Tangier Tattoo, Glyndebourne Opera House, Glyndebourne

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The Independent Culture

Excepting regular guest appearances by former Big Brother contestants, Glyndebourne has apparently decided that the best way to lure young people to opera is to make it as alike to mainstream television as possible. (That television is the alma mater of Lunn and his librettist Stephen Plaice is presumably a coincidence.) The plot of Tangier Tattoo is superficially complex - a Spooks-style synthesis of sex, narcotics, and global terrorism - the emotions simple, the characterisations cartoonlike, and the music incidental rather than integral to the drama. Though unmemorable in its melodic specifics, Lunn's score has the miserabilist mid-Eighties aftertaste of Tears for Fears or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The metre is medium-slow, the harmonies narrow, the orchestration dominated by mordant synthesizers and querulous sound effects. An Andrews Sisters pastiche number is thrown in for light relief mid-way, along with a Moorish lament to a lo-energy beat.

Little expense has been spared on Stephen Langridge's production, which boasts a complicated revolve in the style of a Huf house, more bikinis than Hugh Heffner's back garden, a video surveillance system, and two scooters, yet fails to conjure the heat and danger of North Africa. The gun shots, which are loud and legion, were too much for my tired old ticker, as was the array of oiled muscles on stage. (Thank heavens no-one invited Kinga.) An attractive cast of bright young things blends actors and singers: the first of which don't sing very well, the second of which don't act very well, excepting Katherine Rohrer, who makes the post-feminist fantasy figure of Nadine - a fuck 'em and chuck 'em CIA operative whose heart of gold is revealed only seconds before her demise - more sympathetic than her creators deserve. For Roland Davitt, a light bass-baritone ideal for the songs of Finzi or Quilter, one could only feel immense sympathy that he landed the non-role of Nick, the innocent back-packer.

Unless you're on the Miss World judging panel, two hours is a long time to spend watching girls in bikinis and listening to bad music, whatever your age. The ersatz "relevance" of Tangier Tattoo reveals a massive miscalculation of the intellectual sophistication of younger listeners, who, if memory serves, are open to anything that is imaginative, honest, and truly stimulating. It may be sponsored and subsidised to the max, but this flimsy outreach experiment will, if anything, widen the gap between Do Me Bad Things and Don Carlos.

So which 18 to 30 year olds will thrill to Tangier Tattoo? Those coralled into going by their tutors, those who are happy to see something disposable, tick the box marked "opera", breathe a sigh of relief that the singers weren't fat, and never go again. If Glyndebourne are serious about restocking their audience, they should take a short, visceral, irrelevant work like Duke Bluebeard's Castle and explore less formal venues.

Either way, I'm less concerned about wooing twenty-somethings than I am about wooing the thirty- and forty-somethings who will watch Almodovar and queue up for Schiller or Neil La Bute, but have yet to see Pelléas or Wozzeck. Given that our fifty-something Prime Minister favours prog rock over Puccini, the dearth of middle-youthers is a more pressing problem for British opera than the back-pack generation.


'Tangier Tatto': New Victoria Theatre, Woking (01483 545 900), Friday, then touring