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The World’s Wife review at Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea – ‘sensitively wrought’

Amanda Forbes in The World's Wife. Photo: Kirsten Mcternan Amanda Forbes in The World's Wife. Photo: Kirsten Mcternan
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Ten years before she was finally appointed the first ever woman poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy turned myth and history on their heads in her collection, The World’s Wife, a trenchantly witty paean to the forgotten women behind famous men.

From a peak-moralised Mrs Aesop and penis-pitying Frau Freud to grimmer archetypes in Salome, Queen Herod, Mrs Beast, and a “line of ghosts/Unable to win”, each is given searching personal and political voice.

It is perhaps an unlikely inspiration for a young male composer’s first opera. But Tom Green is alert to the irony and deliberately takes it further, weaving a powerfully eclectic score – for soprano Amanda Forbes, the all-female Mavron String Quartet and live loop pedals – from the music of unfairly neglected women composers: Barbara Strozzi, Clara Schumann, Elizabeth Lutyens and more.

Is it presumptive or manipulative? Or an opportunity to consider the ubiquity of the male authorial voice, and associated ‘undoing of women’ in opera? Or, deeper still, testimony that opera subverts conventions of otherness and difference through the agency of the performative, singing voice?

Each of these questions smartly underscores Green’s 11 settings thanks to his subtle musical imagination and – not least – a compelling, literally multilayered performance by Forbes, strongly supported by the Mavron.

Director Ed Madden and designer Grace Smart place marble busts on plinths as cold, unfeeling signposts to Forbes’ expressivity.

It’s an intimate experience, and Green avoids straying into the overtly polemical, painting the sharp wit and emotional push-me-pull-you of Duffy’s poetry within a transparent tapestry of renaissance-to-contemporary, sometimes atonal sound. Sensitively wrought, the female composers, too, are poignantly invoked.

 

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Verdict
Feminist questions intelligently addressed in a new digital chamber opera based on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy
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