Review: Music Theatre Wales - The Killing Flower @ WMC
The operatic season for me this year ends with this. Alas, I won’t be able to see Ellen Kent’s Aida at Saint David’s Hall next month (Puffball beckons). Perhaps someone else fancies reviewing it for theSprout.co.uk?
Music Theatre Wales has been getting on leaps and bounds in their 25th year. Their brilliant take on Greek certainly packed a punch and has remained with me. Here, in The Killing Flower, a much more subtle encounter, yet still a very highly charged experience.
With quivering, piercing vocal lines and a hushed, austere orchestration, Salvatore Sciarrino has created an opera unlike any other. Not since Luigi Nono, has an Italian composer pushed our hearing to the limits, making the audience doubt their capabilities as a listener. It becomes listening beyond listening and is very powerful and draining. All this in just 70 minutesâ€¦
The story here is very simple (it’s more about the music). The real life Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa faints after his wife, the duchess, pricks her finger after fondling a rose. This leads to her meeting a guest, they both fall in love with each other, and can hardly speak (or sing in this case). They embrace and fall for each other. The servant sees this, informs the prince, and the rest is of the tragic and going mad sort of ends we see so much in opera (and yet very different here).
The production was also a resounding success. For me, this was everything WNO's Tudor season wasn’t.
Simple, efficient and had some contrast from the black/darkness we saw so much in those three operas. Here we had a white cloth, white rose petals (along with red) and the duchess’ white dress for the ending. Like with Bianco, the audience is asked on the stage. We arrived in the Donald Gordon theatre as if for any other performance, only for you to witness this giant black box on the stage as you walk towards it. We sit as if for a sporting event in the box. We as spectators witness very intimate and gripping events. We watched in horror as the safety curtain slowly descended down, trapping us inside the stage with no hope of escape.
You found yourself constantly looking between the action and the orchestra. The musicians were giving off such marvellously curious and hair raising stunts in sound; it at times didn’t feel they were playing conventional instruments. We saw a bass clarinet, yet no clarinet, two saxophones, a fair bit of brass and a few percussion contraptions along with a handful of other instruments.
The players had to learn how to tackle all these new techniques for the opera. One of the best and most effective of these was the ‘heartbeat’ heard from one of the bassoonists, who would jut his mouth into the mouthpiece for great effect. The cast as well made us fall in to tension and upset as we witness these events with in meters of us.
If you’re up for a challenging and stimulating evening, then this is defiantly for you.
The Killing Flower tours to Swansea, Llandudno and London.
Photo Credits: Clive Barda & Music Theatre Wales