Put a gifted nature poet with a composer who has a reputation for minimalism and what do you get? In the case of Mark Roper and Eric Sweeney, you get a well-crafted, chamber opera in a gothic horror vein that entertains more than it disturbs. The Invader premiered at the Theatre Royal on Friday night as part of the Waterford 1100 celebrations.
For his first libretto, Roper adapted Euripides’ The Bacchae, which has the usual ingredients of a meaty plot, seduction, violence, a hint of incest and lamentation. Arranged in eight scenes spanning 90 minutes, the action moves between the ‘city’ stronghold of Rex (Cork baritone Joe Corbett) and the forest, where the spirit Dion (tenor Telman Guzevsky) presides over the Bacchanalian revelries of wild women, played by a chorus of seven sopranos.
Director Ben Barnes gives the drama a contemporary setting: a chic interior with a tall, glass-panelled wall as a backdrop, without a clear delineation between the forest and city. Costumes are monochrome grey, apart from a garish romper suit worn by Mia (Natasha Jouhl), before she succumbs and dons the mud-spattered shift of the Bacchae. A red sash resonates with the blood spilled, and bullfighting footage on a screen emphasises the ritual slaughter.
The composer has directed a 10-piece ensemble in a score infused with the styles of minimalists, John Adams and Arvo Pärt, as well as the chugging rhythms of film composer Michael Nyman. Frequently, a solo timbre colours the on-stage drama. A single, held note on horn accompanies Rex’s death, a flute conjures up a bird. A piano punctuates scenes, with scattered arpeggios, like a silent movie improvisation.
The high point of the opera was the final, sombre lament, a duet between the king’s mother (powerfully sung by mezzo Alison Browner) and Mia. As Agathe cradles the king and sings of stitching her dead boy back together, a solo cello line adds poignancy to the lamentations.
* Last performance is at Wexford Opera House, Friday, May 30
Star Rating: 4/5
There was a character in Sesame Street who used to pester Ernie. Appearing out of the blue, whispering, Lefty would offer to sell anything from a stop sign to the letter ‘O’ (two sounds for the price of one). He was just one of those “people in your neighbourhood” and was surely an influence on long-time Sesame Street fan and drummer Mark Holub.
Along with Liran Doning, bass; Toby McLaren, keys; Pete Grogan and Chris Williams, saxophones, the American drummer formed the band 10 years ago when they met at university and to help celebrate their years on the road, in a nod to Big Bird and co, the punk-jazz outfit decided to invite ‘pledgers’ such as doctors and grocers, butchers and bakers and probably a few candlestick makers, to help fund their album — which also sees the release of a vinyl LP — on the Kickstarter funding platform.
Musically, perhaps it’s a coming of age of sorts: yes the blistering solos and the incendiary device time changes are still there, but there’s a sense of foot-tapping maturity that wasn’t as obvious on their previous outings. The album, although created in a studio, has that hair-standing high-energy quality more akin to a live recording and the catchy high-octane hooks (‘Curly Kale’) are as infectious as they are addictive. The thunderous drumming and searing alto solos (‘This Roofus’) are a controlled and marvellous mix of compositional craftsmanship and improvisational virtuosity. Throw in some electronic gizmos and a few digital pyrotechnics — check out the opener ‘New Teles’ — and you’ve got a modern masterpiece.
One of the highlights must be ‘Recycling Saga’ which is typically Led Bib — starts off slowly before building layer upon time-changing layer into a crescendo of sounds where McLaren’s crystal clear piano makes quite an impression.
Best must be the wonderfully uplifting ‘Plastic Lighthouse’ with soaring twin saxes and a menacing mix of free jazz and grungy keys. It’s 72 minutes of soothing sonic engineering for the soul — especially if you pump up the volume.
“Psst, wanna buy a metronome?”
Star Rating: 4/5