On Tuesday evening, this opera promised so much but delivered so little. Perhaps the mysterious qualities of the score were swamped by the looming black steel of the Linbury Theatre. It certainly did not help that noisy-on-principle latecomers were admitted throughout the first act.
The composition (a relatively new work by Lynne Plowman and Martin Riley) itself seemed only passable, and it is hard to blame conductor Michael Rafferty given the exciting sounds and virtuoso solo playing of the orchestra. Initially the frequent changes of mood and rapid contrasts of style fitted into place with the snappy, plot-driven drama.
The opening clarinet and trumpet solos set the tone for the weird melange of genres that is to follow, which include musical-hall cabaret accompaniment and Wagner (and I am sure that I heard Bluebeard’s Castle near the end of the second act). Each character is defined by their own music, and often this is taken to the point where one style cuts across another in jarring fashion. On Tuesday, this seemed to be part of the problem, for while Lily’s opening solo was gorgeously lyrical, elsewhere the concoction seemed taught and uneasy.
Given the often magical effects in the orchestral palate (including the use of a musical saw), I imagine that it would work with a better staging, but here any sense of wonder was lost amid tatty drapes and endless rearranging of furniture. Even accepting that Colin Richmond‘s production is intended for a touring opera, it is not particularly evocative of anything in the music and not particularly good. The purples and reds of John Bishop‘s lighting tried their hardest but only occasionally produced a notable effect.
The highlight of the evening was Louise Cannon‘s performance, mainly because she characterised Lily without resorting to hammy operatic gesturing as her companions did. Her voice suffers from uneven projection, but those high notes are thrilling. Mark Evans also provided solid vocal support as Mark, while Fiona Kimm and Andrew Slater were characterful and full-voiced as Ma and Da. Philip Sheffield was sadly demonstrative of how difficult it is for smaller opera companies to find great tenors, and he often resorted to (admittedly effective) parlando to disguise his weak range.
House of the Gods is a perplexing concoction of elements and it did not gel on Tuesday. The half of the audience that stayed past the interval sat in threatening silence throughout, only perking up when the final curtain seemed imminent. Even the Nightmare on Elm Street ending produced no more than a polite titter. With the more-than-acceptable level of musicianship and the already glowing reviews that the opera has received elsewhere, an air of surprise floated around the Linbury.
The production will be touring Britain until November, and depending on the theatre, it may very well work. It is sad to say that, in London, it did not.