly easily and focus on the drama, which the music accentuates and helps develop.

One of the most striking scenes was the riot, in which the orchestra abandoned their instruments for shields (which they proceeded to bang) and acted as a chorus of protesters, shouting at the audience, while the cast armed with megaphones delivered slogans to rile everyone up. The second powerful scene was when Eddy realizes the curse has come true, goes through an a capella mental breakdown, then proceeds to gouge his eyes out. I have to say at this point, that while the cast and players were all excellent, Marcus Farnsworth stole the show for me as Eddy (and I'm not just saying that because of baritone loyalty).

It's not easy to take an established myth and present it in a fresh and engaging way. Greek does it successfully. Even though we know what's coming, the way it is set to music, the modern spin on the language, the powerful performances from the singer-actors, all make it a completely fresh experience, and let's be honest, it's not a particularly pleasant one. The impact is a lasting one, though. No wonder the show won the Outstanding Achievement in Opera award at the 2011 UK Theatre Awards.

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