This September, the Totally Thames festival took over London’s riverbanks to bring the latest in cultural events, from exhibitions to guided walks and film. As part of the festival, The Mahogany Opera group has taken the opportunity to produce a modern and innovative opera in Urban Tales #2: The Lighthouse.
The patrons are ferried by boat to the Trinity Buoy Wharf. Night-time London swims by, with illuminates views of the banks and Tower Bridge. The wharf itself is the site of London’s last remaining lighthouse, built in 1864. In its commercial heyday, the site was used for maritime workshops, storage, and repair. Today, the lighthouse and the adjacent space hosts various cultural and social events, and lends itself for various rehearsals and learning events. At the foot of the lighthouse the black river moves silently past; the atmosphere distinctly lacking in London’s usual hubbub and organised chaos.
Folie à Deux (“a shared psychosis”) rests within the canon of classical opera, but is updated for the modern audience. The story is that of a couple sharing and feeding off each other’s delusions, a story of love and loneliness. Sofia Jernberg’s voice is enchanting: lulling the audience into the magic of a hilltop, then ripping down as the story takes a dark turn. The opera was co-written by Sjón, an Icelandic lyricist known for his work with Björk. Indeed, Folie à Deux has recognisable elements of his style, from the eccentric inter-play of vocals and melody, to the visceral imagery of the lyrics.
The music, composed by award-winning British composer Emily Hall, is beautiful, and incredibly technically proficient in its performance. The opera is partially described as a concept album, and it certainly has the elements of experimentation, continuity and innovation. Finnur Bjarnason’s vocals are recorded live and re-incorporated into the music, creating a seamless litany of human and instrumental sounds. The production includes an electromagnetic harp: an experimental instrument with an ethereal sound, performed by John-Paul Gandy.
This production undoubtedly represents the best of contemporary art collaboration. The opera is experimental and fresh, yet clearly showcases some incredible talent from the performers and musicians. The Mahogany Opera Group’s self-professed mission to explore new approaches and spaces in their performance is exemplified in Folie à Deux. In the meantime, Urban Tales #3 is rumoured to be forthcoming, with a focus on dance – we expect it will be an evening to watch out for.
Trinity Buoy Wharf
64 Orchard Place
E14 0JY London