Printworks London, the multi-purpose venue which has set out to shake the ground of the capital’s cultural scene, has no doubt caught the attention of rave and gig enthusiasts. But the old printing factory has now opened its doors to the London Sinfonietta and the Royal Opera House, and what an incredible experience the marriage between these companies is. There is an industrial mystery to this dystopian venue, and it’s hard to imagine a better setting for the world premiere of Tansy Davies’ and Nick Drake’s Cave.
Cave is a new site-specific opera about a man’s pursuit of survival and courage to go on in a future ruined by climate change. He enters the space of echoes from lost civilisations in the hope to find something from the past, a connection to the planet, a connection to something. He is also searching for his lost daughter, and the grief for her and the planet has driven him to a place of memories. A place with whispers of ancestral spirits and a connection to the centre of the earth. It’s an opera that almost summons the spirit of nature and shows us how misplaced a man in business attire, and all the stress it represents, is.
The score is a beautiful exploration of vocal purity and dark, visceral sounds. It is poetry in itself, deliciously forming a detailed soundscape both so familiar and so primal. There is endless detail in Davies’ score and it transcends the industrial space into the damp depths of the earth and something otherworldly. Drake’s libretto is poetical but also extremely relatable, and we relish the occasional swear words and everyday terms slicing into the music as a perfect example of the clashes between nature and us.
Mark Padmore brings a mesmerising vulnerability in his vocal, and with the echo of the cave it sends chills throughout the body. His voice glides through the music effortlessly and expresses a grief that’s very heartfelt and exposing. Elaine Mitchener’s masterful vocal improvisation creates a vivid aural landscape and gives the piece a solid rooting in something earthy and spiritual. The combination is exhilarating.
The image of the lost child occurs as young dancer Akilah Mantock, and her presence and skill give us a sense of history and youthful innocence. Because of this it feels slightly jarring that Mitchener plays the child singing in an otherwise truly immersive and believable setup, but this is forgiven by her masterful delivery.
Mike Britton’s design is strikingly atmospheric and immerses us fully in the sensory of the cave. Jack Knowles’ lighting design is superb and completely defines the space. The production is masterly led by detailed and perceptive conductor Geoffrey Paterson, and director Lucy Bailey’s eye for expressive staging, with the imagery and movement as beautiful as they are guttural. Though the narrative is confusing at times and doesn’t fully explain the circumstances in which climate change has destroyed the outside world, this imagery and the exquisite score leaves us mesmerised and emerged in the world of Cave.
Cave is playing at Printworks London until 23 June
Photo: Manuel Harlan