Review: To See The Invisible, Aldeburgh Festival, Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, June 11

To See The Invisible, a new opera, is premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival, Nicholas Morris as The In

To See The Invisible, a new opera, is premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival, Nicholas Morris as The Invisible with Nathan Vale, Daniel Norman, Peter Savidge and Anne Mason. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey - Credit: Archant

An operatic premiere is always something of an event and the Aldeburgh Festival commissioned a new work from the Manchester based composer Emily Howard.

To See The Invisible, a new opera, is premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival, Peter Savidge as the Brot

To See The Invisible, a new opera, is premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival, Peter Savidge as the Brothel Owner with Nathan Vale, Anne Mason, Daniel Norman and Caryl Hughes. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey - Credit: Archant

To See The Invisible is a one act chamber opera lasting seventy five minutes and was staged in the Britten Studio at Snape. The libretto is by Selma Dimitrijevic, based on a short story by the American Robert Silverberg. In summary, the protagonist (The Invisible) is sentenced to a year of being invisible to others for an unspecified crime of ‘coldness’. Rather than literal invisibility, the punishment is extreme social shunning – he is ostracised and ignored.

The action begins with his arrest during a family meal and follows the subsequent trial and sentence and his experiences as an outcast.

There is no denying that this is a challenging work and not particularly easy listening, quite a lot of shrieking and screaming, to be honest. But, for me, it does address some complex and unsettling issues in a society and a world where things are moving in unpredictable directions.

All performers, on and off stage deserve the greatest credit for their energy, versatility and commitment. Apart from the two central characters the other five singers all had multiple roles and were equally convincing whatever they were wearing.


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Nicholas Morris and Anna Dennis as the two Invisibles inhabited their roles most effectively, Morris particularly haunted and compelling.

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, well positioned on top of the action, gave admirable accompaniment and support and conductor Richard Baker maintained the focus and tension unerringly. Director Dan Ayling oversaw a slick and efficient production and dining room, court, brothel and pleasure gardens smoothly exchanged places.

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If there are some reservations, one might look first at the music. Of course, the subject does not call for sensuous melody and singable tunes but, that said, there is relatively little to engage or delight, the ear. It would not be the first opera to have a degree of plot complexity but the brothel scene left me somewhat confused.

This is a serious contribution to contemporary opera and certainly deserves further performances.

Gareth Jones

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