DAILY TELEGRAPH / 23 April 2012
Part of a longer-term programme that commissions left-field composers who have never attempted opera before, its results to date have not been particularly exciting and on entering the auditorium, I took a deep breath and thought of England: bitter experience warned me this was unlikely to be fun.
How wrong that was. Both Graham Fitkin’s Home and Neil Hannon’s Sevastopol proved not only innovative and accomplished but enjoyable, too. Neither has been cowed by the freighted challenge and both have wisely interpreted operatic conventions in their own way, without being arrogantly ambitious. I left wanting more rather than less.
Home is perhaps more ballet than opera, but what does that matter? In little more than half an hour, it explores an atavistically powerful theme: a young couple (danced) move into their new dwelling and work at making it their own. But forces from without – tutelary spirits, eloquently sung by Victoria Couper and Melanie Pappenheim – menace them.
Torches shine through the window and eventually some of the instrumentalists – trumpeter, saxophonist and clarinettist – break though the walls, too, as what seemed secure turns out to be exposed and hostile. Fitkin’s melismatic music and Jasmin Vardimon’s choreography both gather intensity relentlessly, and the performers are admirably assured.
THE GUARDIAN / 23 April 2012
In the first half, Graham Fitkin's Home is perhaps the most accomplished piece featured in the series to date. Ironically, it feels less like an opera than a sung ballet, such as Stravinsky's Les Noces, or Weill's Seven Deadly Sins, with the vocal element provided by Victoria Couper and Melanie Pappenheim being a commentary rather than the action itself.
The main visual element is articulated in Fitkin's co-librettist Jasmin Vardimon's intricate choreography, presented here by Estéban Fourmi and Aoi Nakamura; they mirror each other as the young couple whose intimate space is threatened by malign external forces, eventually symbolised in a physical invasion by the accompanying musicians. Fitkin's sophisticated minimalist score evolves organically during its 35-minute span, never relaxing its hold on the audience's attention.
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE / 24 April 2012
OperaShots is a pick and mix evening, a little of everything and if you put it all in your mouth together you can get explosive combinations. In its third year Opera Shots continues to flourish with two exciting new compositions.
OperaShots brings composers unassociated with opera to provide 'new ideas, different perspectives and provocative themes’ (ROH2). A tall order some might say, yet these exciting collaborations have created just that, incredible new chamber operas that leave you gasping for more. Composer Neil Hannon writes in his introduction to Sevastopol, "my first (and quite probably last) attempt at opera"; I for one am crossing my fingers that he comes back for more.
On the bill tonight is Home, a collaboration between composer Graham Fitkin and esteemed choreographer and director Jasmin Vardimon. The pair have co-written the libretto, which aims to look at the idea of home and the fragility of the notion. Starting off with a cosily intertwined couple in a white wall canvas flat, the pair slowly become more aware of the hostile outside world. They try to hold on tight to their bubble, but to no avail as trumpeters force themselves through doorways and singers slash holes in the walls.
Black, cartoonesque projections (Jesse Collett) dress the flat, becoming increasingly interactive. Swirling leaves cover the walls as they blow in through the door, and as terror overcomes the couple the white space is inverted so it becomes a claustrophic black box. The two singers (Melanie Pappenheim and Victoria Couper) dressed entirely in white, become part of the blank canvas of the flat.
The first half of this could be a dance piece. The libretto, similar to Fitkin's minimalist score, is repetitive with phrases overlapping, more abstract background music than plot. Vardimon transforms the everyday fumbles between a couple into an intricate weaving of limbs and capitalises on that annoying new couple habit: the sense of the others presence and a desperate attempt to stay in contact at all times.
Watching this production raised the question, what is opera? The singing in this work is not in the traditional operatic style, and the singers are even miked to compensate for their location on stage and the orchestral forces they are projecting above. But Fitkin's music is sinewy and mesmerizing, and the subtle shifts in lyrics echo the growing fear onstage. Opera is known as a total art form and Home embodies this idea. All disciplines of the arts are present and are active participants in the action onstage. Dancers, singers, band members form part of the drama alongside clever set design. This is Vardimon’s first creation with live music onstage and she makes use of the instrumentalists to create a visual feast above a pulsating score.
The 2012 OperaShots experience is an exciting exploration into where opera can go; these music theatre pieces both touch on new sound worlds for the opera genre.
THE STAGE / 23 April 2012
ROH2’s OperaShots showcases first operas from composers often working on the fringes of classical music.
This year’s double bill comprises half-hour works by funky minimalist Graham Fitkin and by the Divine Comedy singer-songwriter (and Father Ted theme-tune composer) Neil Hannon - a combination that guarantees musical contrast from the start.
Fitkin’s Home, to a libretto co-written by the composer with choreographer Jasmin Vardimon, is more music-theatre than opera. In exploring the nature and meanings of home, Vardimon (who also directs) presents a simple three-sided room - a blank canvas or empty shell in which a pair of dancers, Esteban Fourmi and Aoi Nakamura, form a now swaying, now intertwining couple whose only possession is domestic bliss. With striking simplicity and symbolism, Jesse Collett’s childlike drawings of windows, door and fireplace are, literally, projections. The couple is subjected to threats real and imaginary, from both within and without, as the fabric of their home is gradually permeated and destroyed. The two singers, Victoria Couper and Melanie Pappenheim, appear as ghostly white banshees within the room, though it is impossible to make out their words. Fitkin manages to work a sense of form and development into his typically punchy score - his amplified band, sneeringly noir at the work’s climax, is pungently shot through with trumpet, soprano saxophones and hectically strumming guitar and harp.