Opera for the Unknown Woman review at Platform Theatre, London – ‘innovative’
Earth, 2316. Life is all but wiped out. Aphra is one of the few to have survived disease and flooding following the environmental meltdown. She is holed up in a high-altitude weather station, but will perish within weeks.
On a distant planet, the year is 3001. A female cohort decide to intercede by attempting to communicate with a sisterhood of ordinary, ethnically diverse women back in 2016. They must act now – be the agents of change – in order to save Aphra and their planet.
Opera for the Unknown Woman may sound like a sci-fi movie, but it is a thought-provoking musical drama, strongly performed by an ensemble cast. Wilson’s and Glowicka’s music is relatively unshowy, allowing imaginative video projections, electronic music and sound design to wrap seamlessly around it. As the action quick-cuts between the three temporal planes there are contrasting sounds to match. For the 2016 sisters, there are individual numbers featuring a percussionist, cellist and violinist but also, most strikingly, bursts of primally moving Middle-Eastern and Bulgarian singing; and Aphra’s final message to the cosmos is a radiant combination of psalm-like ancient strains and otherworldly, smoothly jumping vocal lines.
There is some halting of pace towards the end and a final chorus that outstays its welcome, and ultimately the apocalypse feels too easily averted. But the absorbing aural landscape holds the attention, with the help of clever sound design and amplification. Even if the feminist sci-fi environmental-disaster opera genre doesn’t take wing, this is a flare flung confidently into the void.