Sonya’s Story, Riverside Studios, London

4.00

Chances for creative teams to test-drive operas-in-the-making are few and far between. A big cheer, then, for Tête à Tête, the festival that brings us tomorrow's operas today as works-in-progress amid the welcoming buzz of the Riverside Studios.

A special buzz surrounded Sonya's Story, an adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya composed by Neal Thornton and directed by the mezzo-soprano Sally Burgess. It has further to grow, of course; this was a trial run of the second half, presumably adapted to fill in the back-story.

It's clear that a great deal of love and care has gone into it. The size is necessarily restricted – two singers, one dancer and six instrumentalists, with conductor Lionel Friend – but there was no compromise on standards. Two superb young singers carried the work: soprano Caryl Hughes as Sonya, on stage throughout and portraying with total conviction those Chekhovian qualities of self-doubt, unrequited love and the quest for a meaningful existence; Cozmin Sime, a Romanian baritone of notable strength and charm, doubled up as Dr Astrov and Uncle Vanya, a task requiring a rapid switch between personalities (plus the donning of beard and green wellingtons) which he brought off with panache.

The play's quiet emotions – bitterness, disappointment, frustration – might seem unlikely in opera, but the team made them work, the action offset by Charles Phu's elegant set design: flowing curtain panels, a painting, a swing for Yelena and a floral circle on the floor, achieved by lighting, which appears to represent Sonya's comfort zone, metaphorically disrupted by the men around her.

Chekhov's words remain as powerful as ever and Thornton's intimate music allows the text to shine. At times the score suggests salon music of Chekhov's era, at others it hints at pastoralism or the harmonies and melodic outlines found in newish West End musicals. Finest is the inspiring conclusion in which Sonya's call for redemption through faith and work feels not too far from "You'll Never Walk Alone".

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea