The Vanishing Bridegroom review at Peacock Theatre, London – ‘valiantly performed’

Alexandra Lowe in The Vanishing Bridegroom at the Peacock Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Alexandra Lowe in The Vanishing Bridegroom at the Peacock Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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British Youth Opera opens its 30th anniversary season with a revival of Judith Weir’s The Vanishing Bridegroom, first performed by Scottish Opera in 1990.

Like a lot of Weir’s work, it has its origins in folk culture. Her own libretto weaves together three ancient Scottish tales, each of them featuring a bridegroom who vanishes — though none of the characters has an actual name.

Played consecutively, the tales are linked. In the first a couple who marry following the disappearance of an earlier suitor become in the second the parents of a daughter; it is on his way to fetch a priest for her christening that the husband is lured away into a fairy-hill. Grown to a young woman in the third tale, the daughter herself is wooed by a stranger who turns out to be the devil – and eventually emulates his predecessors by vanishing.

The best aspects of Weir’s score – carefully performed here by Southbank Sinfonia under James Holmes, but in a reduced orchestration by Michael Lee – are those showing the direct influence of folk culture, including Gaelic psalm-singing and so-called ‘waulking songs’ from the Western Isles. Elsewhere the writing feels grey and anonymous, and overall Weir does not quite hit the operatic nail on the head as she did in her earlier A Night at the Chinese Opera – a genuine modern classic.

But the piece does provide the material for a substantial company of young professional singers and chorus to get its teeth into – all of the company members engaging confidently in Stuart Barker’s production, which conveys visually the distinctive national and period feel of the original stories.

There’s nevertheless a worrying impression that this valuable company – which helps give experience and exposure to so many young artists – is not currently attracting the funding it deserves.

Judith Weir’s mixed-quality Scottish folk-tale opera is valiantly performed by British Youth Opera