Review, Wagner Dream, WNO, Wales Millenium Centre, 6th June 2013,Young Critic Harriet Hopkins. ‘A complex, challenging piece for an opera novice…’

A complex, challenging piece for an opera novice…
Despite attending the pre-performance talk, expertly given by the Nick John trainee, Sophie Rashbrook, in which she emphasised the unusual usage of electronic sounds and the uniqueness of this 90 minute opera, I still took my seat expecting to hear fine, fluid melodies and to feel moved by the storyline or, at least, the plight of the characters.
Jonathan Harvey’s composition of electronic effects within jarring phrases did, initially, disappoint me. This style of composition seems to lend itself to performances that are decidedly different and apparently “contemporary”. Clever though it undoubtedly is, the aggressive, adverse nature of the music in the early section of Wagner Dream did nothing but put me on edge, and I found myself focussing more on that than on the voices and the action on stage, which were in turn excellent and interesting.
There are two stories being told in Wagner Dream – that of Wagner’s last moments in life, and a Buddhist parable that he apparently intended to turn into an opera: a story about a young, female ‘untouchable’, Pakati (Claire Booth) who falls in love with a Buddhist monk, Ananda (Robin Tritschler).
The themes of desire explored in the parable are touched upon in Wagner’s reality: the love of his strong, devoted wife Cosima is not enough for him, and the young Carrie Pringle, whom he is obviously having an affair with, arrives on stage at the same time as the goddess Vajrayogini.
These two stories are set apart in style, with the reality played out in stark dark colours, the action spoken in hard German. In contrast the parable, which exists in Wagner’s ‘limbo’, is infused with bold, warm colours and told through song, and the gentle language Pali.
The contrast between the reality and limbo is also made with the music; Wagner’s world is dark, harsh and staccato, whilst Pakati’s story is accompanied with warmer, melodic sounds, which I found much easier to digest.
Though I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it was certainly thought provoking and an interesting experience. The cast and creative team must be commended, particularly Conductor Nicholas Collon and his orchestra, for whom the music and inclusion of such diverse electrification of sounds must have been a challenge.
If you’d like to see Wagner Dream and you don’t have tickets for tonight’s performance at WMC, you can catch it in Birmingham’s Hippodrome on 12th June.

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