Monday, 26 May 2014

Premiere of intriguing new chamber opera by Edward Lambert

Six Characters in Search of  a Stage: Photo Credit Edward Lambert
Six Characters in Search of a Stage
Photo Credit Edward Lambert
Edward Lambert - Six Characters in Search of a Stage: Music Troupe of London: St Andrews Church, Hove
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on May 4 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Intriguing surreal and stylish production of new opera chamber opera

Composer Edward Lambert, well known for his work at Covent Garden and his youth opera commissioned by W11 Opera ('All in the Mind' for the Britten Theatre 2004), has just had his puzzling new chamber opera 'Six Characters in Search of a Stage' premiered at Brighton Fringe by his very own Music Troupe of London with a cast including Jon Stainsby, Olivia Clarke, Sheridan Edward and Mark Beesley.


I went along to St Andrews Church by the Sea, Hove on 4 May 2014 intrigued to unravel the mystery and experience his modernist / post-modernist score realised. Adapted from Pirandello's play of 1921, acclaimed as a surrealist masterpiece at the time, the chamber opera opens with the Director (stalwartly enacted and sung by Jon Stainsby) arriving on the stage of an empty theatre waiting for the cast of a modern play he doesn't really understand, to turn up for first rehearsal. 'Where is everyone? Why must I direct these modern works where nobody understands a thing?' he bemoans to the intrepid accompaniment of Lambert (piano)and quirky clarinet line above from the young, but established recitalist Joseph Shiner.


Suddenly the Six Character appear on stage in baroque period costume and insist on telling the Director their real story, which is far more shatteringly truthful than mere drama. The director is convinced they've come to the wrong theatre, but the Father of the family group proclaims:' We're searching, searching for a stage, if you please we would show you our drama', which the 'Six Characters' proceed to do, reenacting their family's sad tale of recent incest, rape, murder and suicide duly set to music by Lambert. A complicated storyline unfolds with particularly strong input from soprano Olivia Clarke soaring up to ecstatic top notes at dramatic point throughout the work. Born after the Father and Mother had separated (the mother having moved away with her lover) but the legitimate daughter of her original parents, the Daughter, lively and attractive, later falls into the hands of brothel keeper Madame Pace (well sung by tenor Sheridan Edward) who misuses the young girl unbeknown to her mother. There ensue scenes of unintended consequences and anguish towards the climax of the opera, when the Father visits the brothel, inadvertently accosting his own daughter, at which point her mother suddenly appears from the wings.

Six Characters in Search of  a Stage Photo Credit Edward Lambert
Six Characters in Search of  a Stage
Photo Credit Edward Lambert
This short opera (55 minutes) succeeds in holding the attention of the audience due to its fast pace, stylish production by Director Ian Caddy, who also introduces baroque gestures to add impact on stage, and Lambert's strikingly lively score. When I had a few words with Edward Lambert after the performance, he described his style in this work as 'modernist/post modernist, influenced by the operas of John Adams, with like Adams, rhythms that keep changing. 'He had built the work on 'consonancies' and dissonant harmonies', flowing across each other so they pass, putting themselves on the same spectrum so that the music can flow one idea to another'. I noted flowing Debussy–like passages in the accompaniment during interludes in the drama, but Lambert alluded to the fact that he felt more of an affinity to Ligeti in this work. In Act Three, an instrumental interlude leads to an anguished vocal quartet as the Daughter's baby girl (a puppet character) plays in the garden with tragic results. She drowns in the fountain swiftly followed by the sound of a single shot, as the young son of the Mother and her deceased lover perishes too.

At which point the rest of the 'Six Characters' disappear from the stage so the 'Director' is left as at the outset of the opera asking 'where is my cast? I've lost a whole rehearsal over this performance', not realising the final tragedy was re-enacted 'for real'.

The 'surreal' nature of the whole work (and the original play it echoes) inevitably leaves the audience as perplexed as the 'Director' on stage but the performance was well received and the musical experience memorable, and intriguing too.' The vocal parts aren't easy to sing' exclaimed Mark Beesley (Father ) to me afterwards. I noted the awkward angular leaps in the vocal line at high points in the drama, the ecstatic arias, especially from the Daughter, amidst sombre notes on bass clarinet.

Originally scored for 2 clarinets, viola, cello and piano, Lambert is hoping to stage a production with full ensemble accompaniment at a future date. I actually felt the premiere version Brighton Fringe for solo clarinet (doubling bass and Eb clarinets) and piano, worked particularly well and afforded a marvellously intrepid opportunity to solo clarinet Joseph Shiner whose lyrical line shone quirkily throughout as he raced and arpeggioed his way through the score with aplomb.
Reviewed by Jill Barlow
copyright Jill Barlow 2014
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