Another evening, another opera. This is the life.
Arriving early in Birmingham, chilling out in the Central Library with a coffee and cake and my notebook; a reminder that the city has much to offer. People wandering across my line of vision, cranes dragging RSJs up ever climbing towers, the murmur of one hundred languages swirling in my ears and the open confidence of the pedestrianised area in front of the Repertory Theatre and Library all point to a place at ease with itself after years of turmoil and neglect.
I had decided to see The Devil Inside on a bit of a whim as I knew nothing about the opera other than some brief reviews I’d read on line which sounded tempting. But I really want to experience more contemporary opera, it’s a place I need to frequent, so sat back to experience two hours of something new.
The Devil… has been on tour , since its première in January this year. Based on the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, Louise Welsh updated it to set it in the 21st century, with music by Stuart MacRae.
The imp in the bottle makes your wishes come true, but should you die while in possession of the bottle, you go straight to Hell. And to pass the bottle on, each transaction must be for a lower price, so at some point, it cannot be any cheaper.
From impoverished to loaded, the main characters become entrapped by the addiction to wealth, luxury and the trappings of a successful life. The ever decreasing circles close in on them as their need for the imp’s help and the desire for money ensure the bottle keeps returning.
The lyrics are stark and crystal cut, as the set is simple and the lighting effective and transparent. There is no artifice, no fanciful ostentation. And the music is equally simple in its sophistication. The shifts from atonality to tonality- tonality representing the purer, less corrupted human qualities, and the variety of timbres and textures the fourteen instrumentalists create keep the listener enthralled throughout. Sometimes as rich as an orchestra, sometimes a single instrument or a duo, I found the music very moving and fitted so precisely with the emotions and psychology of the the individual cast members.
I was particularly moved by Catherine’s aria ( in scene 4, when she discloses she has a terminal illness) It reminded me of Baroque arias when the female lead plans to kill herself, dies of neglect, lost love etc….. the contemporary equivalent of the Ariadnes, the Didos, even the arias in cantatas and oratorios. The obbligato accompaniment demonstrated how old forms remodelled often have something profound to say.
It is not that often that one sits on the edge of the seat, dragged head first into the turmoil of certain death, willing the characters to find a way out of an impossible scenario. But that’s what happened for me on Monday night. I’m really looking forward to the next opera by this pair.