Opera-te - short for Opera Theatre Europe - is a new company dedicated to bringing to our stages pieces on a smaller scale, either new works or unfashionable older ones. For its debut production it has chosen the third of American Tobias Picker’s four operas, premiered in Dallas in 2001.
A retelling of Zola’s novel of 1867, Gene Scheer’s wordy libretto relates how lovers Therese and Laurent murder Therese’s dreary husband Camille but are then haunted by guilt and the presence in their home of Camille’s paralysed mother, who overhears their conversation and tries to reveal their crime. But it is their own despair that finally leads them to suicide.
It’s a dark story with some operatic potential but there is neither enough variety nor enough definition of character in Picker’s score, heard here in his own reduced version. Too much of it passes by anonymously without registering as a vital expression of the drama.
But the company tackle it boldly, even if Lee Blakeley’s direction itself needs stronger definition. Emma Wee’s designs evoke effectively the stifling Parisian environment, and there are committed performances in the central roles from Isabelle Cals as a nervy Therese, Colin Judson as the feeble Camille, Carole Wilson as his omni-present mother and especially Nicholas Garrett, who gives Laurent some moody glamour.
The orchestra sounds tentative but conductor Timothy Redmond shows spirit. Opera-te deserves recognition for their efforts but they need to pick a stronger score next time. ΚΚΚΚΚ