Saturday, 3 August 2013

Black Sand, Tete a Tete Opera Festival

Imagine if some nincompoop - hey, maybe some visionary - had run two reels of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet over one another simultaneously. That's partly the effect of the spooky Americana-opera calling itself Black Sand (a fallen angel-style version of the Sandman).

Nathanael - James D Hall, acting winningly as well as singing under the hem of his countertenor range - is determined to confess his paranoia to his girlfriend before they go steady, an early trauma getting psychologically blended with the horror of dreamtime. He can't seem to determine what is waking and what is dreaming though. The opera is based on the short story by ETA Hoffmann - the idealised object of Nathanael's very real affection is even called Olympia, as in the mannequin-perfect soprano of Offenbach's opera on the same subject. As Olympia, Caroline Kennedy is not called upon to dispense show-stopping coloratura, but sings with an undeniably affecting line. Nicolas Dwyer's Sandman, though game-show slick on the outside, sings with a rougher hue (and great range) which helps direct our allegiances; his chorus of Alexandra Mathew, Rose Stachniewska & Oliver Marshall are the over-painted mid-west cartoon grotesques of a Lynchian Club Silenzio.

An additional character of the opera is the sound design. The incessant industrial hiss, familiar from another of Lynch's canon, Eraserhead, is persistently evocative and irritating. It seems to be sampled from the various interjections that jump out across the fourth wall as if the background noise of 1950s American media is suddenly coming to life in the auditorium.

With all this going on, Na’ama Zisser's score gets reduced in memory to a functional tapestry of reasonably paced episodes matching the drama (this is a boon, not a dismissal!). The production is sound and the whole tight and effective. I'm not sure I understand it all the time but I certainly feel it.

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