Operatically speaking, David Blake is best known for two substantial works premiered by English National Opera: Toussaint in 1976 and The Plumber’s Mate in 1988.
Originally commissioned by Portland Opera to mark the millennium, Scoring a Century was dropped due to budgetary cuts, eventually reaching the stage at the Birmingham Conservatoire in 1999. Blake and his librettist Keith Warner have revised it again for this first London production. This is not enough, however, as the result is unwieldy, overlong and stylistically diffuse.
The basic idea is to review the 20th century through the eyes of a married song-and-dance team, Mr and Mrs Jedermann – their name meaning ‘everyman’ in German. He is played with wide-eyed innocence by Hugo Herman-Wilson while she registers as rather more worldly as realised by Holly-Marie Bingham.
Turning up, arguably more often than is strictly necessary, is composer Berthold (Florian Panzieri making the best of some weak material), whose ‘mini-operas’ on various themes punctuate the revue-like narrative: we visit Trouville in 1901, the trenches of the First World War, Britain in the Depression, Spain during the Civil War, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and post-war America at various periods coming right up to date.
There are too many of these episodes, while not enough of Blake’s pastiche score achieves memorability.
But the level of talent displayed by the young cast – many of them taking multiple roles – holds the attention through scene after scene. Among her manifold duties, Joanna Harries displays acumen as nightclub singer Tartine, while Guy Elliott successful juggles several roles.
Sets and costumes are unfailingly apt and the dancing excellent. Lionel Friend conducts the Southbank Sinfonia expertly, while Warner directs with skill a piece he might have profitably revised even further.