Magazine article The Spectator

Short Cuts

Magazine article The Spectator

Short Cuts

Article excerpt


Linbury Studio, until 16 April

One of the troubles with opera is that since creating and putting one on involves so many people many composers write as if for eternity, or at least for a sizeable segment of it. It's been a great boon in recent years that some companies, notably Tete-a-Tete, have encouraged the creation and production of operas-in-progress and of short pieces which enable composers and librettists, and the mainly young performers they recruit, to find out what they might be good at. It's a great boost for the spirits of the opera-goer to realise that, if he is being bored rigid by a piece, there is only 20 or so minutes of it.

ROH2 at the Linbury Studio has its own interesting variation on that, Operashots, in which established figures, but not necessarily in opera, are invited to write a piece which makes no great demands on staging, but which is mounted by seasoned performers.

In May there is a new opera by James MacMillan, but for the present there is a double bill which I found immensely enjoyable.

The first piece, about 40 minutes long, is The Tell-Tale Heart, a close adaptation of the very short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

The libretto and music are both by Stewart Copeland, founder and drummer of The Police and writer of many movie scores, a previous short opera and miscellaneous works in various genres. The action involves an obsessive who insists that he is sane, but needs to get rid of a neighbour, who has a troubling hypnotic blue eye. To that end, he is extremely kind to the old man, until he murders and dismembers him and puts him under the floorboards, only to be overcome by horror at the insistent noisy beating of the dead man's heart, so that he confesses to the visiting policeman and neighbours.

It's a vivid, fairly funny and very macabre piece, performed brilliantly. Edgar, the murderer, is played by Richard Suart, incomparable Ko-Ko of many ENO Mikados, and ideal for poker-faced lunacy. Almost all his words are audible, too, more than can be said for most of the evening's singers. The orchestra is the chamber ensemble CHROMA, and they provide a continuous, propulsive, often scarcely noticeable commentary, much of it appropriately onomatopoeic.

After an immense interval, most of it required for the audience to clamber out of and back into the auditorium, we had the hour-long The Doctor's Tale. …

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