Based on the cult novel by Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory is a new one-act opera composed and directed by Ben Frost, premiered in August at the Bregenz Festival. The darkness of the subject matter - left to his own devices by his reclusive father, teenager Frank retreats into a feral fantasy world on his remote Scottish island - is reflected in a bleak production.
Jördis Richter in The Wasp Factory Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Nerves are set on edge from the shocking outset as the auditorium is plunged into pitch darkness to the accompaniment of 10 seconds (it feels a lot longer) of visceral electronic white noise - a plausible representation of a killer’s mind. The lights slowly rise, slightly, to reveal Mirella Weingarten’s atmospheric black-box set - a large rectangular platform covered in earth, in which the three female singers, whose disembodied voices have only been heard until now, are buried.
Banks’ novel unfolds mainly in Frank’s first-person narrative; David Pountney’s libretto is an abstract precis, the amplified singers - Liselot De Wilde, Mariam Wallentin and Jordis Richter, also intense physical performers - portraying fragmentary episodes which evoke its spirit with acute effectiveness.
The live musicians - a string quintet at the back of the stage - are members of the Reykjavic Sinfonia, and Frost’s haunting, electronica-infused score frequently seems to have been influenced by cerebral pop artist Bjork - also from Iceland, where Frost has lived since 2005.
An enterprising and uncompromising staging of a difficult story, this tense, vividly communicated and claustrophobic production is not for the faint-hearted.