Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Daisy Chain, Gestalt Arts, LSO Soundhub Showcase


Ahead of a full-length production at this year's Tete-A-Tete: The Opera Festival, I had an opportunity to hear an excerpt of The Daisy Chain at one of the LSO's intermittent Soundhub Showcases. This is a similar sort of event to the Panufnik Young Composers workshop I attended earlier in the year, also with members of the LSO. Then as now, I should mention first that there were two other interesting pieces on the programme: Darren Bloom's experimental Chaconne for Violin, Piano and sampled sounds (including Gamelan) and Elo Masing's Planes for string quartet and dancer, both works making conspicuous use of dynamic extremity. The Cagean opening of Elo's quartet (the loudest sound in the room were arms being crossed or the squeak of the dancer's foot on the floor) was probably not intentional although the (consequent?) demands on the audience to acclimatise to the unusual string sounds, there being much sul pont, harmonics, etc. meticulously indicated in graphic score, certainly were.

Toby Young's opera The Daisy Chain (to a text by Thomas Conroy) is a reworking of the Grimm Brothers' fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. The postmodern adaptation involves a counsellor trying to help characters from the original as the action oscillates between these meetings and a version of the fable itself. It's not really possible to say much about the drama of the opera at this stage. much like ROH2's Exposure evenings, we only get a snapshot of an aesthetic rather than a cogent dramatic stretch. However, in the rudimentary staging offered at this concert it's clear that the conceit is intended to be as fun as it is serious.

The music is also a mix. Toby was given a ten piece orchestra for which to prepare this segment of the score, string quintet with wind and keyboards. The opening, a short self-contained overture, has the pianist on a celesta, adding fairytale chimes to a sound that is at once neo-classical and American-folksy. The faint modality and open intervals of Anglo-American folk are the consistently identifiable constituents of the score. The music is mobile with internal rhythms - and snatches of nursery rhyme quotation - around which it is wound. This one in fact, albeit not on a space ship.

The singing lines play to the strength of the voice parts (not always the case with new operatic writing). We heard mezzo-soprano Clara Kanter as the marriage counsellor, also speaking an introduction to the scenario after the overture, an effective decision for the piece's texture. The three 'fictional' characters were sung with clarity and character by Christina Sampson (Daisy), Nicholas Scott (Miller) and Roderick Morris (Prince) of whom, as I understand it, only the latter is likely to perform in the complete production in August. The LSO ensemble played quite brilliantly for Mark Gotham, an ongoing highlight of these events.

postscript - this is an interesting adjunct about what the LSO Soundhub offers composers

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