The Blue Woman magazine – opera with the tense atmosphere of violence against women | Opera


Jhe latest new work from the Royal Opera is, as its director Katie Mitchell describes it, perhaps more installation than opera. Exploring “the fragmentation of the female psyche after sexual violence”, with music by Laura Bowler and lyrics by Laura Lomas, The Blue Woman is somewhat reminiscent of New Dark Age, the sequence of female composers that the Royal Opera put on its main stage in October 2020, also directed by Mitchell, with Grant Gee’s videos similarly attracting attention.

Eight women face us in blue walls: four singers in front, four cellists behind. The top half of the stage is a long screen showing Gee’s film of a ninth wife, played silently by Eve Ponsonby. We see her within the bare walls of an abandoned tower, or writhing as if trapped within the confines of the screen, or riding a train, descending by the river, walking through the city. From the lines of Lomas’ terse poetic libretto, it seems she’s searching for the person she was before the trauma drained her. The singers delivering these lines may be four people with similar experiences, or four versions of the same person.

Bowler’s score, conducted by Jamie Man, plays with our perceptions. We can see the singers and the cellists, but there are other sounds within them that seem to come out of nowhere, generated by a percussionist, or the voice-over of Lomas’ words – or, mainly, the detailed electronic manipulation of All the foregoing. The cellists – Louise McMonagle, Su-a Lee, Tamaki Sugimoto and Clare O’Connell – use every technique possible, plunging and swooning and strumming. The singers – Elaine Mitchener, Gweneth Ann Rand, Lucy Schaufer and Rosie Middleton – move from speech to song and back again with such fluidity that the notes look like bright splashes of color on the words. It’s episodic, static, fragmented – but strongly atmospheric.

Incidentally, the route the woman in the film takes towards the end is the one Sarah Everard was taking when she was abducted, though perhaps only south Londoners will take it again. With that in mind, Ponsonby’s red hair is reminiscent of Patsy Stevenson at the Clapham Common vigil, staring into the camera as the police pinned her to the ground. Others will find their own associations, some painful. The blue woman does not signal a path to catharsis. But the feeling it leaves is one of defiant resilience – not quite hopeful, yet, but not despair either.

At the Royal Opera House, London, until July 11.

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