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Nothing at Glyndebourne review – ‘moving, authentic and thought-provoking’

Nothing at Glyndebourne. Photo: Robert Workman Nothing at Glyndebourne. Photo: Robert Workman
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There could hardly be a stronger testament to Glyndebourne’s education work, which began 30 years ago, than this compelling and unsettling opera by David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell, based on a novel by Janne Teller. Set in present-day Denmark it concerns the students of Class 7D, who have just returned to school after the summer holiday. One of them, Pierre, declares that nothing means anything and retreats to a plum tree. His classmates attempt to prove him wrong by creating a ‘pile of meaning’ in an abandoned sawmill, giving up some of their favourite possessions which they intend to set on fire. After Pierre challenges them instead to determine each other’s sacrifices, there begins a spiral of increasingly extreme actions fuelled by peer pressure and mob dynamics.

Bruces’ music combines folk and Renaissance overtones with shifting effects which seem to reflect the teenagers searching for their own paths, and there are some remarkably touching moments of sparseness. Giles Cadle’s smart set revolves to show the school, the sawmill and the plum tree in which Pierre sits – the last a pixelated design, perhaps suggesting a possible ‘virtual’ space from which Pierre influences his classmates (though there is some crucifix symbolism too). Director Bijan Sheibani makes every action and interaction count and manages to make a success of a largely static Pierre, radiantly sung by Stuart Jackson. Marta Fontanals-Simmon’s Ursula and counter-tenor James Hall’s Johan are also striking performances.

Nothing is a bold statement, not only in its questions of material possession, sacrifice, group behaviour and moral boundaries – but also in not pretending to offer answers. It’s as moving, authentic and thought-provoking an opera you’re likely to see for some time.

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Brilliantly conceived adaptation of a noirish Danish novel, with professionals and non-professionals performing together