There is nothing quite like the unremitting power of a great opera to stun and pummel the core senses like a thunderbolt of lightning to the observer’s faculties. Sadly, despite some impressive constituent tools, The Invited fails to reach transcendental heights. That does not make it poor, just mid-table fare.
Yet, the premise is an enticing one. The year is 1916 and we find ourselves in rural Suffolk. Two sisters are holed up in their idyll, cut-off from the wider world. In this isolated setting, news arrives of the battle in the Somme. Emily (Emma Häll) is a woman of science, rooted in rationale and logic.
Her sister, Violet (Sarah Minns), on the other hand, is a spiritual woman seemingly possessed, especially when she speaks of the gods of ancient Greece returning to cleanse the world of all sin.
Meanwhile, a lady from the nearby town, Mrs Galloway (Miriam Sharrad) pops by with a piece of correspondence that stirs up the frayed and frazzled further. She comes to the girls’ house proffering good intentions, but Violet believes otherwise. Above all, what does the letter say and how are these sisters implicated?
Stationed to the rear and stage left, the musicians are very much integrated into the stage space, in a set-up familiar to opera on the fringe. There is simply not enough room to have a pit orchestra plying its definition. This does create some problems for this production. Seeing as Studio 2 of the Arcola is arranged so that the audience envelopes the stage, it means that a third of the amassed are situated behind the horn and wind musicians. If placed in those seats, there would be a genuine threat of the voices being drowned out and lost in the honk, whistle and general aural fog.
Above all, the main fault lying at the feet of ‘The Invited’ is that it simply takes a bit too long to get going. The music itself is lyrical though, dancing with a restless fidget, creating portent and forward thrust. It is a score that puts the ‘motion’ into ‘emotion’, with a nagging, consistent peripatetic feel.
Further, the performers impress with a vocal prowess that would not be out of place on far grander stages than that of the homely, modest preserve of fringe.
But, that said; a flat note is struck in the physicality, especially in the amount of pawing conducted by Emily towards Violet. The ingratiating pleas are suffocating irrespective of the fact that it is from concern. Gradually, it points towards a monotonous physicality struggling to convey the full spectrum of emotion as emitted vocally. It is a glaring contradiction. Although perpetually overwrought, Sarah Minns as Violet, is more effective in this regard.
The final third ramps up the tension rather brilliantly, as it embraces Shakespearian tragedy as well as that of a classic Libretto. The Invited may have moments where it misfires, but equally, it also shows flashes of brilliance. A genuine mixed bag.
Review by Greg Wetherall
Opera Room presents The Invited by Richard Knight and Norman Welch
Emily, a woman of science, dismisses the omen of her sister Violet. Yet both of them have seen figures in the trees… Following an acclaimed run at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, this gripping new psychological melodrama comes to Grimeborn.
Sunday 23rd August 2015