Monday, 5 March 2018

Goldilocks translated - The Opera Story's latest new production

Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Nicholas Lester, Alice Privett - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnel)
Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Nicholas Lester, Alice Privett - The Opera Story
(Photo Clive Boursnell)
Vahan Salorian and Dominic Kimberlin Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs; Alice Privett, Carolyn Dobbin, Nicholas Lester, Daniel Keating-Robert, dir: Pedro Ribeiro, cond: Paul Wingfield; The Opera Story at the Copeland Gallery
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 3, 2018, Star rating: 4.0
A confident piece of new music-theatre, in a striking re-telling of Goldilocks

Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Alice Privett - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
Alice Privett - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
The Opera Story has followed up its enterprising 2017 production, Snow [see my review], which re-interpreted the fairy-tale of Snow White using three different composers, with a new commission Goldilocks and the three little pigs which again reworks fairy-tales, this time conflating the story of Goldilocks with the tale of the three little pigs. The music is by Vahan Salorian with a libretto by Dominic Kimberlin, and Pedro Ribeiro's production (in his own designs) takes place in the neutral space of the Copeland Gallery in Peckham (seen 3 March 2018) which is part of the same complex which contains the Bussey Building and the CLF Art Cafe. The opera features just four characters, Goldilocks (Alice Privett) and three bear/pigs, Mummy (Carolyn Dobbin), Daddy (Nicholas Lester) and Baby (Daniel Keating-Roberts) with Paul Wingfield conducting a ten-piece instrumental ensemble.

Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Carolyn Dobbin - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
Carolyn Dobbin - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
The Copeland Gallery is a rectangular, former warehouse space. Done out all in white, the orchestra is at one end of the room, behind a half-wall, whilst the stage space is against the long wall with the audience ranged opposite in three rows. Seats have protective plastic ponchos on them, in case audience members are worried about the splashing of the stage blood!

Pedro Ribeiro's set is a simple long log which is suspended and rotates, providing either a microcosm of the forest (with miniature broccoli trees sprouting from the bark) or the basic necessities for the bear/pigs house. The glowing white walls and floor almost suggested an abattoir, yet the walls were used as a drawing board by Daniel Keating-Roberts and formed a striking backdrop for the leaking rivulets of blood which appeared during this tale.

Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Nicholas Lester - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
Nicholas Lester - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
Like most fairy tales, this one is violent and clearly, Dominic Kimberlin has been reading Roald Dahl. The libretto conflates Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs, finding the commonalities with three lots of home-invasions rather striking. The unusual thing about the story is that no-one is good, it is more about lack of communications. At the start Goldilocks (Alice Privett) is homeless and parentless and hungry, looking for shelter. She eats worms, and there are bird-like hints in her characterisation. The bear/pigs are simply an ordinary family, but different, very, very carnivore (more bear than pig) with Daddy (Nicholas Lester) off hunting. Mummy (Carolyn Dobbin) is nervous, frightened of the birds. When Goldilocks appears, Kimberlin has a neat, modern twist; in this telling, the anthropomorphism does not go far, Goldilocks and the bear/pigs cannot understand each other, and the most communication they have is when Goldilocks and Daddy mime to each other, and exchange songs. The results are tragic, both Mummy and Daddy die at Goldilocks' hands, then finally Baby kills Goldilocks. He is now homeless and parentless, will the cycle begin again?

Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Daniel Keating-Roberts - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
Daniel Keating-Roberts - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
The opera is compact (a little over an hour's music), and Salorian's style is very lyrical and tonal, but also complex. This was a wonderfully confident and richly imaginative score, and I was particularly taken with the instrumental writing, The placing of the orchestra meant that the ensemble formed rather a backdrop to the singing, and I would have liked the instruments more in focus, it was here that the main musical interest lay. Salorian's vocal writing was admirably respectful of the text, and lots of words got through so we did not need the librettos in our programmes. He had individual melodies which re-occurred, but I felt that too often the vocal writing reverted to generic noodling and that in the dialogue sections the musical interest was too much in the orchestra. But overall, he captured a remarkable sense of the opera's themes and provided some powerful moments.

Ribeiro's production was, for me, a little too literal and once past the shock value of the first bloody killing in act one, the cycle became rather repetitive. The story has lots of underlying themes and I felt that the opera would have been better served by a more thoughtful abstract production. That said, it was very vividly dramatic and often very funny, thanks to the superbly committed performances from the cast.

Alice Privett was riveting as the tragic figure of Goldilocks, forced by circumstance to become something far nastier and more uncertain than in the original tale, constantly yearning for peace yet creating a powerfully disruptive force. As the three bear/pigs, Carolyn Dobbin, Nicholas Lester and Daniel Keating-Roberts beautifully combined aspects of normal family life with carnivore habits, to sometimes hilarious effect - Nicholas Lester in blood-spattered business suit bringing home a suitcase of raw meat, Carolyn Dobbin cleaning her elaborate nails with the carving knife she is using for cooking. The production was similarly imaginative when it came to Goldilocks repeated attempts at home invasion, and I particularly loved the solution to the problem of how to make Alice Privett descend the chimney and get stuck part of the way.

Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Alice Privett - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
Vahan Salorian: Goldilocks - Alice Privett - The Opera Story (Photo Clive Boursnell)
The orchestra, under Paul Wingfield's confident direction, gave a fine performance of the score, making the most of Salorian's richly complex writing.

This was a wonderfully confident piece of music theatre, certainly nothing like any contemporary opera which I have recently experienced. It showed that music which is approachable and tonal can take drama into intriguing directions with a result which was an evening of thrilling theatre.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Contrasting double: Puccini's Il tabarro & Gianni Schicchi from ETO (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Beyond an auspicious debut: I chat to French Horn player Ben Goldscheider - interview
  • A return to the world of sleep and dreams: Robert Carsen's production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream  (★★★½) - opera review
  • The complete piano works of John McCabe - volume 1 (★★★½) - CD review
  • Handelian celebration with the Foundling Hospital Anthem  (★★★½) - concert review
  • Bach on the piano, Sandro Ivo Bartoli in Bach's smaller pieces (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Well worth crossing the Red Sea for: Rossini's Mosè in Egitto from Chelsea Opera Group (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Music, myth and time: Karen Cargill and the Scottish Ensemble at Kings Place (★★★★½) - concert review
  • A varied career: our interview with violinist Thomas Gould finds him in a thoughtful mood - interview
  • Má vlast: Jiri Belohlavek's last recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - CD review (★★★★)
  • Notable recital debut disc from French Horn player Ben Golscheider - Cd review (★★★★)
  • 18 years after its premiere, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking receives its first UK performance - Opera review (★★★½)
  • Gerstein plays Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F - CD review (★★★★)
  • Satyagraha: Philip Glass's opera at ENO - Opera review (★★★★)
  • Home

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