Reviewed – 23rd August 2018
“it doesn’t quite hold together, and theatrically-speaking, falls out of the sky”
Inspired by the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, this mono-opera is something of a solo transatlantic endeavour itself. British-American soprano Kathryn Frady brings to London the role of Amelia, a homeless woman who is convinced she is actually the lost aviator. The piece, which was commissioned by the singer in her capacity as Artistic Director of Knoxville’s Marble City Opera, is part of an appealing schedule of events hosted by the Bridewell Theatre for the ‘Opera in the City’ festival.
James Marvel’s set and costume design places us in the homeless universe of scrappy belongings and ill-matched garments. Centre stage, a makeshift plane, comprising a shopping trolley, ironing board and tin foil, accompanies Frady as she expresses her relationship with the elements and regard for the ‘box with wings’ on which she depends. The strength of her voice and stage persona do justice to the real Earhart who was known for her strident manner. Amelia Earhart’s is not a one-dimensional story, however. She was elusive in life as well as death, in part due to her belief in managing her own public image and mythology. It is this enigmatic quality of an ungrounded reality that the composition itself is most successful in conveying.
The libretto by Brad Carroll is a neatly-phrased tale of delusion, allowing Amelia’s weather-related exhilarations and torments to play equally as either those of a solo aviator or a homeless person. This ambiguity allows Larry Delinger’s restless composition to create an atmospheric, metaphysical mood. The Blues and Jazz influences he embraces as fundamental to the American classical tradition lend his work a formless, riffing quality which starts well, matching the video projections of shifting skies designed by Kathryn Frady herself. Laurie O’Brien on piano plays fluidly, but without light and shade or progression in tonality, the music drifts somewhat. Perhaps this is intentional, to convey the predicament of both Amelias as they hover interminably, unable to land, but it does so soporifically. It is a relief, then, and an effective conclusion, when the homeless Amelia emerges from her fantasy to sombrely face her true situation.
Orville Wright once said his rivals failed to create powered flight because they had concentrated on power rather than balance. Though a brave attempt, this production too seems to lose its way for the same reason. Kathryn Frady’s belting mezzo-soprano and Wagnerian style would be majestic with a different piece and on a larger stage. In a small space, attached to an introspective and slightly aimless incantation, it doesn’t quite hold together, and theatrically-speaking, falls out of the sky.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Bridewell Theatre until 1st September
as part of Opera In the City Festival 2018