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Grimeborn - The Opera Festival

Arcola Theatre, Dalston
26 August 2011

It has been a privilege to attend a presentation of this innovative new opera as "work in progress".

Its libretto is a direct transcription of Melvin Bragg's popular TV South Bank Show programme in 1985, preserved on line.

My illustration is a still from an interview in Bacon's studio about his working methods.

The programme, which is preserved on the internet, was, apparently, something of a scandal at the time, with its "frank and inflammatory discussion between two men who were very steadily getting drunk".

Stephen Crowe's setting preserves all Bacon's "mumblings, stutterings and outrageous pronouncements" and sets them to music in a way that enhances their meaning and, now, gives a validity to artistic notions some of which are difficut/impossible to put into meaningful words.

The music was compelling, with two tenors, Oliver Brignall as Bragg ranging to high falsetto for his reactions, the whole supported with an extraordinarily apposite piano score, brilliantly played centre stage by Genevieve Ellis, whose modest profile will soon need updating! I do hope that the final version will preserve that as is, and not expand the work with orchestral accompaniment. It will surely return to TV as well as deserve wide showing in fringe opera settings; a natural for Edinburgh, surely?

This work, unpromising possibly in prospect, proved to be major discovery, encountered in a typical double bill evening such as London offers at the annual Grimeborn Opera Festival and at Bill Bankes-Jones' Tête à Tête at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith (q.v. e.g. Push ! - we were abroad this year and unable to cover Tête à Tête).

I have nothing encouraging to say about Joel Scott's Demon Lover, the other piece tried out at Arcola last night, which the capacity audience enjoyed well enough, but to nothing like the storming reception given to THE FRANCIS BACON OPERA.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Mozart & Salieri at Grimeborn Opera Festival the previous night.