'i': opera run by the cool kidsReview
Upon entering the upstairs room of the Balham Bowles Club, one senses a strange juxtaposition between ballroom and working men’s club. The stage area looks a little tired and the décor more akin to a dining room than a makeshift opera house. As people took to their seats, the energy seemed slightly odd…perhaps people were uncertain of what to expect from the show, titled ‘i’ - The Opera, that marketed itself as the world’s first opera partially written by a neural network.
This dubiousness was quickly shattered by the entry of the Jester (Suzie Purkis), who enchanted the audience with her strange tale of a far-away kingdom that had banned being sad, and a Princess (Meili Li) who had never been satisfied by her parents’ love and endless presents. The story progressed with an Inventor (Ben Kane) being shot out the sky and being tasked with creating a speaking Doll (Anna Palmer) that would be brought to life to unconditionally love the princess.
Under the masterful baton of Daniel Galbreath, the small ensemble really shone (and sang and shouted), and Oldham’s music felt carefully constructed, with both the comic timing and off kilter harmony creating an extremely colourful and vibrant musical world for the characters to exist in. The King (Mvula) and Queen (Kennedy) delivered extremely funny performances, and Li as the Princess was hideously lovely yet hilariously hateable. I felt the real heart of the piece was delivered in the chemistry between Kane and Palmer, both songwriters from Birmingham, as the Inventor and the Doll. Both characters played off each other with organic wit that is seldom seen in opera, especially in smaller companies.
The design of the opera, under the obviously careful eye of Kofen, felt almost Bauhaus-inspired, which really worked with the bonkers nature of both the libretto (also by Kofen) and the music and the DIY nature of the costumes (mostly made out of waste paper, hence the company’s name) felt both extremely natural to the world they had created and also acted as a satirical political awareness of the funding situation and lack of resources that these smaller companies often come against.
Overall, the opera not only impressed myself, but showed an entire audience that this form is not only very alive, it’s being run by the cool kids now.