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October 22, 2013 5:11 pm
Small opera companies invariably have small life spans, so it is good to mark the 25th anniversary of that enterprising small opera company, Music Theatre Wales. The company tours all its productions, which makes life still more difficult, but since the refurbishment of the Royal Opera House it has found itself a very convenient London base downstairs at the Linbury Theatre.
From the start the company set its focus on performing small-scale modern operas. This has proved fertile ground, taking in anything composed from around 1950 to the present day, and MTW’s 25th anniversary autumn tour is made up of this revival of Turnage’s first opera, Greek, and continuing performances of Sciarrino’s The Killing Flower (Luci mie traditrici).
Appropriately, Greek had its premiere in 1988, the year MTW was born. Neither has lost its energy in the years since: the violent, foul-mouthed opening of Greek, played out here front of stage with full force, can have lost little of its original impact. For the angry, young Turnage, Berkoff’s sassy, updated version of the Oedipus myth was perfect material – an East End cocktail, mixing low-life morality and tragedy, laced with a hefty dose of black humour.
Why did it not quite come off here? In theory, the raw simplicity of Greek (four singers, 18 instrumentalists, no frills) means that a staging like the one Michael McCarthy has given MTW, just a few chairs and television screens across the front of the stage, should focus concentration, as in a Greek tragedy. The production was very much “in your face”, but with the orchestra right behind the singers, the volume was sometimes too loud and Berkoff’s all-important text could not be heard.
The cast have “lived in” their roles. Marcus Farnsworth homes in on the essential innocence of Eddy, a rightwing Cockney thug. Louise Winter sings strongly as his wife (the Jocasta figure) and his supposed parents are sympathetically played by Sally Silver and Gwion Thomas. Best of all, the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble and conductor Michael Rafferty bring the young Turnage’s score to life in all its scintillating urban brilliance and violence, like neon lights flashing along the Mile End Road on a dark night.
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