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Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2010

Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, 8 August 2010

Experimental opera, mostly work in progress, is being showcased before the public again during three August weekends, 5-22nd, and also at Wilton's Music Hall *.

On Sunday 8th the fare could not possibly have been more contrasted. On arrival a singer with flute and harp were performing around the foyer.

Evangelia Rigaki's Lullabaloo had her protagonist Margita Zalite, "a curious girl from Latvia", emerge from inside a pile of cellophane - Samuel Beckett's Winnie ? - to give an extended demonstration of advanced vocal techniques, such as we had first heard from Cathy Berberian in Berio etc.

Zalite is a real singing actress and vocal virtuoso, her extended technique equal to any of those experimental musicians now before the public; she added to her inscrutable magic by playing a bit on a small harp, a musical saw and a theremin and letting loose a small army of cuddly mechanical white rabbits to run around the floor at the end (see The Times photo below). ... All that in aid of the "nightmares of an isolated woman to comfort herself with lullabies, trapped between consciousness and unconsciousness".

Difficult listening, with an uneasy religious component (and maybe a bit overlong) but this was real contemporary music theatre at the cutting edge. As noted before, Rigaki is a composer to follow and listen for when possible.

Neal Thornton
happily "makes no claims as high art for Sonya's Story" (2nd Act, starring Caryl Hughes L, of a projected Uncle Vanya opera); nor should he, and I was surprised that Lionel Friend had been persuaded to conduct this unadventurous score...

Osnat Schmool [R] has a distinctive composing voice, instantly recognisable again in One Dark Night, which might fit into the eventual completion (if finances allow !) of her ground-breaking Drive, Ride Walk (currently it is intended for a cycle of short pieces about emotions linked to "life events"). The One Dark Night fragments - director Sabina Netherclift - had the non-singing protagonist back home after a hard day at work "depressed, weary and alone", surrounded by a shadowy group of singers unseen by the actress, a brilliant conceit.

Schmool's voicing of her half-a-dozen singers is unique and this shortest of the day's offerings was the best and the one which urgently needs to be taken forward [see her scooting and smooching on a Tête à Tête slideshow and in a riveting work in progress video].

Peter Grahame Woolf

Sonya (Caryl Hughes) & Zalite photos: Claire Shovelton

* Experimental opera in London August 2010: See also Transitional Opera
Jacopo Peri "Oh My Days"at Wilton's Music Hall
- - the most imaginative director of opera working in Britain today' Observer