The Picture of Dorian Gray has inspired many playwrights and composers to translate it to the stage. A new operatic adaptation by Oliver Bowes and Jamie Fox for Love Opera, at the Bedford pub in south London, ultimately falters, but the young company’s ambition to take on Oscar Wilde’s only novel is admirable.
Bowes and Fox pare down the intricate plot to its essentials and are fortunate in having mezzo-soprano Maya Colwell in the demanding title role. Colwell’s strong acting and vocal prowess persuade us of Dorian Gray’s trajectory from handsome, naive young man to the decadent, spent figure whose youthful physical appearance belies a sinister truth revealed by the ever-changing picture. Unfortunately, Colwell carries a lot of the weight in an otherwise uneven production.
The cabaret-like setting of the room at the Bedford provides a fitting Victorian atmosphere. However, the decision to locate the orchestra up on the balcony above the stage creates inherent difficulties for visual contact between conductor and the singers.
This is compounded by the balance issues in the score, which too often obscure the Wildean aphorisms. For instance, many of the treasurable witticisms of the cynical Lord Henry Wotton, a role taken by composer Bowes, are covered up by a horn that doubles many of the melodies.
Bowes’ most effective and characterful writing comes in the final three scenes, especially in an aria from the long-suffering Lady Wotton (tenderly sung by Charlotte Bateman). “Youth is the one thing worth having,” says Lord Wotton in the novel, but it may be time and experience that successfully translates Wilde’s Picture into an opera.