Tuesday 14 May 2019

Rough for Opera - Speak Red, A Father is Looking for his Daughter, Dreaming Clouds

Second Movement's Rough for Opera
Second Movement's Rough for Opera returned to the Cockpit Theatre yesterday (14 May 2019) for its seventeenth edition. Billed as a scratch night for new opera, the event gives composers, librettists and creators the chance to try work out in front of an audience and then get feedback, each performance being followed by a Q&A session. 

Yesterday we heard three works in progress. Excerpts from Speak Red by Santa Buss & FXXX BXXXXX presented by Oedipa with Alice Purton (vocals/cello), Heloise Werner (vocals/cello) and participants from UCL's Division of Psychology and Language Sciences and Communication Clinic. A Father is Looking for his Daughter by Alex Mills and Gareth Mattey with Ella Taylor (father), Rosie Middleton (Auditor), Cecilia Bignall (cello), Calum Huggan & Angela Wai-Nok Hui (percussion), Crispin Lord (director), and Ashil Mistry (conductor). Dreaming Clouds by Alex Ho (composer, co-director, performer) and Julia Cheng (choreographer, co-director, performer).

The company performing Speak Red included 15 people with aphasia, the difficulty with language and communication which can occur after a stroke. The piece was a work in progress, and we heard three scenes, in which the participants' powerful individual stories were combined with that of Ruby McDonough, an American woman whose fight against discrimination in the USA changed the way the law works. There was some strikingly imaginative moments, in a piece which used opera and music theatre to present ideas about the difficulties of non-communication, rising to the challenge of being inclusive whilst creating a work of dramatic interest.

A Father is Looking for his Daughter was, at first hearing, the most finished piece of the evening. A stand alone operatic scene, it had in fact been created in a relatively short period by composer Alex Mills [who wrote Dear Marie Stopes, see my review] and librettist Gareth Mattey, and the performance enabled them to consider how the piece might develop, whether it is stand-alone or not. Dealing with issues of identity, borders and parenthood, the work reacted to the stories about recent separations between parents and children on the USA/Mexico border, yet also had at its heart the chilling way the auditor (Rosie Middleton) was redacting out all reference to the father's (Ella Taylor) being transgender.

The final work, Dreaming Clouds, was the first collaboration between Alex Ho and Julia Cheng, both are second generation Chinese immigrants and the work explored the borders between their Chinese heritage, notably Cantonese Opera, and Western culture. It was a strikingly visual piece, with Julia Cheng's choreography being a powerful and visually entrancing feature of the work.

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