I was supposed to be reviewing Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus at the Royal College of Music’s Britten Theatre but due to, as they say, circumstances beyond my control, I wasn’t able to get there. However, by the miracle of modern technology, the production was being streamed live all around the world (including Wallington) and I was able to review not only the production but also the streaming element too.
Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus is made up of five brand new short operas based on the themes of monstrosity and scientific idealism and mark 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel. The five operas are written, sung and played by students at the Royal College of Music. They are directed by Bill Bankes-Jones, designed by Sarah Booth and Natalie Murray Beale conducted a superb chamber orchestra.
The operas in order of appearance were: “Amira” written by Joe Kiely. Probably the most accessible piece musically of the five with its big melodic themes and choral voicings. It tapped into the technology zeitgeist with nods towards Amazon’s Alexa, Cambridge Analytica etc. The inventor like Frankenstein had built a monster that was out of his control and faced the conundrum of what to do about it.
“Our Perfect Child” by Sophie Sparkes & Deborah McMahon. A story of IVF and how scientists could be able in the future to genetically modify human DNA to produce the perfect human being – or possibly a monster. What were the desperate parents to do? The music here was very modern and at times a little discordant, but it fitted in with the theme of the opera’s tension.
“John Henry” by Maeve McCarthy & Gary Matthewman. Set in frontier USA around the turn of the century, it’s the story of the battle between the working railroad men and the coming of an iron monster that would replace them. John Henry decides to try and fight progress but finds it impossible and dies in the attempt. The music had an old-fashioned Negro Spiritual, work-song feel in parts and it really complimented the piece superbly.
“Bear and Friends” by Lente Verelst & Lena Vercauteren. This was a surreal, almost hallucinatory piece set in a wood where Bear is always hungry and needs cake to satisfy that hunger. Beetle gives him a machine which can “hear” cakes and Bear proceeds to eat them all and then where they’re gone, he devours all his friends, including Beetle. A very strange story that didn’t quite work although it got the biggest ovation at the end!
“The Fermi Paradox” by Lara Poe & Raphael Ruiz. Three scientists from the future build a time machine to go back in time to try and find the answer to the human race went wrong. Unfortunately, they can’t control the machine and it lands in Salem in 1692 and as expected, it ends badly for the three “witches”! Once again, the music as is often the case in modern opera is very contemporary but like all three pieces, it did fit perfectly with the feel of the opera.
If I had one minor criticism is that each piece used a different font for its very welcome subtitles which whilst in keeping with each opera, were occasionally illegible on screen – one plain one would have worked a lot better I think. All in all, whilst I enjoyed the streaming which was very well produced and directed with a number of cameras, I did miss the shared experience you can only get when you attend a live event. However, this makes the production available to a lot more people than can get into the bijou Britten Theatre, so this is definitely the way forward. Maybe one day every theatrical production and opera can be seen around the world and enjoyed by millions sitting as I did at my computer or on a tablet or phone?
Review by Alan Fitter
Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus
Produced by the Royal College of Music in association with Tête à Tête
Bill Bankes-Jones | Director
Natalie Murray Beale | Conductor
Sarah Booth | Designer
7.30pm Saturday 12 May | 5pm Sunday 13 May
Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, London,SW7 2BS