The World’s Wife by WNO, Taliesin Art Centre, Echo Forest and the Mavron Quartet The original source of the title and ‘libretto’ of the opera is a themed collection of poems by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. In this collection of over twenty poems she gives us a contemporary female insights into the lives of a number of well known male historic figures, ‘Pilates Wife’ ‘Mrs Aesop’ and ‘Queen Herod’. In other poems the women speak for themselves, ‘Salome’, ‘Anne Hathaway’ and others. She pulls no punches and there is a magical quality in her words and phrases that makes the work ideal for the excellent and exciting musical treatment that composer Tom Green brings to it here.
In the informative pre-show discussion Carol Ann Duffy read three of the poems included in the opera. ‘Little Red Cap’, a near biographical poem following the young Duffy as she discovers her way into poetry meeting a wolf poet in the dark woods. ‘Pilates Wife’ she talks disparagingly of her husband’s hand washing and his behaviour throughout Christ’s crucifixion. ‘Mrs Aesop’ is bored with her Fable telling husband.
After thanking Carol Ann Duffy for her generosity in handing her collection over to him with no restrictions whatsoever, he went on to tell us how he set out to use the music of neglected female composers across several centuries, as an influence for this work. He studied the work of six. He chose, to illustrate the process, the work of Barbara Strozzi (1619 – 1677) and Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896).
He played a few of their note sequences and chords then showed us how he adapted them to influence his own music. The result is very fine and makes for compelling listening. The music courses between deep classical chords to atonal sequences with splendid ease. The on-stage Mavron Quartet is totally in command of this challenging work.
Opera is mainly about singing. Here we have a single soprano, Amanda Forbes who has the most difficult job to do as she sweeps high and low with the changing melodies. She is a real joy to listen to and fully engages herself and us with Duffy’s poetic viewpoint. The live loop pedals mean we can hear this compelling voice dueting powerfully. The words, the music and the singing combine faultlessly in artistic excellence.
Sadly the presentation came only second best. The design, lighting and direction lacked the same level of brilliance and needed more depth of thought and imagination. It is a particular credit to Amanda Forbes that she was able to transcend these shortcomings.
Photo by Kirsten McTernan