Go and catch this show NOW. Running for five nights at Dalston’s intimate Arcola Theatre as part of the annual Grimeborn Festival, director Robert Shaw has crams two short operatic pieces into the space of a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Firstly, we are served up Peter Maxwell Davies’ challenging The Medium before being treated to the European premiere of Tarik O’Regan’s The Wanton Sublime. Both directors cut commanding figures in modern opera and we are in no way let down. Away from the decadent grounds, tuxedoed applause and champagne clinking of Glyndebourne, the Arcola Theatre plays a fitting host for the reactionary Grimeborn Festival for the ninth year running. This double-bill is the true metropolitan opera experience: short, enthralling and crucially, affordable!
If Beckett pushes the boundaries of modern drama, Peter Maxwell Davies enjoys challenging those of modern opera. Hai-Ting Chinn performs The Medium completely unaccompanied by music. Immediately Chinn, playing a medium, interacts with audience members reading their palms. Her performance is highly commendable as she shifts convincingly from a state of playfulness to one of hysterical despair. At times Chinn falters slightly but overall her performance is powerful. Gillian Argo’s minimalist stage design is simple and mirrors Davies’ minimalism.
Although intriguing, the arrival of The Orpheus Sinfonia after the interval is duly welcomed. The electro-acoustic accompaniment to The Wanton Sublime is subtle and compliments Chinn as she oozes confidence as O’Regan’s work develops. The libretto was written by poet Anna Rabinowitz and is a musing on the identity of the modern woman. It deconstructs notions of a contemporary identity (she strips down from work clothes) whilst upholding it against the image of the Virgin Mary. Chinn’s performance as the twenty-first century Mary is assured and a powerful transition from her performance in the previous piece. Whilst The Medium requires a fairly atonal voice, Chinn truly delivers a powerful range in The Wanton Sublime. The Medium and The Wanton Sublime function on interesting parallels with one another and overall, the two works are executed very well. I would highly recommend the paired performances- even the busiest of Londoners have ninety minutes to spare….