BASED on a dark and somewhat disturbing short horror fairy-tale by Angela Carter, The Snow Child tells a chilling tale of a mythical girl encountered by a count and countess on a winter’s outing. Touching on themes of necrophilia and paedophilia, this chamber opera by the young British composer Owain Park compactly captures the story’s sinister nature, and is presented by Bloody Chamber Opera, a company presumably formed specifically for this Fringe outing. Written for six voices and chamber orchestra, the haunting and evocative score, combined with director Gareth Mattey’s sparse staging, draws the audience in to a bleak musical landscape. Vocally, the highlights lay in the ensemble passages, with the young cast singing together with a rich, alluring blend, although there were some fine solo performances too. Baritone Peter Lidbetter sang the role of the Count with an assured poise, while soprano Helena Moore gave a warmth and innocence to the title role.
This new opera is gorgeously gothic, a sliver of winter nostalgia in the midst of all the summer madness… the harmonies in the opening words, “Midwinter – invincible, immaculate,” will give you goosebumps.
A wonderful atmosphere is created with touches of eerie strings, adding a lovely texture to the score, admirably constructing the cold and barren landscape around the characters. The simplistic and repetitious text of the original work suits being heightened to operatic form.
The countess’s voice and performance is nuanced and emotional to watch, plotting and scheming that bleed into helplessness and pity. The narrators, too, are a flexible ensemble that work hard to keep the piece flowing smoothly.
The piece has been beautifully designed, with a carefully constructed symbolic world build up from the smallest hint. Papers scattered across the stage are the fresh snowfall; black, white and red are the only colours seen onstage; flickering candles hang above, providing a mystical setting to perform under. The costumes of the principles are classic and look elegant and timeless – except for the necklace worn by the countess; a shame given the thought that has gone into the production as a whole.
I would recommend this to anyone interested in seeing opera at the Fringe, but who doesn’t know where to start.
Owain Park, a young composer literally at the end of his final year studying Music at Cambridge University, presented his chamber opera The Snow Child at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His eerie, bleak musical landscape instils the haunting story of a count and countess and their encounter with a beautiful snow child in the dead of winter.
Adapted from Angela Carter’s fairy tale from her short stories book The Bloody Chamber, Park captures the disturbing, dark shadows that befall the innocent snow child. Gareth Mattey’s staging was minimal. Paper was sporadically laid on the stage with moody lights above, alluding to icicles and setting our frosty scene.
With a unique chamber orchestra and six talented voices, which include three narrators, the music is unsettling, atmospheric and distinctive. Through the poetic chamber score, the opera subtly combines with splendid solo passages from its singers, which hint on the macabre and ghastly nature of the short tale.
The musicians of the performance I saw at Edinburgh’s Paradise in Augustines were superb. String, percussion, and woodwind instruments had their own place within the score that evolved into a variety of textures and intricate details, highlighting the sinister winter’s journey.
Peter Lidbetter and Amber Evans gave fine performances as the count and countess. They evoked their characters well – a passive and lustful count besotted by the naked child in the snow and a green-eyed countess. The narrators, Hannah King, Ed Roberts and Sam Mitchell, also provided interesting vocal colouring as a group ensemble or solo act. Yet, Helena Moore provided the purity and virtuousness of our Snow Child. Dressed in white, her voice conjured the angelic and naïve victim, the counter balance of the count and countess who eventually murder and ravage her.