OPERA / Combattimenti - The Place, London WC1

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The Independent Culture
The announced link between the works staged by Dublin's Opera Theatre Company - that each represented an 'Opera Battle' - mattered less than that each required three voices (Omar Ebrahim, Nicholas Sears, Kathleen Tynan) and tiny ensemble (string quartet, variously extended by harp and keyboard). The stringent economy of means provided a focus not always present in Maureen White's rather diffuse stagings. Fergus Johnston's Bitter Fruit (libretto: Nell McCafferty) had something rarely encountered in new British opera: political urgency. A woman, hemmed in by church and judiciary, fights for the right to choose. Agitpropera, certainly, but concise, with the band swooping and drooping behind the forceful vocal lines. Kevin O'Connell's Sensational] (libretto: Gerard Stembridge) was as jokey as its title - a spiteful columnist in search of scandal sniffs round two randy men. Trying to prove that new opera can be fun, O'Connell's score - a bit of baroque, a bit of Bernstein - was too virtuosic to do more than impress. Which left Monteverdi's Tancred and Clorinda to flaunt its very Brechtian modernity - a narrator, no less, to lead us through the battle for religious supremacy. The singers provided intensity and embellishment to add punch to the rather too gracefully played instrumental accompaniment, and to the over-stylised staging: Monteverdi's stile concitato demands a dangerous roughness if it is not to be merely tasteful.