27 August 2012

The Sound of a Voice at Grimeborn

As one festival closed in an opera-heavy summer another one opened.

The excellent Tete a Tete Opera Festival had just finished at the Riverside when the new Grimeborn festival started at the Arcola Theatre on the other side of town. Meanwhile Glyndebourne still had one more show for me.

The Grimeborn programme is full of familiar names, like Mozart and Handel, but the intention was to give them a modern spin. We'll see how that goes.

My first visit was to see the UK Premiere of The Sound of a Voice by Philip Glass and David Henry Hwang. Clearly unmissable.


The Sound of a Voice is actually two different plays by Hwang, The Sound of a Voice and The House of Sleeping Beauties, both from 1983. They share themes and work together as a pair. Their union is cemented in a single score, this is typical rhythmic Glass with melodic Japanese overtones, and a shared set.

In the The Sound of a Voice a mysterious traveller seeks shelter at a house occupied by a lone woman. He is reluctant to say where the is going and she is equally reluctant to say anything about herself other than to say that time has no meaning for her except when she has a visitor to measure it by.

He is persuaded to stay a while and mysteries start to unravel such as the fate of the previous visitors and the real purpose of his visit. This all happens slowly and carefully and when the dramatic ending comes we are prepared.

It is a simple haunting story brilliantly related by two very good singers. I loved everything about it.

The House of Sleeping Beauties was just as mysterious.

An old man visits a brothel wishing to learn about it rather than to use its services but after a conversation with the madame over a cup of tea he is persuaded to visit one of the girls who, we are told, is asleep.

Something happens, possibly violent, certainly unusual.

He returns several times and we learn more about him and the madame as he does so. He claims to be writing an article on the house she has ways of keeping the police away. Sleep and sleeping potions are mentioned.

Their story also ends dramatically having built to the crescendo steadily and naturally. It is rather like a slow-motion car crash. I loved it too.

There was a rousing reception at the end and it was fully deserved. The four singers were all superb, as was the small orchestra, and the staging maintained the sense of mystery and menace beautifully. This was my kind of opera, in spades.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are welcome. Comments are moderated just to keep out the spammers and all valid comments are published, even those that I disagree with!