Launched by a klezmer fanfare, a new Young Vic emerged from its wrappings last night, thanks to £7m from the lottery, plus a huge groundswell of local support.
From outside it looks like a Lebanese night-club, and its new foyer represents a vast improvement on the cramped cupboard it has replaced. But inside the auditorium it's still the same old place, plus a bit of extra headroom - the same endearing democracy-in-the-round.
When the lights go up on breeze-block shacks we might be in Gaza, were it not for the Star of David daubed on the walls. And when Omar Ibrahim opens his mouth to sing as the patriarch Tobit, that sense of place is reverberantly reinforced. With a terse libretto by David Lan - who just happens to double as the Young Vic's artistic director - and with a score by the prolific Jonathan Dove, it's clear we are in good hands.
Dove occupies a unique place among opera composers, in that his experiments, each with a specific site and occasion in mind, repeatedly hit the mark.
With works such asFlight - a comedy set in Heathrow Airport - and The Palace in the Sky, composed for the Hackney Empire plus talent resident around it, he has already shown how opera can fit contemporary social reality like a glove.
Tobias and the Angel comes to us from biblical times, but Lan and his director John Fulljames have plonked it down in the here-and-now: when a posse of helmeted troopers dump the bloodstained corpse of a small boy in front of his horrified tribe, no more need be said in words.
The music takes over. Dove's style is as usual unashamedly tonal, but this time with a Middle-Eastern twist. He purveys echoing effects on bells and voices; a repeated figure on woodwind, strings, and marimba creates a sense of wonderment appropriate to the course events must take.
One hears Britten in the counter-tenor line, and in the spacey textures with harp and percussion: Dove genuinely loves the human voice, and knows how to give it a soaring, melismatic grace.
This being an avowedly community opera, almost as many people are on the stage as watching it, but I have seldom seen amateurs so cleverly handled. The Jewish wedding performed by singers from every continent feels genuinely Jewish. And I have never seen simple devices so brilliantly deployed.
As the action moves between heaven and the watery deep, so do the performers: this staging charmingly defies gravity.
For Lan, this is a story of self-discovery; for Fulljames it's a piece about hope. For me the point is not so much the story, as the magic of its realisation.
And the chief delight is the singing: Darren Abrahams, all airy plangency in the title role; Karina Lucas's bright-toned soprano, counter-tenor James Laing's ethereal Stranger, Maureen Braithwaite's gloriously-sung Edna, and the tidal wave of warmth which finally permeates every corner of its triumphantly rechristened abode.
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