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From flash opera to flatpack opera - Michael Church [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Michael Church

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From flash opera to flatpack opera [Jun. 11th, 2009|01:46 pm]
Michael Church
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After singing waiters, and "flash opera" - a musical mob suddenly bursting into song in Waterloo station - supermarket opera is a relatively sedate concept; indeed, Glyndebourne’s go-ahead education department did one back in the Nineties. But Flatpack Opera takes the idea on interestingly, being not only set in a supermarket, but making that its subject. Thus it is that I find myself mingling with bemused shoppers in the entrance to the Wembley IKEA, watching two leggy dancers cavorting in a cascade of yellow shopping bags, while a guitarist sings his West Coast heart out.

We are called to attention by a soprano chanting into a megaphone, and lured upstairs to the bedsit department, where a young man practises scales on a keyboard while his friend unpacks and assembles a bookcase. The comedy is largely wordless, mildly surreal, and seemingly improvised: two Middle-Eastern families who have been busily shopping put down their bags and join those who have come to see the show (no money changing hands, for this is free). On then, to another bedsit, where a young couple are setting up house, and the wife has been shopping: the trouble is, her husband likes nothing she has bought, and in the space of five minutes we see their relationship disintegrate - in song. Led on by a violinist like a Pied Piper with an ever-lengthening following, we move from scene to scene: in the kitchen department a Nigella-figure prepares a dinner with her partner, making Evelyn Glennie-type percussion as they chop and grate and slice; in the bedroom area, couples swap partners.

It’s all rather fey and whimsical, but the singing and playing by the small ensemble - strings, keyboard, accordion, guitar - is of the highest order: Lea’s singers are all young high-fliers, and she herself is at music-theatre’s cutting edge, while her composer Tom Lane works with a variety of smart quartets and the LSO. The idiom he’s settled for here is minimal-atonal, but oddly easy on the ear: perfect as an introduction to the art-form, which is what this event clearly was for its accidental audience. Some shoppers were so unnerved that they pretended it wasn’t happening at all, others moved from bewilderment to enjoyment, and forgot their shopping entirely. The best thing about it was the total lack of pretention or explanation: take it or leave it, was the message, and most people happily took it. Lea now hopes to do the show in other IKEAs across Europe: if she does, she should stiffen its sinews, and give the plot some bite.
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