Cave: a new chamber opera from Tansy Davies premieres in London

Mark Padmore as Man (c) London Sinfonietta and ROH_Photo by Manuel Harlan.jpg
Cave, a new chamber opera by Tansy Davies, to a text by Nick Drake, was premiered in the vast warehouse space of the Printworks, in London's Canada Water on 20 June. Staged by the London Sinfonietta in association with the Royal Opera, this new work for tenor Mark Padmore and mezzo-soprano Elaine Mitchener follows a grieving man’s quest for survival and renewal, in a dystopian future of deserted shopping malls and melting glaciers. Desperate to connect one last time with his daughter, he enters a dark cave, triggering a journey into an underworld of spirits. Geoffrey Paterson conducted six members of the London Sinfonietta, Sound Intermedia and Rolf Wallin oversaw the work's electronic element, and Lucy Bailey directed.
 
Full details of the production can be found here
 

REVIEWS

 

‘The space is astounding – a soaring cathedral nave deep inside the womb of a decommissioned printworks… A portentous parable of the catastrophic mess we are wantonly making of our planet… A cave is a place of echoes, and here the man imagines and hallucinates and remembers, before receiving an admonishing message from the ghost of his eco-warrior daughter. Finally, there is some personal consolation, but no redemption from a scorched and atrophied world… Inspired by visits to the painted caves at Niaux, Drake’s libretto is powerfully resonant, a poem rather than a plot and clearly very deeply felt… a shimmeringly atmospheric soundscape… What one is left with is often beautiful in sound, a threnody always haunting and unsettling in implication.’
The Telegraph (Rupert Christiansen), 21 June 2018

 

‘Davies's ambitious dystopia is small only in size… The opening music establishes a sense of place immediately, layering low, ominous notes, a calming harp, and high, skittish figures. Perhaps there are bats overhead, but if so they are representatives of nature, not horror film set-dressing: the harp music, here and throughout, suggests peace and warmth, and the cave, though mysterious, also sounds like a place of safety. The man claps and whistles as if to test the size of the cave, and Davies’s electronic manipulations pick up the sounds and send them spiralling out beyond the ceiling. The music is transparent, brazenly beautiful and much use is made of the Sinfonietta’s players as soloists, weaving elaborate individual lines alongside the vocalists.’
The Guardian (Erica Jeal), 21 June 2018

 

‘Beginning with a section that seems to conjure up the world of nature, the score is beautifully imagined, both subtle and refined in its use of a small group of instruments; at other points more violent gestures intervene, hitting home with overwhelming impact… In her site-specific production director Lucy Bailey maximises the atmospheric impact of the vast venue, while both tenor Mark Padmore and experimental vocalist and movement artist Elaine Mitchener give performances of exceptional range and expressive power… the opera’s general stance is spiritual, if necessarily troubled. The ending may feel more ambivalent than positive, but the journey on which the audience has been taken is undoubtedly worthwhile.’
The Stage (George Hall), 21 June 2018

 

‘Davies and Drake have an ineluctable taste for the epic… Conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, six Sinfonietta musicians were deft in communicating Davies’s sensuous, layered score, full of tender woodwind drones, plucked harp and elegiac strings, combined with vivid electronics… Not an easy evening, but full of strange powers.’
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), July 2018

 

‘A staged dramatic monologue, swathed in a highly suggestive atmosphere… Davies draws ominous, atmospheric music out of her half dozen players from the London Sinfonietta, overlaid with the amplified sounds of dripping water and thunderous destructiveness… the mood is sustained without a lapse.’
The Financial Times (Richard Fairman), 21 June 2017

 

‘Into a large cave creeps a man (Padmore giving the performance of his life)… The best thing about Davies’s music is how she interleaves Padmore’s voice, acoustically and electronically, into a web of what seemed like embellished echoes. Very cave-like. The virtuoso Sinfonietta instrumentalists also produce strikingly atmospheric gestures, with a harp prominent… a bold and ambitious show.’
The Times (Richard Morrison), 22 June 2018

 

‘A resourceful composer, Davies worked hard to bring energy to the text, providing vocal lines that carried emotional weight without quite arriving at an aria. Grateful for something to get their teeth into, both singers delivered the utmost clarity and commitment. Padmore summoned formidable intensity, while Mitchener pushed towards an improvisational, at times almost shamanic utterance that threatened to stretch the boundaries of bel canto to breaking point… The real atmosphere emerged through the orchestra, with bassoon and harp, in particular, weaving eerily insinuating textures.’
The Evening Standard (Nick Kimberley), 15 June 2018