Anthropocene, which has its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow tonight, proves to be a disappointment and not up to Scottish Opera’s normal high production standards with a school-show-like set and under-rehearsed stagecraft.
Stuart MacRae’s musical score is undoubtedly a work of genius and there is no list of superlatives long enough to do it justice, but for much of the production it seems like the singers are fighting against it, and though Louise Welsh’s – at times – witty libretto packs a sizeable punch it is often likewise at odds with MacRae’s music. OK, this is not a nineteenth century Verdi set piece and this reviewer knows that no contemporary opera composer would ever contemplate including a melodic aria in his composition, but when the score does feature ensemble pieces it is totally magnificent and soars to giddy heights, the haunting soprano of Jennifer France – who plays the enigmatic Ice – in particular sending shivers down the spine.
However, Samal Blak’s set, which consists mainly of some ill-fitting white drapes, leaves a lot to be desired and does nothing to evoke either the grandeur of the Arctic or even convey that the action is taking place upon a ship. (We were more than fifteen minutes into the production before this reviewer worked out that we were actually aboard the Anthropocene and not on land.)
Make no mistake, there are streaks of genius in Anthropocene, with its mixes of contemporary greed and ancient superstition, and its leitmotifs of obsessions over satellite phones against backdrops of Macbethian guilt and Jonah-like terror, but this production has yet to find its feet and grasp MacRae and Welsh’s creation and give it wings. Granted there were loud cheers at the curtain calls at the Theatre Royal, but this reviewer fears that there will be less enthusiasm when the team are not playing on their home ground…