Friday, 14 November 2014

ROH: Glare ★★★★ Short, philosophical, contemporary and splendid

By Mary Grace Nguyen 
Sky Ingram as Lea in Glare. Royal Opera. Photographer - Sim Canetty-Clarke © ROH 2014.


Philosophical inquiry into the nature of consciousness has been discussed ever since humans have existed. 16th century French philosopher René Descartes first introduced the phrase Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) to prove that if someone was capable of thinking, than they must exist. Yet in 1949 English philosopher Gilbert Ryle argued against Descartes notion of the mind and body with his own premise namely, ‘Ghost in the Machine’ claiming there was no such thing, as the mind and the body co-existing, but only the mind. I cannot attempt to list all of the ideas concerning consciousness; but it is fair to say that many philosophers, until now, still grapple with this never-ending debate.
Sci-Fi movies such as The Matrix and Blade Runner, (and even Japanese Anime like Ghost in the Shell) have presented visual vehicles to see how these metaphysical notions would play out. Now, in the Linbury Studio theatre of the Royal Opera House, we have a new Sci-Fi opera that have the fine trimmings of a Sci-Fi production: the electronic music, the science fiction storyline and ‘glaring’ visuals.
In this intriguing opera, composed by Søren Nils Eichberg and directed by  Thaddeus Strassberger, Alex (Amar Muchhala) breaks up with Christina (Clare Presland) and begins a brand new relationship with Lea (Sky Ingram): an absolutely perfect girl. Yet things aren’t what they seem. Alex begins to notice her strange and often repetitive behaviour and as he confides this to his scientist friend - our modern day Victor Frankenstein - (Ashley Riches), he explains that Lea is in fact a Learning, Exposed Android.
From the outset the musical composition sets the tone for our Sci-Fi genre by harnessing a refreshing and experimental score of classic, rock, jazz, and, more importantly, electronic music. (My ears also heard deep bass notes from night club genre dubstep as well.) With craftsmanship, Eichberg’s score meshes together atmospheric sounds which neatly tie in the interactions of its characters and stress the deeper questions the opera asks such as what is real? What is natural? What constitutes as a person? And even, what is the perfect girlfriend? 
Conducted by Geoffrey Paterson CHROMA, a chamber orchestra of 11 players (including drum kit, double bass, contrabassoon and bass clarinet), string together a mix of contemporary music with computerised sounds amplified by speakers surrounding the audience. This, layered with beautiful operatic voices, clearly thwarts every preconceived idea that opera is only for classical music lovers.
Madeleine Boyd’s setting is also fitting and doesn’t require special effects or prosthetic makeup. Set in present day, the minimalistic stage of the Linbury studio is sufficient for this short, 1 hour 15 minutes, splendid opera. On our left is pink neon lights with the words ‘you are perfect’, a white mattress and a metal sink on our right. 
Ashley Riches as Michael, Sky Ingram as Lea, Amar Muchhala as Alex and Clare Presland as Christina in Glare. Photography by Sim Canetty-Clarke © ROH 2014

There are peaceful scenes of a sexual nature, including lesbianism, that are not humiliating; but there are also physically violent scenes including attempted rape. What the audience sees and hears may urge some to think the libretto, written by poet Hannah Dübgen, is misogynistic unfortunately with tell-tale lines such as ‘women are all the same!’ Yet these honest lyrics to every day conversation, which is sang operatically, are pertinent and highlight the abnormal and alien nature of the Sci-Fi genre.
Glare has excellent performances from its opera cast. Ingram as Lea gave a perfect performance, both vocally and on stage, and that wasn't just because her android self was meant to be. Her envision of Lea was innocent, and it was sad to see her confused of her identity and victimised by all. Muchhala sung with sensuality and genuineness for playing the indecisive and troubled male while Ashley Riches developed his villainous character as an evil baritone and prime non-sympathetic and unfeeling chauvinist. And Clare Presland as Christina sang with pathos as she played an influential role in being the contrast of Lea: a real woman filled with passion and emotions. 
For Thaddeus Strassberger this is one of his adventurous productions, which demonstrate his ability to produce both modern, outlandish and traditional operas. There are just a few 'glaring' stage direction questions I have in regards to Riches singing with crisps in his mouth and reasons why Presland stands with her face to the wall with a knife in her hand. What does it mean? 
Søren Nils Eichberg © Henning Harms

The Sci-Fi concept is a fresh one and a great comparison from his last production at the Royal Opera House, I Due Foscari: a Verdi opera set in classic 15th century Venice. For Eichberg, Glare is a grand slamming way to debut at the Royal Opera House and I hope to hear more of his work soon.
Glare is showing until 22nd November. Click here to purchase and buy tickets 
I purchased my ticket for this production