‘Scandi noir’ continues to be the rage on TV, so anyone having binged on all that’s available and eagerly awaiting each new episode of ‘Trapped’ would feel quite at home with David Bruce’s new opera (see our interview here), based on the ‘hit’ novel of the same name by Janne Teller. It’s the latest in Glyndebourne’s pioneering stagings of works designed to give young people the chance to work with experienced singers; co-commissioned and co-produced by Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera House, it played to packed houses on a chilly night, the warmth of the performances and the reception given to them providing us all with a foretaste of Summer.
‘Nothing will come of nothing / Speak again’ is King Lear’s advice to his daughter, and it was difficult to avoid the Shakespearean overtones in Glyn Maxwell’s libretto, but these were subtle rather than laboured, as indeed were the musical influences on David Bruce’s lyrical score. In the solo writing, it was Janáček who came to mind most often, the beautiful soprano solos at times recalling Katya’s impassioned music, and in the choral pieces Britten seemed very close to us, especially in the driven, intense ensembles for the villagers in Peter Grimes.
Bijan Sheibani’s production and Giles Cadle’s designs brought the composer’s vision to vibrant life, and Sian Edwards drew fine playing from the Southbank Sinfonia, which was augmented for the production by young instrumentalists whose playing was so seamlessly integrated that there was no need to make any allowances for lack of experience. Paule Constable’s lighting brilliantly evoked sharp, frosty nights.
As so often happens with this kind of endeavour, one expects to hear a variety of standards in the singing and is then awed by its quality. Robyn Allegra Parton made her ROH debut this season, singing Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro, and she was a finalist in the Kathleen Ferrier awards as well as winning the Oxford Lieder Festival Prize: she sang the part of Agnes with achingly sweet tone, remarkable dramatic commitment and exemplary diction. Surtitles were superfluous with her singing, as indeed they were with that of Marta Fontanals-Simmons whose Ursula was another beautifully sung and acted performance.
Stuart Jackson may not have been in such superb voice as he was for his roles in Saul, but apart from one uncertain moment his performance was nuanced and credible – quite an achievement for a 29 year old playing a teenage boy. Tristan Hambleton revealed a fine-grained bass-baritone as Karl, and James Hall, as Johan, was another very promising voice, this time a light, finely focussed counter-tenor.
Lee Reynolds, Music Director of Glyndebourne Youth Opera, did a superb job with the chorus, whose members came from a huge variety of schools and who were all united in faithfully presenting a group of children at a critical period in their lives. By turns febrile, innocent and threatening, these young singers could send shivers down your spine as they made you recall the savagery of the boys in Lord of the Flies, or evoke the pangs of recognition at the touching sadness of those days in September when children return to school and realize that their magical Summer is really over.
Just three performances at Glyndebourne this time, but it’s safe to assume that Nothing will come to something in terms of entering the repertoire. It was a fitting opening to the 2016 celebration of 30 years of pioneering education work at the house.