With a stunning score, fabulous singers, and a plot that speaks to every modern opera lover... what stopped audiences from swiping right?
Classical music has always been synonymous with older audience members, with fears that the genre is no longer relatable to younger audiences. But that all looks set to change with the brand new opera "Beauty & the 7 Beasts".
Exploring the exhaustingly tumultuous world of online dating, we follow our heroine Beauty, as one night an advert sparks her interest to join the app "Magic Mirror".
Through the phenomenal libretto by Dominic Kimberlin, the advert (Sarah Tynan), penetrates deep into every woman's insecurities: "Another meal eaten in silent isolation", "you'll die alone and single"... none of us were surprised by the decisions Beauty took from that moment on.
Promised true love in seven dates, we were taken to visit our seven candidates all with the hope that these would be the one for Beauty. Unfortunately for our heroine, these seven dates represented the seven deadly sins, qualities one looks to avoid when finding "the one".
Beauty (Katherine Aitken) encapsulated the pressures and expectations felt by young women perfectly. Her playful naivity and improvised interactions with her audience, built a rapport with the audience I hadn't seen for a long time. It's this connection with the character that made the audience beg her to hang up on her bad dates, cringe when she succumbed to lust, and share in Beauty's bemusement when one date appeared. (A gimmic to demonstrate the rigging of the app that I'm afraid fell flat)
Throughout the opera she was accompanied by the ever present Magic Mirror, with which she was able to contact her support operator, Beast (Dan D'Souza). The pain and anguish was palpable throughout D'Souza's performance. Wracked with guilt over the car crash of Beauty's dating, we watched the connection between the two grow stronger as the dates went on.
So... with all these great moments so easy to gush about, what's stopping the chances of a second date?
Staged in Brixton Jamm; the room was small with a low ceiling, the audience on rather uncomfortable benches and the orchestra... a track.
As I've said previously, the composition was extremely well done. Each date had its own composer using a variety of musical techniques to really bring their character to life. Lead composer, Vahan Salorian then sewed a delicate but quirky and fun thread throughout the show.
The instrumentalists were equally excellent, which in truth made the whole situation more disappointing. Having a pre-recorded orchestra meant that points of musical spontaneity were rushed over or lost hindering the emotion especially within the more intricate moments.
With no live musicians, the balance between the moving parts was hard to strike. Beauty - often the audiences only personal connection - was hard to hear. In a room where there were only two rows on either side, to lose the singer standing right next to you meant the music was evidently too loud. In the finale, D'Souza, battling the elements of recorded track, low ceiling and dramatic storyline became too loud for the room, leaving more than a few audience members dazed and confused by the abrupt ending.
Also pre-recorded? The dates.
As the dates were via the Magic Ball, they were virtual - a situation not foreign to anyone dating through the recent pandemic! Appearing on three large screens dotted around the oval staging, the dates would try to win Beauty over with questions, charm and some guitar playing before ultimately their true characters bubbled to the surface.
The concept of a new opera post-pandemic making a feature of virtual dating is so current and lends itself to experimental staging brilliantly. However with an onstage connection so strong and compelling between Aitken and D'Souza, the lack of convincing eye contact and natural flow from those onscreen (naturally) with Beauty led to a disconnect with their performances.
This opera has it all...on paper.
A relevant storyline that speaks to a younger demographic, two incredible leads, and an intreging experimental score - this opera is dripping potential. Sadly the performance for me just didn't work. Make it a live orchestra, in an alternative location with more space for the music to resonate, and this opera would become the must see its positives demand it should be.
Connection onstage (virtual or real) are essential to the audience. Without it, there's a jarring disconnect for the onlooker. It prevents that transportation away from reality that brings audience members through the doors again and again and again. Without this an opera can't succeed.
Until next time,