World premiere at Aldeburgh

An Ocean of Rain, by Yannis Kyriakides and Daniel Dannis. Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Friday June 13.An opera that includes three professional women on their annual charity trip, illegal drugs, the underworld of a tropical island, and the drama of a tsunami, opened the 61st Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts.

An Ocean of Rain, by Yannis Kyriakides and Daniel Dannis. Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Friday June 13.

An opera that includes three professional women on their annual charity trip, illegal drugs, the underworld of a tropical island, and the drama of a tsunami, opened the 61st Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts. It was the world premier of An Ocean of Rain, by composer Yannis Kyriakides and librettist Daniel Dannis, however it was the work of sound engineer, Paul Bull, video artist Julia Bardsley and lighting designer, Zerlina Hughes, that made this opera a multimedia event.

On the island of Haiti a young prostitute, Kiev (played by Claire Prempeh) returns to the orphanage where she grew up to beg for sanctuary from her violent husband. She is turned away by the matron, Delhi, (Hyacinth Nicholls) who fears for the safety of the children living there. Kiev, in desperation, sets fire to herself, and Delhi and the three volunteers, New York (Camille Hesketh), Cairo (Katalin Károlyi) and Kyoto (Anna Dennis), care for the injured woman.

The setting on the stage at Snape Maltings concert hall had the musicians and conductor placed centrally to the action, With curling waves made from corrugated metal sheets, the corners of the beach area were defined by a pair of moveable screens and by a cluster of vertical poles (palm trees and/or gates?) that emphasised Kiev's exclusion from the orphanage as she remains trapped behind them, the lighting casting her giant shadow on the bare brick walls of the concert hall.


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Kiev's monologues were spoken rather than sung but she, and the rest of the all female cast performed their complex musical solo's and duets, alongside recorded electronic music, sound effects, and music performed live on recorders, electric guitar, Indian harmonium, violin, double bass and trombone. Usually an orchestra accompanies and supports singers but, in An Ocean of Rain, the two scores ran parallel rather than in harmony.

Beautifully sung in the main, and superbly staged, the opera held the audiences attention from the thunderous rain at the opening, through the drama of the tsunami that caught singers, musicians and audience in a swirl of movement, sound, lights and projected waves and images. The opera ends with the four orphanage workers standing at the front of the auditorium, looking up at the stage at a video of their own corpses zipped in body-bags, as an orphanage child talks about the tsunami, and Kiev returns with flowers.

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Reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, the opera was musically challenging, but left questions. Why did the characters have no first or last names? Why were they named after cities? Was the whole story in Kiev's mind, or a reference to the afterlife? Was Kiev dead as she watched from the wings, or is this a story told in retrospect? Were the charity volunteers there because of their personal tragedies and desires rather than philanthropy? Why did the Haitian orphans have Scottish accents?

Visually exciting, musically challenging, the opera finished to warm applause, but not to a rapturous standing ovation.

Rachel Sloane

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