Heads Up: Sunken Garden

It's a bouquet of 3D film, opera, and electronic music

Holly Williams
Saturday 09 March 2013 20:00 GMT
Occult mystery: Kate Miller-Heidke in ENO’s ‘Sunken Garden’ at the Barbican
Occult mystery: Kate Miller-Heidke in ENO’s ‘Sunken Garden’ at the Barbican (ENO)

What are we talking about? The world premiere of a new film-opera, a multimedia "occult mystery". Sunken Garden is one of opera's first uses of 3D film and also marks a new collaboration between the Barbican and English National Opera.

Elevator pitch How do you stage a film-opera about the making of a film? It's a mystery!

Prime movers Dutch composer Michel van der Aa is in the driving seat; his work is highly regarded for its blending of text, film, live performance, and music. David Mitchell, better known for his novels (Cloud Atlas), provides the libretto. It's conducted by André de Ridder.

The talent Roderick Williams – currently appearing in ENO's acclaimed Medea, where he's winning particular praise – takes the lead role of Toby. Katherine Manley, Claron McFadden, Jonathan McGovern and Kate Miller-Heidke also perform.

The early buzz Website intermusica has a bit more on the questions raised by the piece: "What connects the disappearances of a software engineer and a glamorous young socialite, with a neurotic film-maker of dubious credentials and a gullible patroness of the arts? What is the unfolding crime and who is the criminal? Are their shared dreams of a walled garden between life and death … just dreams, or might such a garden be real?" Website CultureCritic wrote: "Award-winning composer, Michel van der Aa knows how to mix his media… [Sunken Garden is] all about the tricky place somewhere between life and death …."

Insider knowledge The audience will be furnished with 3D glasses for the experience.

It's great that … ENO and the Barbican have come together for a truly genre-pushing, medium-melding project, using 2D and 3D film, pre-recorded and live action, classical and electronic music ….

It's a shame that … Van der Aa may be at risk of over-egging the pudding. Not only are there many media for telling the story, but there are at least three stories to tell. He's described Sunken Garden as having three layers: "a humanistic story about three missing people, another layer which is … a dark mystery, and a third layer which is about the art of film-making."

Hit potential Likely to intrigue audiences, and with a strong creative team, but whether it'll enchant hearts as well as minds is anyone's guess.

The details Sunken Garden is at the Barbican, London EC2 (barbican.org.uk) 12 to 20 April.

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