Tete a Tete’s 2010 Opera Festival continues to provide a hotbed of exploration and experimentation across the broadest spectrum of musical drama.
A sample of two shows from a three-event evening offered a neat contrast.
Based on the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by the feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, She walketh veiled and sleeping… (music by recent Oxford graduate Daniel Saleeb) features soprano Miranda Heldt as a woman kept in confinement by her physician husband. During its 15-minute span, the piece affectingly charts the woman’s mental uncoiling. Neatly diffused electroacoustic effects almost graphically present the voices in her head and the hands of a jittery video clock jump randomly to suggest a temporal limbo.
Heldt’s whispering and nervous repetition of phrase fragments make for involving drama and her undoing proper comes over a suitably gothic crashing piano cadenza. Saleeb uses his ensemble of six players to skilful effect.
Next came only the second London performance of Steve Reich’s Three Tales (2002), a collaboration with his wife, video artist Beryl Korot. The 70-minute video opera is a commentary of the 20th century via three technological milestones - the crash of the Hindenburg airship in 1937, atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific during the forties and fifties and, most recently, genetic cloning as represented by Dolly the sheep.
Though the work makes use of documentary footage and eyewitness accounts, plus interviews with contributors including Marvin Minsky and Richard Dawkins, there are longueurs in the last two acts. But under the musical direction of Nick Sutcliffe, the young Ensemble BPM, joined by the Ligeti Quartet, put in a concentrated and vivid performance. A bold and impressive achievement indeed for a group formed only last year.