ROH2’s OperaShots showcases first operas from composers often working on the fringes of classical music.
Esteban Fourmi, Victoria Couper, Aoi Nakamura and Melanie Pappenheim in Home at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
This year’s double bill comprises half-hour works by funky minimalist Graham Fitkin and by the Divine Comedy singer-songwriter (and Father Ted theme-tune composer) Neil Hannon - a combination that guarantees musical contrast from the start.
Fitkin’s Home, to a libretto co-written by the composer with choreographer Jasmin Vardimon, is more music-theatre than opera. In exploring the nature and meanings of home, Vardimon (who also directs) presents a simple three-sided room - a blank canvas or empty shell in which a pair of dancers, Esteban Fourmi and Aoi Nakamura, form a now swaying, now intertwining couple whose only possession is domestic bliss. With striking simplicity and symbolism, Jesse Collett’s childlike drawings of windows, door and fireplace are, literally, projections. The couple is subjected to threats real and imaginary, from both within and without, as the fabric of their home is gradually permeated and destroyed. The two singers, Victoria Couper and Melanie Pappenheim, appear as ghostly white banshees within the room, though it is impossible to make out their words. Fitkin manages to work a sense of form and development into his typically punchy score - his amplified band, sneeringly noir at the work’s climax, is pungently shot through with trumpet, soprano saxophones and hectically strumming guitar and harp.
Hannon wrote his own lyrics for Sevastopol, which is inspired by Tolstoy’s experiences on the front line in that Black Sea city during the Crimean War. There is an empathy here with the suffering wounded and the fearing able-bodied - and Emma Bailey’s designs are richly atmospheric, but although there is an attractive lyrical vein in Hannon’s music, which is naturally well written for voices, the disjointed musical scenes stem dramatic flow, and at times the style wavers disconcertingly between Gilbert and Sullivan parody and West End bluster.