22 August 2015

The Invited at the Arcola Theatre was beautiful, haunting and tragic

I only discovered the Grimeborn opera festival at the Arcola Theatre a few years ago and then it was a companion to the Tete-a-Tete festival with both showcasing new operas and sometimes sharing works. More recently Grimeborn has got a little more mainstream with more established works and so I have been going less often.

I might have missed Grimeborn 2015 altogether if not for The Invited.

I first came across the team behind The Invited, the Opera Room, at Tete-a-Tete when they presented the delightful All to Play For, an opera about football, and through that managed to get to see The Invited at one of its first performances in St Paul's Church, Covent Garden in November 2013.

I had seen more Opera Room productions since then, such as the fabulous Flat Pack, and had the opportunity to speak to composer Richard Knight, librettist Norman Welch and stage director Neil Smith a few times and at some length. Most of these conversations were me struggling to explain why I liked their operas so much when I lacked the musical knowledge and vocabulary to do so.

When I learned that The Invited was being performed at Grimeborn 2015 then the only question was which of the two performances would I go to and as the first clashed with a Glyndebourne date I had booked that was a question soon answered.

I chose to make something of a journey to the Arcola and did some exploring in Hoxton, Haggerston and Dalston. I did that as I was hoping to help Howard to buy a flat there. I'll tell that tale once it is safe to do so but at the moment I am trying to keep vendor and estate agent happy. It was nice to have an opera to look forward to in the evening.

Falstaff was playing in Studio 1 upstairs while we were in the basement Studio 2. I've been there often enough to know how that works and so I got my preferred seat in the centre of the front row.

The Invited is a slow brooding piece in which lots of things are suspected but little is certain. The setting, a world at war, is real but are there really Greek gods in the trees?, is one of the sisters pregnant?, is the ex-housekeeper a witch?

These possibilities were explored in a series of long conversations. These were mostly between the two sisters with the ex-housekeeper forcing her way in sometimes. The conversations were intense and passionate which made the music intense and passionate too. There was always something interesting happening musically as it kept changing pace and melody. Within that the music kept to the constant tone of despair, loss and misery that the story demanded, punctuated with a few moments of hope that the gods will return and make things better again.

It is the memory of the mood that persists with me. It was not unlike Tristan und Isolde in that respect, not much actually happens but it happens beautifully. The exception was the ending which was dramatic, It answered some of the questions but tantalisingly left many of them still as questions.

A story about passions needs passionate performers who can both sing and act their emotions convincingly and poetically. All three performers, Emma Häll, Sarah Minns and Miriam Sharrad, were excellent.

Again my lack of musical knowledge and vocabulary mean that I struggle to describe just how good The Invited was. What I can say with absolute certainty is that I loved it again and I loved it even more than I did the first time I saw it.

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