Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival has returned for the fourteenth time to present a diverse programme of work with a strong focus on resilience in the wake of the arts being silenced due to the pandemic. Adding to the festival’s presentation of emerging operatic talent is the double bill of Alice d’Lumiere’s overture, Until the Trans Lady Sings – An Autobiographical Spoken Word Opera and EXPO MCYO: A Thread Through Change.
Opening the show, Alice d’Lumiere presents us with a ‘statement of intent’: her avid desire to learn to sing. More specifically, to sing opera. In proposing this predicament, d’Lumiere interweaves stories of her childhood with vital commentary on how gender codes are applied to voices. Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass – these classifiers indicate more than just one’s vocal range.
This is why d’Lumiere has turned to opera, which appears to offer more space for genderfluidity than traditional chorale singing. However, archaic methods of gender-bending, namely men playing washerwomen and witches, both exist and dominate the mainstream opera scene, and so d’Lumiere has some work to do to redefine the roles that she wants to play, making them her own.
This humorous, heart-warming overture presents us with a promising work-in-progress; a project that I would love to see come to fruition. Hopefully, d’Lumiere’s quest will lead to her returning to the festival in 2022 with a full show. Because of course, ‘the score isn’t settled until the trans lady sings.’
Having been warmed up by d’Lumiere’s welcoming presence, we are then introduced to the Manchester Contemporary Youth Opera and A Thread Through Change, a trio of three new operas. The first is part one of Adventure through Mother Earth’s Sewing Box, an opera-film created during the first lockdown in collaboration with JEFSMN. This tells the story of a girl in isolation who journeys through Mother Earth’s Sewing Box, threading together her desire to succeed and the significant shift in time and history that the pandemic has caused. The tale borders Adela and Glimmerings, both of which were created in 2019, before the chaos of COVID-19 began.
It is the merging of these two worlds – the one before COVID-19 and the one that we currently inhabit – which makes this production so intriguing. The blending of the real and the digital is seamless and inventive, offering multiple points of focus for the audience. The layering of both recorded and live music creates a multidimensional experience which serves to compliment the minimal, yet harmonious set and costume design.
Although the stories themselves are utterly bizarre, this trio of new work poses a wealth of potential from an extremely talented group of young creatives. MCYO’s mission to alter the traditional landscape of opera is highly evident in this production, and it is this call for change which connects the work to d’Lumiere’s operatic endeavour. I hope to see them both return to the festival next year, with more innovative ideas and powerful voices.
Until the Trans Lady Sings and EXPO MCYO are on at The Cockpit Theatre until 4 September. For more information and tickets see The Cockpit Theatre’s website.