Scene Unseen was conceived during ‘lockdown’ in 2021 and is a collaboration between singer Jessica Walker and composer/pianist Joseph Atkins: available to experience via English Touring Opera’s website.
The result of their collaboration is a song cycle lasting almost an hour which has been imaginatively filmed by Joseph Lefeber and directed by James Dacre, with computer-generated illustrations by Thomas Hicks. The result is about “sexuality, identity and what makes us who we are”. The music takes the singer and the audience on a journey from an “emotionally complex childhood right up to her wedding day”. There are songs about early gender confusion, sexual assault, first love and betrayal, and family secrets. The story is easy to follow as Walker’s diction is crystal clear and an example to other singers who claim that English is a tricky language to enunciate! One of the reasons that I avoid opera on video is that I quickly get tired of seeing a singer’s open mouth in close-up, and so it is here at times, though, to be fair the director does his best, but a few more distanced or angled shots would have helped!
Walker possesses an attractive, cabaret-style voice, and Atkins is a superb pianist, helped by the use of a Steinway grand piano, but, in a video lasting nearly an hour, there needs to be more variety of musical style than there is here. Atkins’ music is very pleasant to listen to and at times has real depth, especially as the wedding day approaches, but the song cycle/solo musical would have benefitted greatly from some judicious pruning. It is a shame that there are no “stand out” numbers that one remembers after seeing the video, encouraging one to view it again.
Both artistes are obviously highly talented, experienced performers and I should be very interested to hear their next project – hopefully ‘live’ when they can get a connection with an audience which is not possible on video.
Review by John Groves