Lady Gaga describes her Monster Ball tour as “the first ever electro opera”, but Swedish sibling duo The Knife beat her to the punch. Tomorrow, in a Year, their 90-minute opus inspired by the work of Charles Darwin, debuted in Copenhagen last September, two months before Gaga hit the road.

This enthralling evening was its London premiere. It opened on to a green “brick wall”, a light box stretched centre-stage, and the mezzo Kristina Wahlin intoning about geological deep time. The electronic music, devised in collaboration with Berlin-based acts Mt Sims and Planningtorock, gurgled impressively, like primordial soup in a faulty microwave. Clad in scarlet, as if some sci-fi oracle, Wahlin sang with the mildly vexed emphasis of a teacher who is not sure her message is getting through. That the surtitles helpfully spelt out phrases such as “prismatic feldspar” and “pistiform concretions” added to the slightly Hitchhiker’s Guide vibe, which was no bad thing.

The Knife’s Olof Dreijer confessed to not knowing what libretto meant when he and his sister, Karin Dreijer Andersson, were commissioned by Hotel Pro Forma, a Danish theatre group. Yet Wahlin was integrated well into the early stages as a narrator figure, and as the theme shifted to Darwin’s discoveries, Jonathan Johansson came to the fore as the show’s only obvious character.

In visual terms, Tomorrow, in a Year is as much a dance piece as anything else. Six balletic bodypoppers signified creature development in rapid, jerky movements; on a gauze screen, neon gene trees outlined the theory to a hammering beat. “Variations of Birds”, swelled with a Björkian sense of wonder as Wahlin harmonised with Johansson and Lærke Winther, the other female vocalist.

In the second half, the music became beautifully turned electropop. These were banging tunes; I wanted to get up and dance during “Seeds”. But Winther’s flat singing of “The Height of Summer” (“How is Charles? I haven’t heard from him in a long long time”) was a disappointing end.

Ultimately more Röyksopp than Ring Cycle, Tomorrow, in a Year was a highly evolved pop show, not a new species of opera. But the attempt at interbreeding was fascinating to watch. ()

4 star rating

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