sun 26/05/2024

Glare, Linbury Studio Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Glare, Linbury Studio Theatre

Glare, Linbury Studio Theatre

An operatic thriller that's as far from perfect as its flawed characters

Man against the machine: android Lea (Ingram) must tussle for her humanity with Alex (Muchhala)Stephen Cummiskey

Søren Nils Eichberg’s new opera Glare is advertised as a “taut” thriller. It’s actually a short thriller. Big difference.

The question of whether or not opera – a medium that wouldn’t win any prizes for sprinting –  can successfully pull off a thriller – a genre that lives and, more often, dies in its dramatic agility and lightness of foot – is a very real one. I’ve never seen it succeed yet, but would be delighted to be proved wrong. Glare, unfortunately, is not that proof.

We find ourselves in the kind of dystopian near-future that only exists on the operatic stage. You know it’s a dystopia because they say “fuck” a lot, and for one significant scene a character carries a six-pack of toilet rolls under her arm. Alex has a new girlfriend, Lea, who is perfect. No, really perfect. So perfect, in fact, that when his mate Michael tells him she’s actually an android that he built, he believes him. And so do we, for over an hour of this 74-minute one-acter.

The big twist falls so late in the show – barely a few minutes before the final blackout – that neither characters nor audience have time to react. If Lea really is a machine (and let’s not get drawn into the A-level Philosophy debate that Eichberg and librettist Hannah Dübgen seem to find so profound as to what exactly that might entail), then it’s very hard to care terribly much about her, however nice she is. So when (spoiler alert) we see her raped and eventually murdered it’s impossible to engage the usual ethical reflexes. Every electronic tick and twitch of the score is telling us she’s a robot, so it’s less a coup de theatre than plain old contradiction to suddenly pull the dramatic rug out from under that idea.

If the drama feels foreshortened, poised on the edge of potential profundity without quite managing to reach it, it’s certainly not the fault of an excellent cast. Sky Ingram’s Lea (pictured right, with Muchhala and Presland) has a touching gawkiness about her, an intensity that’s heartfelt and yet uncomprehending. Vocally it’s a pretty even match, but Clare Presland’s poised vocal performance as ex-girlfriend Christina – straighter, more bladed than Ingram – just clinches it for me. Amar Muchhala has a nice line in hapless as Alex, Lea’s boyfriend, though battling with some of the score’s less generous vocal writing, and is an easy victim for Ashley Riches’ smooth-singing Michael to manipulate.

Director Thaddeus Strassberger, last seen baffling ROH audiences in the recent I Due Foscari, sends down whimsical scatterings of red rose petals from the ceiling and doesn’t do much else, seemingly content to let his singers play an extended game of pool in the middle of Madeleine Boyd’s angular, warehouse-loft-pre-conversion set (when the drama on the table rivals that on the wider stage, you know you’re in trouble). 

Eichberg’s score is all digital scuttlings and rustlings, blending live acoustic forces with electronics whose symbolism can occasionally seem rather literal, especially when robot-Lea buzzes with feedback. Contemporary-specialists CHROMA are as tight as ever under conductor Geoffrey Paterson’s direction, mining every speck of Scandi-cool from episodic music whose foundations are in theme-and-variations and leitmotif but whose embellishments flirt with electronica, dance and rock music.

Glare is less an operatic thriller than a parable – one too busy teaching to remember to thrill. The stakes simply aren’t high enough, the singing figures before us so plausibly, so nearly human, but not quite.

  • Glare at the Linbury Studio Theatre until 22 November
You know it’s a dystopia because they say 'fuck' a lot, and for one significant scene a character carries a six-pack of toilet rolls under her arm


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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