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Emily Hall - Rich Mix, London, 7/6/2015

  by Owen Peters

published: 25 / 8 / 2015

Emily Hall - Rich Mix, London, 7/6/2015


Composer Emily Hall's new opera explores the psychotic disorder 'Folie A Deux'. Owen Peters finds it ocnfusing and lacking weight in a performance at Rich Mix in London

London’s Brick Lane is a bloody nightmare on a Sunday. Unless of course you're a tourist, which I’m not. Once again I’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Primarily I’m here at the Rich Mix Festival in Spitalfields to see a new opera exploration of a psychotic disorder by Emily Hall, commissioned and produced by Mahogany Opera Group. An hour before the first performance (first one late afternoon, second one early evening) there is a panel discussion with psychiatrist Dr. Lisa Conlan and Director Frederic Wake-Walker facilitated by Toby Litt. The objective of the talk, plus Q+A is to explore and understand the structure of 'Folie A Deux'. With a brief intro from Litt, Dr. Conlan begins by explaining 'Folie A Deux' is a term in psychiatry. “It's a madness shared by two people, or shared psychosis. A psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another.” The opera is based on a woman struggling to connect with her lover. He believes the pylon outside their house has a special power. His delusion passes on to her and sparks fly as their madness takes hold. Wake-Walker indicates the idea began life as a concept, rather than an opera. He makes it clear the 50 minute piece explores the psychiatric condition, nothing more. The opening stage setting sequence is slow. So slow, some of the audience are unsure if the opera has begun. There are two actors on stage, one with their back turned away from the audience, the other sat looking glum, plus one harpist. None of them move or say anything for many long, uncomfortable minutes. An electromagnetic harp was constructed to replicate the hum of an electricity pylon, at which tenor Finnur Bjarnson stares intently. It's a confusing start. His partner, soprano Sofia Jernberg eventually moves, taking up the story with Ruth Wall providing support on electric harp. I watched both performances, first as part of the audience, second time in the auditoriums wings. On both occasions I struggled to capture the lyrics. Once the cast are actually moving, stage lighting by Dan Large is one of the production's plus points. A scene when the pulling out of hair is used as a lighting conductor had some attendees twitching in their seats. The use of pulsing, weaving, overlapping strobes of light capture how the pylon is central to events. There are six set songs to the opera, it’s 'Mantra' the one with least words and constant repetition of 'I Bow to You' which provides soprano and tenor voices the ability to show their range and control. Unfortunately 'A Song of Loneliness' which should set up how the lovers met, and how the pylons construction changed their lives is completely lost. The lyrics can't be heard. Ruth Wall plays organ throughout. Due to poor stage management, namely continued lack of movement, Wall’s delightful easy style becomes the focal point of attention. Without the Q+A or supporting literatures explanation of the storyline, it's theme alone would have been impossible to fathom out. As an exploration of a psychotic disorder the opera doesn't work. It may well have it's merits as a stand alone album. The initial concept was a portrayal of tension between two lovers, not as an opera. Having seen the performance, it would of been a better choice to stay with the original idea. 'Folie A Deux' and I have one common denominator, we both got lost somewhere along the way.

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Emily Hall - Rich Mix, London, 7/6/2015

Emily Hall - Rich Mix, London, 7/6/2015

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