Judith Weir “Miss Fortune”, Royal Opera House

Posted on March 13th, 2012

Miss Fortune in name and deed. Sad to say but Judith Weir’s sixth opera is an embarrassment. Sad because Weir’s folk inspired fables have won many friends, sad because she is a composerly composer whose luminous orchestral backdrops and singable vocal lines display an honest talent that never hides behind overworked technique. But Miss Fortune is warm and fuzzy where it should be hard and edgy, it’s a social fable with contemporary resonances in everything but its words and music, and worst of all it’s an adult opera which sounds like it’s spoon feeding amateur philosophy to a child. Silly and naive.

So, turning convention on its head, we’ve a fatalistic riches-to-rags tale transposed from a Sicilian original and relocated in time and place to take account of the financial ills and social unrest of the here and now. At least that was Weir’s intention – to be relevant and “in touch”. But when the once wealthy Tina (a self-consciously red-headed but vocally resolute Emma Bell) turns on Fate (a wasted Andrew Watts) and halfway through this short and pointless evening enquires: “Was it you who turned my life upside down?” we know we’ve come precisely nowhere very fast. This is a libretto which vacillates between the banal and the unintentionally comedic (or is that irony?) full of truisms and clunky metaphors and for all its images of deprivation and violent disorder is about as streetwise as a visitor from Venus. For Rap read rhyming couplets.

The much-publicised breakdancers of Chen Shi-Zeng’s efficient but actually rudimentary staging only serve to highlight how irrelevant Weir’s musical language is to her conception. Queasy chromatic scales rising and falling in the trombones is as close as we get to the “dark happenings” on the street. One of these days someone might actually commission one of the many young composers at the sharp end of musical theatre – creative song writers with their finger on the pulse of contemporary living.

Everything about Miss Fortune is benign and comfortable – even Tom Pye’s eye-catching geometric designs are thoroughly alienating, a garment sweatshop spotless and sanitised like the Royal Opera have re-deployed the “spinning chorus” from their last production of The Flying Dutchman. And the greatest irony of all – Miss Fortune wins the lottery. Indeed it has. What a waste of talent and resources.

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