Sucking heartily on life's half-time oranges

Sunday, 20 June 2010


The blending of two of my chief passions doesn't come around very often, so it was down to the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio last night to see 'OperaShots': three nimble operas by feisty, accessible composers, the final piece being Jocelyn Pook's In-ger-land, with my pals Mikhail and Laura Moody performing, plus experimental vocal acquaintances Lore Lixenberg and Olivia Chaney. The opera was a punchily-directed celebration of football chants and songs, vignettes about father-son relationships in football, football as religion, the pervading influence of WAGS on the UK's celebrity culture, and much more. Seven marvellously diverse singers (one mostly performs as rotund sub-bass drag artist Le Gateau Chocolat; YES!) and an instrumental ensemble fling themselves at each other, over bright red sofas, draw chalk pitches and 4-4-2 formations on the stage, whilst films of real fans punctuate the whole thing.

When it began, I had a moment of wondering whether the opera was on the murky side of the fine line between joyously bringing low art ideas in high art contexts and piss-taking. Could this be the stage version of the sort of horrors that spring up from warbling opera divas singing pop? Would I, both a football-lover and an experimental musician cut from the same cloth be up in arms about the portrayal of fans? Thankfully, very soon enough I was easily won over by the very believable passion of the singers, who nailed the teeth-gnashing fervour we all work ourselves up into during a match. Jocelyn got it just right: if you listen really hard sometimes at grounds, you experience this wondrous polytonal, polyrhythmic, polyEVERYTHING mix of vocal sounds, mostly male, with a touch of brass and drums. It takes just a little spit, polish and hot dog juice to fashion it into something credibly artistic which transports that crazedly animal devotion into the theatre.

Best bits were: a chordal version of the reaction to an almost-goal, descending 'ohhh!'s as the singers sank back into their sofas; the chorus-sung narration of England's matches against Argentina in 1998 and 2002, culminating in the men's repeated outbursts of 'THE RE-FER-EE'S A WANKER!!'; and a madrigal based on the Liverpool chant 'Oh, Gerrard, Gerrard, he's big and he's foo-kin' 'ard'. Genius! It was SUCH fun, marred only by the fact that we'd seen only the night before the most lamentable England performance imaginable, and celebrating the triumphs of our then top-form David Beckham, Michael Owen and David Seaman highlighted everything we're missing this year.

An article about the opera lives here.

Inspiring stuff. Makes me think I should really check out Michael Nyman's 'Beckham Crosses, Nyman Scores'. I can see next year's broadsheet culture sections now: 'Renowned composer Kerry Andrew writes experimental musical-theatre work around her devotion to lowly League Two whipping boys, Wycombe Wanderers!'

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