ENO and the Sunken Garden

No plans this weekend?  Then how about an operatic adventure...

Every year I develop a new intellectual crush.
Last year it was Jeremy Deller.  This year, after experiencing the Sunken Garden at the Barbican Centre on Monday, I'm happy to declare that this year's intellectual crush is Michel van der Aa.

I admire the tradition of opera.  But I'm all a bit Manet in my approach.  Whilst I love a perfect Puccini legato line, I also want to see the genre grow up into its 21st century self.  This is why I thought the Sunken Garden was a genuine call to adventure for 21st century opera.  Liberating in its bold synthesis of ideas, mediums and colour palette, the opera also pushes today's performance practices to a new place.

But for many critics, the Sunken Garden is Future Shock:

"Seldom has it been my lot to endure anything so toxically flatulent as the drivel which splurges from this thing - I hesitate to grant it the honorific label of opera."  Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph.

Between you and me, I don't see the Sunken Garden as a callous departure from the tradition of opera, rather a natural development.  When opera was first created, it was a synthesis of some of the day's major communication platforms: Song, stories, dance, theatre.  Today our communication platforms have extended digitally to include film, gaming, social media, interactive dashboards and augmented reality. If opera is to be a living, breathing organism, then the synthesis of the Sunken Garden is a necessary one. 

As with anything new, some things need tweaking.  The performance process used for synthesising 3D technology and live performance could do with another iteration, and the singer's performance practice of  working to camera needs developing.  But as my French boyfriend's mother says, "C'est super-normal".  As Thomas Edison experienced, and countless other innovators before and after him, when you are at the beginning of change, some things need tweaking.

There were many spectacular moments in this opera.  But the moment I will remember in 50 years time is the dramatic scena that revealed Amber's back story.  The storytelling brilliance of this section left me breathless. The juxtaposing of throbbing drum and bass to the delicacy of Amber's emotional state was a beautifully honest moment in the Sunken Garden's distorted wonderland.  

If you've read the mixed reviews and thought you'd give it a miss - go back to the moment when you thought it sounded cool and keep your curiosity alive.  Sunken Garden is an opera for this new renaissance of a world we are struggling to grow up in.  A world where tomorrow's jobs aren't even defined for the new generation going to school.  Today, it's all change.  It'll be like that for a while.  So if the critics are saying it's opera, but not as we know it, then pick up this operatic call to adventure, put your glasses on, and step into 21st century opera.

See the Sunken Garden trailer here
Find out about the composer here


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