There’s a rawness and inventiveness to Tête-à-tête’s now annual opera festival which makes it a must-see for anyone interested in the development of new opera. Pick any day from the twelve of the festival and you’re bound to get something you like.
As with the Edinburgh Fringe, currently underway over the border, there may well be some stinkers among the couple of dozen new works on offer but I’m glad to say none of the trio I saw at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studio fell into that category.
The prospects for Ula were promising, not least for the participation of star mezzo Sally Burgess, making her directorial debut. Mark Glentworth’s delicate scoring for six instrumentalists (under conductor Jeremy Silver) was more successful than the vocal lines, which had a feel of “improvise in the style of a modern opera” from Whose Line is It Anyway? about them.
The 40 minute section we saw represented a work-in-progress on the first act of an original story by Carolyn Hrail. Given the scenario she’s drafted, in which a successful Hollywood director finds himself enshrouded in romance and Scottish mist, it’s not surprising that Burgess takes a multimedia approach.
A less linear narrative might boost the dramatic potential of the piece which could learn something from the melange of impressions created in Errollyn and Byron Wallen’s aptly-named Wallen, a late night offering.
Although it is anything but an opera, there’s no doubting the musical talent of the siblings, whether on piano, trumpet or conch shells (but especially Errollyn on piano). The music is diverse in style and influence and the material heartfelt and deeply personal but this mix of music, commentary and visual images did look rather like 55 minutes of self-contained sentiment.
Not so much squeezed between the two but luxuriating amidst lengthy intervals, which allowed for a relaxing drink or two in Riverside’s spacious bar, was Stephen Crowe’s delightfully witty The Singing Bone.
Succeeding where he believed Gustav Mahler had failed, Crowe has set the Grimm Brother’s tale of the same name only to discover that the older composer had actually finished the project after all, as his Opus 1: Das klagende Lied. This knowledge might have been off-putting, so it’s as well Crowe worked in blissful ignorance, as the half hour children’s opera he’s produced is full of textual and musical humour and subtlety.
There was a diffidence, gaucheness even, in the performances of the Stephen Crowe Ensemble three singers, harp, flute and marimba – which may have been down to limited rehearsal but just added to the charm and the fully-staged production of The Singing Bone is well worth a visit at next month’s Grimeborne festival in Dalston.
The Tête-à-tête Opera Festival plays at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios until 16 August. The Singing Bone appears at the Arcola Theatre in a double bill with Stephen Crowe’s Domestic on 2 September.