Review: Pleasure @ Howard Assembly Room – ‘incredibly immersive and moving’
Pleasure is a collaboration between Aldeburgh Music, Opera North and the Royal Opera to create a new chamber opera, following the successful The Commission and Café Kafka (2014) and The Virtues of Things (2015). The piece features a tremendous musical score by Mark Simpson and an equally excellent libretto by Melanie Challenger who Simpson had previously worked with on an interpretation of her poem Galatea.
The narrative is inspired by Simpson’s own experiences of Liverpool’s gay night clubs in his late teens and early twenties. It is a one-act chamber opera running some 70 minutes without interval and stars Lesley Garrett in a stand-out performance as a long-suffering lavatory attendant who gives advice and aid to the waifs and strays in this whirlpool of pleasure. However, she is often perplexed and forlorn herself, the reason for which we find out late on, and her sharp vocals captures Simpson’s neo-Romantic fusion perfectly.
Given the temptation to shock Tim Albery tastefully directs with innovative design by Lesley Travers with the costumes never so extreme as they are in a very loud drag queen (Steven Page camps it up). The brief affair between Timothy Nelson as ingénue Nathan and the more experienced hustler Matthew (Nick Pritchard) ends when Nathan seeks the truth behind his orphaned roots. It is from Val’s lips that he finds such secrets and this provides for a totally tragic denouement. All four characters are in needs of forgiveness and grace in one form or another but are hardly likely to find it in such a sordid and seedy scene as this – or is this what makes it such a pleasure zone?
An incredibly immersive and moving piece that proves a must-see for those with an interest in how contemporary opera is developing into a new form, but still with a sideways nod to past productions.
Reviewed by Rich Jevons at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds on 28th April 2016. Touring see: www.operanorth.co.uk