House of the Gods, Linbury Studio, London
The Cave, Barbican Theatre, London
Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, Royal Opera House, London

At home with the Gods

House of the Gods , Lynne Plowman and Martin Riley's second opera for Music Theatre Wales, is billed as a gothic horror comedy. A tale of blood-sacrifice, pseudo-science, bare-knuckle boxing and Aberystwyth B'n'Bs, the opera works hard to raise a smirk in Michael McCarthy's energetic touring production, but fails to provoke any chills. In its purest form - young man discovers sinister secrets in a cellar - it could have been both comic and horrific. But Plowman and Riley have made their WWI mystery a metaphor for, you guessed it, Iraq, with a sub-plot involving the retirement plans of three Celtic gods.

Home on leave from the front, Jack (Mark Evans) is a Tommy Atkins whose shell-shock equals battle fatigue, equals Gulf War Syndrome, equals post-traumatic stress disorder. Ma (Fiona Kimm), the doyenne of the Docklands pub Jack is sheltering in, juggles a side-line in "French Lessons and Swedish Massage" with her role as the goddess Morrigu, and dreams of retiring to Wales. Her husband, Da (Andrew Slater), is a drink-sodden incarnation of Dagda, who laments the pre-machine-age battles of his youth. Meanwhile, poor, mad Lily (Louise Cannon), who has been brought up as their daughter, is being sexually abused by her necromantic "uncle", Crom Cruiach (Philip Sheffield), who is working on a potion to create the ultimate weapon of mass destruction: a soldier without fear.

It says much for Riley's vernacular that the libretto does not trip over this surfeit of sub-plots. Though Crom, Jack and Lily are little more than cyphers, Ma and Da are sympathetically drawn, with much the best material, and much the best performances. (Kimm's sex scene is worth the price of admission alone.) Plowman's scoring is remarkably efficient and economical, with crisp figures for trumpet and snare, and pointillist miniatures for harp, pizzicato strings and tuned percussion, deftly realised by the ensemble under conductor Michael Rafferty. You get the sense that Plowman could write in almost any style if she wanted - cabaret, music hall, Victorian hymns, Irish folk music, I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Britten, and pseudo-Stravinsky feature in House of the Gods - and that she is having a ball with her tight management of only 11 instruments. The downside to this versatility is that it is hard to identify which of the many voices she adopts is her own.

No such problems with The Cave, Steve Reich and Beryl Korot's 1990-1993 triptych on the story of Abraham as related by Israeli, Palestinian and American believers and non-believers. Though described as opera, the work can be read as a post-modern oratorio in which contemporary commentary on Jewish, Christian and Muslim interpretations of the story has equal significance to the story itself. Musically, it is an extrapolation of the speech-notation Reich used in Different Trains (1988). The scale is grander, the textures richer, with a string quartet, woodwind drones, tuned and untuned percussion, amplified computer keyboards, and four voices echoing the rhythm and pitch of the interviews which are fragmented on five video screens. Imagine Pérotin reworked for CNN, and you have a fair notion of the contrapuntal discipline required.

Quite aside from the dazzling amount of work involved in making these visual, spoken, sung and played elements cohere syllable by syllable, I was fascinated by the way in which an apparenty apolitical work subtly passes judgement. The Israeli third of The Cave is sombre in its scoring and staging, the Palestinian third more sensual and dogmatic, the American third almost child-like in its informality. Where those in Hebron and Jerusalem speak of Abraham as they might speak of their grandfather, the New Yorkers see him as "James Dean" or "a cowboy". Though I'd heard more A minor chords than any listener should have to hear by the end of the evening, I left with a renewed appreciation of the continued importance of this story. For what could be a more pertinent question than "Can we live with Ishmael?"

Richard Jones's 2004 production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk has returned to the Royal Opera House, with a darker seam of menace in the orchestral score, breathtakingly tight comic-timing, a sensational reprise of the role of Sergey from Christopher Ventris, and a new leading lady: Eva-Maria Westbroek. Where Katarina Dalayman suggested Katerina Ismailova's fate was predestined, Westbroek plays the role as though every bad decision she makes could go the other way. It's different, but no less impactful. With uniformly excellent singing, acting and playing, this revival is again the nastiest, sleaziest, bloodiest, and blackest production to be seen on the operatic stage.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

* House of the Gods - Music Theatre Wales ( www.musictheatrewales.org.uk) - on tour to 25 November. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - Royal Opera House (0207 304 4000) - to 17 October

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker