Gregory Piccard in Space, Queen Elizabeth Hall
Friday 01 April 2011
It’s a preposterous story – the stuff of which operas (or the latest Wallace and Gromit) are made: Belgian physicist Auguste Piccard, determined to prove Einstein’s Einstein’s theory of relativity, takes to the skies in a balloon-powered capsule and becomes the first man to reach the stratosphere.
Cue the man with the moogs, the instrumental male half of Goldfrapp, Will Gregory, and a timely commission from the BBC Concert Orchestra courtesy of the ubiquitous Charles Hazlewood - and the curators of the Southbank’s Ether festival are clapping their hands. Aren’t they?
The pre-set looks promising. A series of floating discs (bright yellow, bright blue) hint at where we are headed, a chorus of lab technicians (our all-singing, all-dancing “Cosmic Choir”) file in, among them Piccard’s assistant Paul Kipfer (Robin Tritschler) who proceeds to set the scene. Slipping from colloquial speech into the odd sung note – as if in the grip of some musical torets syndrome - Gregory begins his stuttering debut in opera by neatly parodying its conceit. His librettist Hattie Naylor joins in the fun and does a Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer, Anna Nicole) using the chorus as a dead-pan but argumentative sparring partner stating the obvious with crisp, oratorio-like, insistence. They tactlessly remind Piccard that heroic pioneers like him generally end up dead (reiterate to taste); they also make a catchy onomatopoeic jingle out of the key word “relativity”.
But where is Gregory headed musically – apart from too close to the sun? And why is it that talented pop musicians embarking on a commission like this try so earnestly to be, well, “operatic”. Why, instead of writing reams of pretentious parlando over predictably minimalistic ostinati, do they not speak in their own musical language? That’s the great thing about music theatre – it has no prescribed style. But call it “opera” and the likes of Gregory part company with their individuality. A few catchy hooks get subsumed here by canons and fugues and even the much-publicised Moog Ensemble is afforded little more than sub-Doctor Who warblings. Thin? It’s pretty much transparent.
Einstein (Leigh Melrose in a bad wig) gets a number – an embarrassing Broadway pastiche; Newton is all perriwigged countertenorial petulance (Nicholas Clapton); and when all else fails, the hard-working Andrew Shore (Piccard) leads a desperate singalong of the relativity formula. Best gag: “Are you from Mars?” “No, I’m Belgian.” Most obvious parallel: Lost in Space.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures