contributed a colourful set, and her costumes for the various illustrious ladies are deliciously characterful. Thanks to Clare Whistler’s direction, the hour-long performance is admirably paced. Once life returns to normal in the performing arts, one can only hope that this expertly crafted, highly imaginative piece will be produced frequently for live audiences. roger pines
The Musician https://www.youngatart.co.uk ‘A Horror Opera for Children’ was the description attached to The Musician, Conor Mitchell’s new work for the Belfast Ensemble, filmed in the city’s Lyric Theatre and streamed over a March weekend as part of the Young at Art children’s festival. It’s worth taking seriously any warning of hard-hitting content from the team that a little over a year ago staged the award-winning Abomination: a DUP Opera, a merciless look at the homophobia rife in Northern Irish public life. This time, though, those of a sensitive disposition had little need to look away. Horror was restricted to one episode only, around three-quarters of the way through the hour-long opera, when the aptly named Vile Little Girl was attacked by rats and reappeared smeared in liberal quantities of stage blood.
The Musician’s spookiness came partly from Mitchell’s score, which was conducted by Tom Brady and played by a responsive 16-strong orchestra, spaced out behind the main playing area. They revelled in the hard-edged jauntiness of an overture that recalled Shostakovich in showman mode, and the flautist relished all the chances to shine. There were many of them: Mitchell’s opera is about a street boy, his only friend a mouse, who is taught to play the flute by a travelling musician. After learning about betrayal and about the power that his musical talent conjures, he learns to control bigger rodents with pointier teeth. This is, we realize, an origin story for the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
The story was told by a charismatic and sinister narrator, dressed all in red (costumes were by Laura Firby). Matthew Cavan spoke and sang the lines of Mitchell’s own
Matthew Cavan, Sarah Richmond and Rebecca Murphy in Conor Mitchell’s ‘The Musician’
libretto, slipping seamlessly from conspiratorial questions addressed to the camera (‘Can you see me? You may regret your answer’) into ever more rhythmic poetry and then song. Paul Carey Jones gave the travelling Musician a similarly strong presence, his resonant baritone riding a brief, almost Wagnerian swell in the orchestra as he warned about how music can lead to ruin ‘if for selfish reasons made’. It was he, also, who voiced the question of whether music should be free or paid for—especially topical in the context of an online
Opera, May 2021