Review: Festival Of Voice – The Last Mermaid & Opera For The Unknown Woman @ WMC

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Festival of Voice | The Last Mermaid & Opera For The Unknown Woman | Western Studio & Rehearsal Room 3, Wales Millennium Centre | Thursday 9th June 2016

There has been a great buzz for The Last Mermaid, a commission by the Festival of Voice. Along with Opera For The Unknown Woman (a second commission), the idea of newly-created work is exciting, as always. The WMC already this year has under its belt two brand new operas from WNO, In Parenthesis and the musical, Only The Brave. The WMC are truly new work fanatics!

Charlotte Church is pulling power for The Last Mermaid, a contemporary take on Andersen’s classic tale. This pseudo-operative piece is saturated in blissful electronica but is a typical case of style over substance. The production is impressive, with evocative video design by Andrerzej Goulding, an ambitious staging by Francis O’Conner, and costumes with a colourful pedigree from Gabriella Slade. Siôn Trefor’s score is a lush orchestration, with the electronic manipulation a real treat for the ears.

Though Church’s presence may not always shine, her singing voice remains “angelic”. She should stay and do more in Cardiff, now that we have this stellar festival. Some of the stage props did have great appeal: giant seahorses made out of plastic bottles, hammering the message home about polluting our seas. A simple cloth on the floor, opening the show with swells and flutters, mocking a current extremely well.

Children seemed to be all up in the grill of this show. It is really aimed at them, but the parents can have a good time too.

There was little time between both shows. So, heading into Opera For The Unknown Woman seemed like a wise choice. This sci-fi, feminist opera may sound jarring, but it had an intelligence and a steady pacing to it. Kate Huggett’s hopeful Aphra (beautiful voice also) is a girl, 300 years in the future. Her world is in ruins and very few people remain alive. In a desperate attempt to aid her, a troupe of multi-cultural women today are visited by higher beings, keen to see Aphra keep the human race going.

Screen shot 2016-06-17 at 11.42.06

Image credit: FOV website.

The music by both Melakne Wilson and Katarina Glowicka is gentle, accessible and not over-bearing, like it can be in some operas (it felt like part-improv in parts). It’s not so much defined by the term opera, because practically it’s not one. There are moments of theatre, film-like precisions and a collaborative happening from the ensemble. Imagine the sheer joy of realising that one of your favourite singers is on stage and you had no idea she would be there.

Patricia Rozario OBE is an outstanding soprano from India. John Tavener wrote for her over thirty roles and she is an inspiration to many. Hers is part of the group of ladies and has an uninteresting solo, but her saying of the word “c***”, I never expected from her character. Adey Grummet from Jerry Springer the Opera was also a welcome addition to the show. The whole troupe of singers showed energy, power and integrity.

This isn’t barnstorming theatre. It has the sterile nature that you would expect of sci-fi and the brains to not be too arrogant. It may not work on all levels, but it is a calling card for the world today to cease our destruction of the planet Earth.

Quietly stimulating and thought-provoking.

The Last Mermaid Rating: 3 stars
Opera For The Unknown Women Rating: 5 stars

Opera For The Unknown Women continues at the Platform Theatre in London, then on to the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield 22nd-24th June 2016.

Cover image credit: FOV website.

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