Grim fairy tale at Tête à Tête opera festival

Antony CraigFri 10th August 2012

Exploring the darker side of Rumpelstiltskin

Innovative opera is the meat and drink of Hammersmith’s annual Tête à Tête festival (now in its sixth season) at the Riverside Studios. Toby Young’s The Daisy Chain fits the bill. Young is only 22, but this is already his third opera. The ‘plot’ is a complex psychoanalytic take on the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, with 21st-century twists, the music possibly less complex, with a ready appeal which defies stylistic pigeonholing, while setting the singers tricky vocal tasks.

The story of Daisy, a delusional royal bride fearful that her first-born will be abducted by a goblin, is seen from the perspective of a marriage guidance counsellor tasked with curing her. But this is no Grimm fairy tale – it is a far grimmer affair set in a sadomasochistic world where it is increasingly difficult to determine who is using (or abusing) whom – and to what ends.

Young graduated from King’s College, Cambridge, where he was a choral scholar, two years ago, having studied music with Robin Holloway and Colin Matthews and winning various competitions. Now, as well as lecturing in contemporary music at Cambridge, he is a resident composer with the LSO as part of its new SoundHub programme.

In that context I was able to see in June a preview of some selected scenes from The Daisy Chain at the LSO’s St Luke’s home, with some of the roles taken by different singers. It had seemed a gentler affair in excerpts and without sets, but at the Riverside, with sparse but effective staging, there was more menace to the piece.

The central role of the therapist was taken by Elizabeth Graham (curiously a wholly different interpretation from Clara Kanter, who had sung at St Luke’s but was unavailable for Tête à Tête as she’s rehearsing in Birmingham for Stockhausen’s phenomenal Mittwoch aus Licht). But it would be asking a lot of any marriage counsellor to get her head around the problems besetting this particular marriage.

As the enigmatic Daisy (‘Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do. I 'm half crazy all for the love of you,’ sings the mysterious Creature to the familiar melody at the outset), Sera Baines was in her element and Rod Morris’s exquisitely-sung despicable Prince was far from the controlling force he thought he was. Nick Scott’s Miller was well characterised and Joanna Foote a memorable Creature.

Antony Craig

Antony Craig started going to Covent Garden in 1962 and visits and writes about opera around the world – he has probably been to more than 1000 performances at the Royal Opera House alone. He also sings in two choirs.

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