Music: Love on the Rocks Spitalfields Market Opera, London

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The Independent Culture
Heracles of Greek mythology rescued the heroine Alcestis from the underworld. Philip Parr, artistic director of Spitalfields Market Opera, has done much the same for Roger Marsh's Love on the Rocks, a 40- minute theatre piece for singers, electronics and flute quartet. While most new pocket operas sink without trace, this one's had a rare chance to gain a repertoire foothold in the form of a second production. And with the role of the infernal ferryman Charon currently being taken by the versatile composer himself, it seems likely that Spitalfields' version of a work originally written for Vocem and Tibia is the most authentic we're likely to get.

Granted, Nemesis also struck on Thursday's opening night. Technical hitches meant that the planned opulence of lighting was reduced to a bare minimum, while the chilly atmosphere within the half-finished auditorium was, well, Stygian. Against a curtain daubed with suitable graffiti - "Persephone, does your mother know you're out there?", "Bealzebob [sic] suks!" - this drama on the banks of Acheron, river of despair, was contained on a plain stage with flautists in a white gazebo and a plain wooden frame for the entrance to the underworld. Aeneas and Odysseus, two famous visitors, found it all confusing. But when a third, the poet Dante, was reunited with his blessed Beatrice, Charon knew that Alcestis was his own girl all along. Too bad for her, now old but still besotted, that his boat had left without her. Yet, given the nature of the relationship, how else could she conduct her liaison with the eternal ferryman?

Complete with humorous post-modern surtitles, the piece, though plainly lit, was worth seeing on the strength of its performers and their music alone. Marsh's cockney Charon was a cameo role played to perfection, his barque a kind of wardrobe on wheels. But it was Pascal Wyse who took the laurels for his voice, his acting, and his powers of impersonation of the strangers in Hades. Emily Sharp as Circe and Anna Myatt as Alcestis worked with equal dedication, their soprano timbres blending with the soft beguilings of the Tibia Flute Kwartet from Holland. A delicate mix of taped and acoustic sound, Marsh's intricate score wrapped events in a cloak of mystery that suspended action and allowed the mythical pace to follow its natural tempo.

With their second season promising an opera on the Barings fiasco, Spitalfields' new house seems set to challenge assumptions, an impression enhanced by an enterprising first half of upbeat tasters. Anna Myatt sang three studies in phonic babble, Recitations 8, 1 and 11 by the neglected Greek composer Georges Aperghis; Patrick Lee's Opera on My Lips, a one-man Hinge and Bracket show, proved perfect territory for Wyse's numerous skills, while Ben Till's sensual Italian accent was a winner in Berio's A-Ronne. "In my beginning is my end" runs the text of this 1970s vocal quintet classic. It would be a shame if the quotation applied to the fate of this theatrical ensemble of talented young musicians.