Anthropocene – Scottish Opera – Review

It is a joy that Scottish Opera have once again commissioned a significant new work and included it in their main stage programme and it is unsurprising that they have turned once again to librettist Louise Welsh and composer Stuart MacRae. Their last collaboration The Devil Inside was a brilliant hit in 2016.

This production once again looks straight into the face of all that is uncanny and disturbing and makes for an interesting though never comforting evening.

A ship gets stuck in the ice off Greenland. It contains a rich entrepreneur and his daughter, a couple of scientists, a journalist and a couple of crew members. They get trapped due to the actions of one of the scientists who has discovered a body frozen in the ice – a body which turns out, somehow, to still be alive. This extraordinary part of the plot isn’t explored nearly as much as one would like. Though we later discover the strange survivor to have once been the victim of a cult of blood-sacrifice, the other characters seem curiously uninterested in her story other than that it might make some of them rich and famous.

Throughout the whole opera, MacRae’s score glistens with icy melodrama – the pit seeming to become the very ice that traps the ship above it. So much does the orchestra creak and moan and shimmer throughout the whole evening that the frozen sea itself seems to have become another character in the drama.

There was much strong singing, but it would be unfair not to single out Jennifer France singing the part of Ice – the curiously resurrected body. Her singing seemed to be what the word ethereal was coined to describe.

This is a piece with particularly strong music for the female voice and a prolonged section for the trio of the three female singers in the second half of the evening was stunning.

Musically, things are considerably stronger than the plot and there is a curious disjuncture between the first half of the evening and the second. It is as though the creative team were somehow subconsciously rewriting The Flying Dutchman for the first half and then when they realised what they were doing, decided to have a go at rewriting Parsifal for the second.

Without giving away too many of the plot twists, this is a salvation story with no salvation. But therein lies its problem – this is a piece which is all too aware of its own conceit and takes us nowhere new. There are resonances here with the post-Christendom nihilism of some of Flannery O’Conner’s characters but O’Conner tells her stories with considerably more affection for the human soul.

A number of familiar operatic clichés make appearances. Two men roll around the stage fighting one another over the affections of a woman just before the interval – though their affections come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Ultimately, there is “…no blessing, no words of comfort” as Ice sings at the very end. The trouble is, we already knew that and we end the evening having been exposed more to concept than story.

It is almost guaranteed that one will come out of a Welsh and Macrae opera talking about what it all meant and even a day later, I find myself still curiously unsure whether my opinion of it has finally settled. All I can remember looking back is being surrounded by ice and that everything around us is breaking up and is bitter cold.

This is opera to chill you to the marrow but it neither promises nor delivers solace.

In that, it is very much a piece of our times.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review appeared first in Scene Alba.

 

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.