Music Theatre Wales – The Golden Dragon
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
Friday 22nd September 2017
Many have heralded Music Theatre Wales’s previous venture to Welsh language opera as a vital stepping stone. Granted, the language should have more operas and theatrical works, though it’s hard for Y Tŵr to not feel like a token project. An English translation of the play would also help bring even more people to discover the fascinating work. This journey leaves Wales and ventures into a Chinese takeaway. This could be anywhere in the world though, as the themes ring of great truth.
Peter Eötvös is becoming a grand composer with operas and many orchestral works under his belt. Being of Hungarian descent, he composed film scores in his teens and played in Stockhausen’s ensemble, along with other feathers in his cap. What remains most interesting are his operas. Previous operatic exploits have tackled Chekov’s Three Sisters, Kushner’s Angels in America and Genet’s The Balcony. Certainly not easy fare by any one standards. Though his habit of opera making should be celebrated and also respected.
Based on the play by Roland Schimmelpfennig, The Golden Dragon, though slight in story has an absorbing feel which is only heightened by the score. The family of Asian cooks don’t seem to have a lot going for them: The Little One has agonising tooth ache, the granddaughter is pregnant, much to the dismay of her boyfriend and nobody has papers should anything bad occur.
Interspersed with this matrimonial house of cuisine, is the appearance of the fairy tale of The Cricket and the Ant, an old Chinese tale which doesn’t quite work in this take away setting. One wonders about the rampant appropriation baked into cinema and the arts today, that we can’t simply have one Asian singer playing a role in this. The Brechtian twists also seep into the music ensemble who declare “short pause” and “long pause” at dramatic peaks, purposely draining away the effect the characters plight can have on you.
This could have been an hour, though it bobs along to the time of an hour and a half. The gruesomeness of a home tooth extraction is all the more visceral in opera form as glass bottles and the strings brilliantly portray the feeling of a visceral attack going in in your mouth. Piano, a keyboard, gongs and even a contrabass clarinet pepper the ensemble, adding to the mood and drama of the situation. The score is not overblown and has an appealing contemporary vibe, with additional Chinese music towards the end in a moment of bittersweet nostalgia.
The extracted tooth goes on its own journey in a queasy, Twin Peaks like “fish in the percolator” moment. The gap left in the boys mouth is then frequented by a vision of his family back home. It’s short lived as the boy bleeds to death and his family don’t know what to do. In an odd moment he is wrapped up and flung into a river. The air hostess who found the tooth as a keepsake in her meal is also there to place the tooth into the same river.
The singers also do a brilliant job as well. Their timing, humour and heartfelt actions are what makes this piece pulse with as much warmth as a Thai curry on offer. Too many names to list, but each was fab in the roles assigned to them. Even with the unsure insect parable there was humour and some lewd moments of sex.
This is a sure order to have on tour.
Inspired, witty & gruesome.
All images via Music Theatre Wales’ Facebook page
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