Through his Teeth - Linbury Studio, 7 April 2014
The laws of statistics suggested that if the Royal Opera House tried out enough new operas, sooner or later one would work. After an endless train of inept, underbaked or just plain boring efforts they've finally hit paydirt with Luke Bedford's Through his Teeth. If there's one thing you need to see this week, this is it.
The taut hour-long thriller doesn't waste a note. Loosely based on the true story of a sometime car salesman who conned a string of women out of their savings, it boldly explores the complicity of victims in their deception.
Bedford tunes in to the almost comic banality of David Harrower's libretto with conversational ease. The little eight piece Chroma ensemble are deployed inventively and sparingly. The plentiful pauses are as meaningful as the sounds that separate them in this Zen garden of a score. A sprinkling of quarter tones work their unsettling effect. The tension mounts almost imperceptibly; Harrower is a dramatist and he knows exactly how to tell a story. A single bass drum points the way to the denouement.
Anna Devin is frighteningly plausible as the the confident young career woman drawn in and dragged down by Owen Gilhooly's manipulative conman, even if the key scene where he first lies to her isn't quite convincing. Lightning wig and wardrobe changes enable Victoria Simmons to play interviewer, sister and fellow victim - each role musically delineated with precision.
The CCTV backdrop elegantly underlines that surveillance is a weapon used by both sides. Creaky, clanky sliding screens play a less successful part in Bijan Sheibani's production.
This is not the first opera from Luke Bedford (a composer who, incidentally, this blog has followed from the start). But it is easily his most impressive - and I hope the comparative ease of staging the score will lead to further productions in future, perhaps from students.
I am baffled that the ROH have given this brilliant nugget virtually zero publicity. Perhaps they are piqued by its loose fit to the 'Faustian' brief plaguing their current commissions (what composer with half a brain is going to be inspired by Gounod?)
Anyway, the result is that there are still tickets left for the last two performances, on Wednesday and Friday. Believe me, it will be money well spent.
*UPDATE* as reader Richard points out in his comment below, the 30%-off Guardian mentioned in a previous post is still valid.