Review: Scenes From a Void

Gemma Sheehan 12 November 2016

Loosely based on a work of French existentialist fiction, Scenes from A Void promised a night of ‘distraction, indulgence, and emptiness’. It proved to be an evening of jarring notes and clashing chords from a talented wind and string orchestra, accompanied by an operatic trio that was led by a gifted female singer. I soon found myself drawn into the performance and the vision of incompleteness it presented through its disharmonious and unpredictable musical score.

The show began with an unsettling piece that had instruments being played in unexpected ways, such as the pizzicato (plucking) on the violin, before the female opera singer joined in.  The show improved as it unfolded, with the second half feeling slightly more harmonious and purposeful than the start. The two male singers became more involved in the libretto, and as the trio harmonised at a rapid tempo, their voices became increasingly enthralling. Although I did not understand what they were saying or where they were going, I felt drawn in to their journey. Their delivery was well coordinated with the musicians, and the conductor deserves a particular commendation for his adept guidance of such a complex piece.

The musical talent of the singers and the musicians is not in doubt, but the setting did not do their abilities justice. The set up was informal, with the musicians seated in disorderly chairs, making the show feel more like a rehearsal than a performance. The lighting was uninspiring as well: it was hard to be fully swept away with such a sober spotlight directed at the musicians, who at times seemed disengaged. Arguably this lack of polish was fitting with the overall theme of dissonance, but it still failed to make the show truly memorable.

The performance was too lacklustre to be described as spellbinding, but it was genuinely interesting. The intentionally perplexing musical score engaged the audience in a thought-provoking manner, with the lack of harmony constantly forcing you to question what was going on, until you realised that there was no purpose. It’s just a journey towards an existential void. This opera was a bold attempt that had a lot of potential but waned in its delivery.