Oxford life. Thirtysomething challenges. Music leanings. Anything really.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tangier Tattoo: modern opera

I went to see some modern opera last night. Here's the reivew I did for Daily Information:

Are you between 18 and 30 years old? Are you an opera virgin? If you answer yes to both of these questions, Glyndebourne Opera’s Tangier Tattoo has been created with you specifically in mind. If you answered no, it’s still something you should see. It is a modern operatic thriller, taking its cues not from the fights, feuds and flings of ancient times, but instead from the movies of Tarantino. And it works, extremely well.

The opera is set in Tangier, Morocco, where Nick, a young English backpacker arrives, fresh off the ferry. Sitting down in a street café, he is joined by a beautiful American woman, Nadine. No sooner have they introduced themselves, there is a shooting and the shady characters at an adjacent table are killed. The shooters flee, leaving Nick and Nadine to make off with a suitcase full of money. Thus unfolds a plot revolving around drug trafficking, CIA agents and plenty of sexual tension. Along the way there are beach-based love scenes, night-club raves, tattoo parlours and shootings galore, liberally dosed with double-crosses and corruption.

The set towers above the stage like an Ikea wardrobe on steroids, a multi-dimensional mix of pine supports and frosted panels. The whole thing rotates; panels, staircases and platforms roll in and out of position, providing a multitude of sets within the one framework. Complemented by simple props and warm lighting, the cafés, beaches, and alleyways of Tangier are perfectly evoked.

The score accompanying the opera is a surprise. Instead of pure orchestral arrangements, there are plenty of sampled sounds in the background, with some grimy guitar riffs, and distorted samples. The score never dominates the opera, but does move it along at fast pace, and enhances the drama.

Opera newbies may still be deterred by the constant singing, but in this opera, it barely registers as anything out of the ordinary. A few lines do seem faintly ridiculous when sung, but they are so few, that the mode of delivery feels natural.
If the silver-hair brigade scoffs at Tangier Tattoo’s dismissal of traditional operatic conventions - long scenes, lavish costumes and old-school scores - then let them. This is opera for the 21st century, aimed at a generation used to fast edits, music videos and computer games. It thoroughly deserves to have a large audience.

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