In review: Snow
Three one-act operas, set by three composers and one librettist, make up Snow, the new work presented by The Opera Story based on the lesser-known corners of the story of Snow White.
Director James Hurley describes the text by JL Williams as "inspired by unfamiliar version of three episodes from the Snow White fairy tale." Act I: The Three Ravens, with music by Lewis Murphy, "refracts well-known elements of Snow White's birth narrative through the prism of a German version, which makes more explicit the Oedipal desires of father and daughter." Lucie Treacher's Act 2: The Death of the Seven Dwarves is based on a Swiss legend, "in which a local community brutally murders the eponymous dwarves and destroys their house after hearing sordid rumours about a young girl cohabiting with seven men." Finally, we hear Tom Floyd's Act 3: The Crystal Casket, after an Italian folk tale which "amplifies the strange and violent domestic situation of a prince who returns from a hunt dragging a dead girl instead of a boar."
The three pieces of Snow have a cinematic feel to the music, an impressively cohesive combination of three composers' work. Conductor Christopher Stark led a clear, evocative chamber orchestra, ambling comfortably underneath the text-driven setting for the singers. Hurley told these stories in a vaguely modernized world that still had the feel of being fictional. It helped to bring out the timelessness of Snow White's childhood in The Three Ravens, of a young girl growing up among tragedy, feeling unloved and responsible for what happens to her and her father. The theme of shame felt more palpable in a modern-day setting of The Death of the Seven Dwarves, and the morbidity of The Crystal Casket was amplified by the eerie decor of a funeral home.
The three acts happened in three difference spaces of the CLF Art Café, each one allowing the audience to sit or stand in close proximity to the action. The cast of singers is strong, led by the impressive Alice Privett as Snow White. Snow demands a lot of Privett's role, as it does for Rick Zwart as the King/Prince Raven. Zwart pairs a lovely baritone with his dangerous presence, and his relationship with Privett's Snow White grows layered as the acts progress. Alison Langer is shrill and menacing in The Three Ravens and The Death of the Seven Dwarves, and Cliff Zammit Stevens is an empathetic figure who seems to connect the story with its audience. Polly Leech was a standout performance of the evening, showing off huge versatility in her three characters. She was particularly impressive as Mother Raven in The Crystal Casket, a riveting actress with a rich mezzo.
"The absence of the narrative episode in which Snow White is bewitched into suspended animation by her jealous stepmother leaves a tantalizing question about how our heroine comes to be interred in a casket," writes Hurley in his director's notes. "Snow White's implied death became the conceptual starting point for approaching the three operas as a through-drama; a young woman at the end of her life searches her past for clues to her tragedy."
Snow is an intriguing way to tell a familiar story, yet understanding the connection between the three one-acts seemed to require a bit of homework. For operagoers who prefer to see a show without anticipation - and without consulting the programme - Snow is slightly elusive. Like the opera itself, the production is creative, yet it felt deconstructed without a clear focal point.