The Hive was originally performed back in 2016 as a workshop of songs from Act One, and again in 2017 in the form of a complete Act One and a partial Act Two. Recently, this production has sadly taken a step backwards in its creative process due to the restrictions imposed by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Where there should now be a full orchestra and a large cast, Tête à Tête Opera Festival instead presents The Hive (Covid Cut), a stripped back film which tells the story of the show (written and narrated by its librettist Carole Hayman) with extracts of past recordings of the songs, climaxing in the performance of two songs live on stage.
Hayman wrote this show, with the musical composition of Harvey Brough, as a result of her research into women who commit serial murder. As you can imagine this leads to some very dark notes within the storytelling of The Hive. Combining this fascination that we have with serial-killers with the stories of Grimms’ fairy tales, the narrative is centred around the abduction of Little Red Riding Hood by a big bad wolf called Hansel and his wife Gretel.
Though we are taken through some twistedly morbid and darkly sexual plot points, there is a huge amount of humour in the lyrics. It’s refreshing to see such a modern approach to opera, where the music is just as dramatic as the classics, with arias that soar as well as delve, but with lyrics that are flippant and brash. There is nothing precious in the writing style, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do irreverently and without sentiment, which makes the characters all the more realistic. It is noted by Brough during the performance that none of the characters escape undamaged or unchanged, and this is very much shown through the vocal performances shown in the film.
Whilst the videography is very rough around the edges and lacks a kind of professional finesse for my liking, with dated transitions and poorly presented animation, the emphasis is very much on the storytelling and, as a result, the audience is drawn into the tale of these horrid characters.
The performers throughout the film are exceptionally talented, delivering the material with a clarity and skill that is exceptionally satisfying to watch – seemingly, this show is made up entirely of starring roles. The way that the songs are constructed make it easy to follow what is going on (even if the recordings are slightly tricky to hear at times). The narration by Hayman manages to contextualise effectively, whilst condensing things for us into a neat fifty minutes. It must be said, however, that this presumably leaves a lot of gaps, as I’m left wondering exactly how this relates to the inspiration of the piece at point of conception – female killers.
The live performance at the end of the film, performed by Jessica Walker and accompanied by Brough, is the highlight of the evening. Walker’s delivery is beautifully precise and, considering that there is minimal context, she manages to captivate with a presence and a vocal intensity that holds us in the palm of her hand, guiding us through this tale of dark misdeeds.Whilst this presentation is far scaled back from what it could have been under different circumstances, it still manages to breath life into the stage and give us an insight into how brilliant modern opera can be. Now all that’s left is to wait with bated breath for the first full production of The Hive.
The Hive (Covid Cut) is available to watch as an interactive broadcast until 17 October. For more information and tickets, see The Cockpit website