Virtual reality: The battle between technique and technology: Nick Kimberley on television opera

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Television is often most successful when it opts for domestic realism - something with which opera has only the most fleeting acquaintance. What then might television opera be? The three TV operas commissioned by Channel 4, and broadcast over the last three Sundays, tried to break TV's realist shackles, instead of revelling in the ability of TV technology to conjure a space out of nothing. The level of invention was impressive, but failed to solve the problem that the space created looked, precisely, technological.

Stewart Copeland's Horse Opera had one joke - a Wild West where everyone sings. Benny Hill would have got more laughs in five minutes than this did in 50, and the music would have been wittier too. Bob Baldwin's direction did what it could - not much when you have the meretricious Rik Mayall as a rapping Wyatt Earp. Why not a real rap artist, for heaven's sake?

David Gale's libretto for Orlando Gough's The Empress derives from Wedekind, and this might have been a Lulu for the 1990s: Amanda Dean's Empress is a virago whose demands have so sapped her male subjects that only Mike Ahearne's pneumatic muscle- man has exactly what it takes to please her.

Bruce McLean's superbly garish sets and costumes were zany and inventive but Gough's music, while having energy to burn, soon runs out of ideas. Despite, or perhaps because of, Jane Thorburn's frenetic direction, what could have been bitingly pungent emerged as safely frivolous.

Thorburn also directed Anthony Moore's Camera. Here at last we got a world both televisual and operatic. The designs were by Richard Hudson, who is skilled at investing flat areas with depth and mystery. The quirky poetry of Peter Blegvad's text found an echo in Moore's Kabarettisch music, and both benefitted from a haunting performance by Dagmar Krause as Melusina. The lugubriousness with which she intoned her lines was chilling and amusing.

Comments