Mirror, Mirror is a fifteen minute film from Essential Opera based on a score and libretto by Anna Pidgorna. There’s a lot to unpack for a fifteen minute work! First off, let’s be clear that this is a film and not a video of a performance or production that might have had a live audience. It’s shot on location in Nova Scotia; on the beach, in the forest etc. And it’s done very well with excellent editing and high quality in the audio and video recording.
As you might guess it’s a version of the Snow White story. The traditional elements (minus dwarfs) are all there with iPhones standing in for the mirror. IPhones aside, it’s a very dark and traditional take that owes more to Grimm than to Disney. To me it decodes in the traditional mythological female triad; maiden, wife, crone. The Queen (Erin Bardua) is deeply resentful of Snow White’s (Maureen Batt) coming to maturity as. a beautiful young woman while she’s on the brink of making the second transition. There’s serious maternal jealousy here. There’s even a sense that by destroying Snow White she can reverse her own aging. This is wonderfully conveyed by a libretto that uses remarkably few words (maybe thirty or so) but uses them over and over in a ritualistic, even liturgical, fashion.
Pidgorna’s score backs this up nicely. It’s not at all a “conventional opera score”. Recorded and sometimes distorted sounds; bamboo rattles, metallic drones, birdsong, crows cawing, are mixed with the vocals which are also far from conventional. There’s a lot of vocalising and even when words are sung they are rarely simply “on pitch”. It’s an effectively “weird” (in the old sense of the word) accompaniment to the text. Both Bardua and Batt navigate the tricky score extremely capably. All in all I found it quite compelling.
The piece was streamed last night on Essential Opera’s Youtube channel and it’s still available. There’s also an interview with Anna Pidgorna that makes a useful intro to a work that has elements hat don’t necessarily reveal themselves easily.