Review: Opera in the City Double Bill, Bridewell Theatre

If you have ever read The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot you probably have a good idea of how it felt to watch the first piece in this double bill. Certain lines, such as ‘Here is water and only rock/ Rock and no water’, or ‘Breeding lilacs out of the dead land’, spring to mind.

‘Even You, Lights, Cannot Hear Me’ is a new two-person opera by Simone Spagnolo. It is brief (at around twenty minutes), but a significant amount of extra time must be added on to this due to the intense lingering after the performers have sunk into their respective curtains and the harsh piano chords are left ringing in your ears.

Amongst a stage of cold blue lighting littered with white rocks, sits a piano and two loosely dressed people. Sharing one seat for the majority of the performance they sing and play together, taking it in turns at the piano and even playing the piano together beautifully at some points. Gorgeous direction and choreography leads to times of harmony and others of discordant syncopation as the audience hears what can best be described as an apocalyptic tale. Thousands of questions run through one’s mind: is this past or future? Have we left time altogether, perhaps? What happened to cause this strangely peaceful chaos? What is awaiting us all? One thing does seem to be for sure: ‘cold and empty’ is the order of the day.

It must be admitted that some of the actions are slightly awkward, which is a shame considering that the music would otherwise have a mesmerising effect and totally absorb you into a state of zombie-like non-being. Without these stilted actions, such as reaching for rocks or goblets, this opera could have an other-worldy power.

This piece is certainly worth seeing. The music is perfect for the mood: overwhelmingly unsettling, but with teasing moments of beauty and harmony. The singing is superb, not ignoring some extremely talented miming that opens the opera.

Following ‘Even you, lights, Cannot Hear Me’ in this double bill was another modern opera, ‘The Nero Monologues’ by Sarah Toth, but this time with an amusing rather than an apocalyptic tone.

This piece recounts Nero’s last moments set in the private space of his bedroom quarters. Other than Nero himself (played by a woman) a clever addition of a dancing black-masked ‘conscience’ character made for some dynamic choreography as we are told about Nero’s plans to make his empire into a ‘Supershow’, or about how he came to murder his mother.

The diverse music (ranging from ‘Some Nights’ by Fun to Handel) meddled with outstanding poetry by Australian poet Geoffrey Leman creates an opera that manifests Nero’s flamboyant and romantic artistic disposition. The unashamedly ‘smoke and mirrors’ pyrotechnics and slightly over-the-top acting that takes from an ancient Greek style, contribute to a light-hearted mood that makes for an enjoyable and fun piece.

Joyce Jin, who directed both of these pieces, proves herself to be talented and diverse, totally altering the mood from despairing to comic. Jin certainly proves that opera has plenty to give as she cleverly mixes together a Beckett-like piece with a light-hearted take on classical history.

‘Even you, lights, cannot hear me’ and ‘The Nero Monologues’ played at the St. Bride Foundation until August 12.

Alice Devoy

I am currently studying English at UCL. I write and direct plays and would love to work in theatre.