12 April 2014

Faustian Pack: The Crackle at the Linbury Studio Theatre

My original plan was to see the two Faustian Pack spin-off operas on consecutive nights but a minor confusion with the Royal Opera House website (all my fault) meant that I booked to go on Friday evening and then on Saturday afternoon.

At least I got the seating right and I was back in the Upper Gallery, in seat R9.

Public transport was not kind to me and the slow bus to Richmond lost me time that I never pulled back but I had allowed some contingency in my timings and I got to the theatre a couple of minutes before the opera started. That was just enough time to grab the special instructions sheet and to start to set up my iPhone. The Crackle used Chirp to send text and pictures to the audience, much like a fax used tones to send messages over telephone lines (remember faxes?). We had to install the app and leave it running.

Several times during the opera chirping sounds were produced and messages appeared on our phones. Most of these were disconcerting, which I guess was the point, but none more so that the devil himself, David Cameron.

The Crackle stuck fairly close to the Faustian myth though the details were very different.

The man making the deadly pack was a music teacher who was threatened with the loss of his department because of cut-backs. A way to save everything was to win a singing competition as that would show the value of the department and a mysterious voice said that they could so that.

The teacher was a little geeky and there was a funny scene early on when the mother of one of the students came to see him for diner and he was not expecting her and was in the bath. The flat was nothing like ready for a female visitor and for dinner they had a pot-noodle each.

This was a nice bit of light relief in what we suspected was going to be a story with an unhappy ending.

The mysterious benefactor provided a wonderful musical instrument, that is it on the stage, and the competition was duly won. And then the price was paid.

Musically The Crackle was structured traditionally with well defined songs that you could hum along to, if that were allowed.

It started off sounding a little like Philip Glass and while repetition was used a few times times it felt nothing like a Glass opera overall. The music modern but tuneful, if that makes sense. They probably said the same thing about Britten at the time.

The singing was a nice mix of solos, duets and choruses with the chorus being the teacher's young students. Most of it was lively and uplifting, as befitted the move of the story until the cruel end.

The Crackle was a neatly formed chamber opera with a dramatic operatic story (it ended badly as all the best opera do), fine music and plenty of good singing. And that is all you can ask an opera to do.

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