Alessandro Talevi‘s decision to update the piece to the present day may actually work against it. The original production was set in the 18th Century and a degree of constraint might have helped temper Maconchy’s already full-on orchestral writing. Forty-five minutes of party, party, party, with non-stop abandon (lines of coke in operas is starting to look old-hat) and over-busy direction was quite enough of this relentlessly wacky material.
Sarah Tynan‘s wealth of experience showed in her spiky portrayal of the sexy, tattooed Monique, whose amorous wanderings eventually free the lad. As the wayward layabout, tenor Nicholas Sharratt was sharp and sympathetic, his transformation into the sofa nicely achieved. Josephine Thorpe and George von Bergen brought a maturity of sound to the Witch and the new boyfriend, while Alinka Kozari, Anna Leese and Patricia Orr made an attractive trio of dippy birds, whose backsides seemed to help relieve the boredom of being a piece of furniture.
For all the exuberance and spot-on singing, surtitles were badly needed during The Sofa, in part due to Maconchy’s dense writing but also because of a lack of attention to diction from most of the cast. Dominic Wheeler conducted his 15-piece band with great relish but could have shown greater awareness of the need for balance in so small a venue, at times swamping the singers and adding to the audibility problem.
The Departure is an altogether more reflective piece, both dramatically and musically. A wife, puzzled by the absence of her husband discovers that she has died in a car crash and must make a final farewell to the world and those she loves. It is a poignant and affecting work, never rising to the lacerating beauty of Britten’s ghostly tales but hinting at their quality and depth. Louise Poole gave a strong performance as Julia and it was easy to see why Hkan Vramsmo had won the plum role of Mark in the two-hander. His rich baritone, reminiscent of the young Gerald Finley, gave the outstanding vocal performance of the evening.
The work of Independent Opera, and its Artist Support scheme, is certainly admirable, providing a showcase and ongoing support for artists under the age of 30. This double-bill is not going to re-write the history of twentieth century music or even bring about a major renaissance for Maconchy. For those present over the three performances, though, it was a very worthwhile revival and the proposed recording will be a valuable chance for others to sample this semi-forgotten music. The prospect of a chamber production of Debussy’s Pellas et Mlisande from the company next year is a mouth-watering one.