Michael Betteridge’s Voices of the Sands

Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands – Esther Swift – Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)

Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands; Sarah Parkin, Donna Lennard, Suzie Purkiss, Esther Swift, director: Lucy Bradley, video: Chuck Blue Lowry; Tête-à-Tête : the Opera Festival at the Cockpit
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 2 September 2022

A visually stunning semi-staged production of Michael Betteridge’s dramatic cantata about the history and folklore of the Goodwin Sands.

It was hard to believe that this production of Michael Betteridge’s Voices of the Sands, as part of Tête-à-Tête at London’s charming Cockpit Theatre, was originally conceived as a cycle of ten related songs, as it seemed immediately suited for the stage. The three singers, Sarah Parkin, Donna Lennard, Suzie Purkiss, intelligently and wittily directed by Lucy Bradley (in a dual role as theatre technician), confidently used space, gesture and carefully selected props to draw the enthusiastic audience deep into the mysterious stories of the Goodwin Sands. 

Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands - Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands – Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)

Writer Rebecca Hurst has created a fascinating and multi-layered libretto, interleaving her original work with found texts, fragments of sea shanties, shipping reports, folk tales and the wordless syllables of a seal-calling song. Her text combines the stories of lost ships, sunken fortunes, drowned sailors and lonely seagulls, described with a kind of romantic watercolour impressionism laid over newspaper matter-of-factness.

Accompanied by harpist Esther Swift, the vocalists delivered the songs as one continuous hour-long tidal wash of music. Soprano Donna Lennard led with a pure, focused tone, demonstrating lyrical flexibility as well as rapid articulation. Mezzo Sarah Parkin, no stranger to the contemporary opera stage, was completely committed to shaping every note in the most characterful fashion, never allowing herself to sit back and relax, maintaining a remarkable intensity throughout. The third member of the trio, alto Suzie Purkiss showed enormous character, flawless intonation, (even on the lowest of low notes) and a flair for intensely and directly communicating every note to the audience. The three female vocalists were individually excellent, but the outstanding moments were when Betteridge had them singing in lush, gently dissonant, three part writing, when they balanced and blended into a sound of intense, almost overpowering, beauty.

Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands - Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Michael Betteridge: Voices of the Sands – Tête-à-Tête: the Opera Festival (Photo Claire Shovelton)

New for this London production was the hauntingly beautiful, consistently gentle, almost ambient, film-making of Chuck Blue Lowry, whose rippling seascapes, diving seals, calling gulls and stormy sunsets always added to the music, and never distracted from it. Throughout the whole performance the shifting images on the screen behind the singers formed a magical backdrop to Betteridge’s enchanting music – and what music it was! Each of the ten songs was contrasting, memorable and brilliant in its own way, with Betteridge displaying his mastery and experience in writing for voices, but among the most striking highlights were a longing, liquid and languid “seal song”, and a remarkable 11/8 sea shanty – an incredible tour de force of wit, counterpoint, body percussion and absolutely flawless ensemble interplay which left the performers (and audience members) breathless and grinning at each other. This work about the atmosphere, history and dangers of the sandbank was so engaging that the audience was left visibly and absolutely vitalised – a testimony to the power of contemporary opera and theatre to move and inspire us.

Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders


Source link

Check Also

Meet Salon de Virtuosi’s 2022 Career Grant Winners at Gala Awards ConcertWednesday | October 19 2022

Tune into The Violin Channel on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, at 7:30 pm ET for …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.