FAWN Chamber Creative presented a new piece last night at Kensington Hall. It was called Belladonna and was billed as a “queer, techno opera” to a libretto by Gareth Mattey who apparently specialises in this genre. “”Queer, techno pastoral” might have been nearer the mark. Basically, sheep tending person of uncertain gender/orientation meets another such. A supernatural being of some sort intervenes. There are hallucinogenic berries (“tripping hither, tripping thither?”). “Exploration” ensues. I was unclear on whether or not it had a happy ending. I’m not sure it matters.
The performance space was tiny. It was in a basement (up a particularly seedy back alley) with the audience packed around a strip maybe 1.5m by 5m plus a staircase. All the action takes place in this space. There’s lots of it too as one of the three characters (Atrophy) is played by a dancer (Mary-Dora Bloch-Hansen) who also choreographed. The two sung characters; Lake (Camille Rogers) and Cloth (Sarah Amelard) both also have plenty to do in the movement department. This side of things worked pretty well with the minimal scenery/props and some imaginative lighting making Amanda Smith’s production fairly easy to follow which was a very good thing because (beef of the night) the libretto was mostly inaudible despite the singers being miked. The late substitution of a soprano for tenor Jonathan MacArthur, unavailable for family reasons, probably didn’t help in that department.
The music featured atmospheric effects from double bass Adam Scime and pianist Darren Creech but with most of the sound coming from the electronics of ACOTE. It didn’t really sound like techno in the sense of dance music. The need for frequent mood changes in a short piece meant that the hypnotic repetitions of techno couldn’t really happen and besides, to fit the mood, sections sounded much more industrial and Germanic than most North American techno. I think there was also a fair bit of sound sampling; bird song, water drops etc, going on. The vocal line was pretty varied too with a lot of angsty atonal angsting, more conventional operatic lines and bits of Baïlero cropping up (presumably so we didn’t do a Bo Peep and forget the sheep).
Reservations about the intelligibility of the words aside I enjoyed it and I think the (youngish) audience did too. It’s still something of a work in progress; more finished than a workshop but not quite there yet, and it was put together with minimal rehearsal time. It’s an interesting experiment and with a bit of polishing could be really something.