Four-minute opera cracks the record

IT IS the world's shortest opera: from overture to curtain call in the time it takes to boil an egg.

An egg is indeed boiled on stage, probably for the first time in opera; deodorant is mentioned in the libretto, definitely for the first time in opera. There are arias, duets, recitatives, a patter song, chorus and overture, with the whole thing wrapped up in four minutes.

It should be accessible enough for Harry Enfield, even if the location of the world premiere, an outdoor Cardiff shopping centre, may not be exotic enough for him.

The four-minute Sands of Time, which has its first performance next weekend, looks set to go into the Guinness Book of Records knocking three and a half minutes off Darius Milhaud's Deliverance of Theseus, which has held the record since 1928.

The historic first rehearsal was witnessed exclusively on Friday by the Independent on Sunday, which found influences of Rossini, Mozart and early Verdi in the first minute-and-a-half, and titillating references from Gilbert and Sullivan in the central 23 seconds. The threat of a lull amid the sentimentality of the reconciliation scene almost made the third minute drag, but this was offset by a rousing climax for the last nine seconds.

There even seemed at first to be a Wagnerian hero called Stannenflo, until it became clear that this referred to the two protagonists Stan and Flo, who appear after the 20-second overture.

Sands of Time is the work of prize-winning Cardiff composer Peter Reynolds, and librettist Simon Rees, dramaturg with the Welsh National Opera. Its world premiere with nine-piece band will be conducted by Carlo Rizzi, the musical director of Welsh National Opera.

In the piece, set in a suburban kitchen of the 1990s, a husband and wife have an argument at breakfast. At the height of the argument representatives from the pools arrive to tell them they have won a large amount of money.

Peter Reynolds is satisfied the work has the integrity of a full opera: 'It has eight separate numbers, a miniature of what you get in an ordinary opera. It certainly has the influence of 19th- century Italian opera. Stan's aria 'down with the splash of cologne and deodorant spray' was very much me doing early Verdi, the heroic tenor aria as in Il Trovatore. The patter song with its resonances of Gilbert and Sullivan is very quick.'

Another difficulty, says soprano Rhian Owen, is 'normally you have time to warm up into a role. There's no time at all here.'

Giving a rare insight into composition, Simon Rees said: 'I had been obsessed by the subject of hour-glasses, and thought four minutes was egg-timer length - so we might as well have it during the boiling of an egg.

'It took me an evening to write. I'm very proud to have used deodorant for the first time. It isn't product placement. It's simply facing reality in its harshest form.'

(Photograph omitted)

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