The opening image is promising - great droplets of liquid spattering from a huge height into a sizzling vat that is scarcely visible on a dark stage.
The opening image is promising - great droplets of liquid spattering from a huge height into a sizzling vat that is scarcely visible on a dark stage. Water and other fluids flow through the Castilian Carles Santos's intriguingly titled new show, The Composer, the Singer, the Cook and the Sinner.
Santos - who perhaps sees himself as the equivalent of the film-maker Peter Greenaway's chef, a genius who cares as much for the artistry of a show as for its taste - is credited on the show's title page as the composer, the pianist, the author and the director. He's also responsible for the striking, evocatively lit stage conception, which includes visions of a shimmering mermaid-like creature, a dozen or so pots simmering away and, most prominently, spurts of liquid shot on film as flesh is subjected to a relentless spray, a leaking piano and a huge ejaculating plastic black penis.
An ensemble of parodied opera singers in various states of undress present snippets and longer gobbets of arias and duets, the water providing a rhythm that acts as a counterpoint to the live score, in the performance of which Santos takes centre-stage at the keyboard of the grand piano.
It is a water-fetishist's dream come true - a celebration of bodily functions from the refreshingly rejuvenating to the more doubtful and obscene. The music is not so much Rossini revisited, as Santos the thieving magpie, with extracts from The Barber of Seville and other operas, one of the string sonatas the composer wrote at the age of 12, and his last work, his dark Stabat Mater, Santos-ised into a surreal musical impression of Rossini.
The show draws on aspects of Rossini's colourful life as a bon viveur, adventurous cook, inventor of saucy operatic romps and even, in Santos's final sequence, as a performer adopting a falsetto voice. And yet, reminded by the programme note of George Bernard Shaw's denouncement of Rossini as "the greatest master of clap-trap that ever lived", I couldn't help thinking that the assessment could more appropriately be applied to Santos.
His previous Edinburgh Festival outings, which divided audiences sharply between those who worship what they regard as his limitless imagination and those who, like myself, despair at his very limited talent, have been flamboyant in their demolition of Catholic iconography and promotion of wild sexual abandon. This is a darker piece, as befits a subject who suffered intermittently from a debilitating nervous malady that, according to the composer himself, rendered his life useless.
Rossini compared the sound oftenors straining to reach his high Cs and Ds to that of a capon having its throat slashed. If only the squawking chef whose head appears near the beginning of the show in a small oven-like box had given a cookery demonstration using the recipe for canelloni Rossini that comes with show, that might have been altogether tastier.