Linbury Studio, London
ROH2's annual series seeks to create new short works by commissioning composers from outside the world of opera. While there are dozens of candidates, there must be an equal number of classical composers who deserve nurturing. Meanwhile, this year's fortunate few are reduced to two from last year's three.
First up is Stewart Copeland's The Tell-Tale Heart, based on his own libretto drawn from Edgar Allan Poe. Copeland's first mistake is to provide his own text; producing a good libretto is in some ways harder than creating the music. But even given the lumpiness of the result, Copeland's setting is woefully stilted, too often ending up as a kind of operatic rap. The rest gets stuck in rhythmic grooves. Generally, the score seems content to provide occasional atmosphere and thin-textured accompaniment, missing the point of opera, where music embodies the drama itself.
Nearly twice as long as Copeland's psychological horror story, Anne Dudley's The Doctor's Tale holds the attention in a way Copeland's cannot match. Partly that's because of a better libretto – Terry Jones's absurdist story of a doctor, much respected by his patients, who is actually a dog, is a capable piece of comic writing – but Dudley has a much stronger range of technical skills to maintain interest and momentum; her scoring for 12-piece ensemble is particularly resourceful. Even so, too many sections of her piece, which is heavily indebted to musical theatre, are merely pleasantly anonymous. Both works are superbly staged – Soutra Gilmour's brilliant designs backing Jonathan Moore's Victorian melodrama in the first half, and Terry Jones's cartoon-caper in the second – and both pieces are musically and vocally immaculate under the batons of Robert Ziegler and Tim Murray respectively.
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