Thursday, June 20

Birmingham Opera Company: The Ice Break

Birmingham Opera’s Artistic Director Graham Vick takes a brave leap in transforming this opera by Michael Tippett the first interpretation since 1977 in Covent Garden.

An unused warehouse is cleverly transformed into a strange airport terminal where the audience stands and is ushered around to the dramatic action by the chorus; a lot whom are from the local community.

Opera can have many connotations, high brow, difficult to understand and perhaps for an old fashioned elite; Vick throws all this on its head with an utterly gripping show where everything is energised for a fascinating heady performance that is contemporary and relevant.

It is indeed even more relevant with the Black Lives Movement that has been a regular feature of the last few months. The themes focus on race, riots and a general dystopian chaos, with a reference to the Handsworth Riots of Birmingham in the 1980’s.

The opera opens in an airport lounge designed by Stuart Nunn where Lev (played by Andrew Slater) has returned after 20 years as a dissident in prison. His wife Nadia (played by Nadine Benjamin) and son Yuri (Ross Ramgobin). There’s much cheering from the chorus and they seemed more excited to cheer on Olympion, (T’au Pupu’a) a black boxer similar to Mohamed Ali who is worshipped like a hero. His fans break off into a white versus black mob. Anarchy prevails and there is some very bizarre and hard to watch madness going on.

The Ice Break was captivating in terms of action. The singing was amazing. The scenery was breath-taking. You could not tell who was genuine security and who was acting.

Nadia goes in to trance like dream sequences where she rambles in a remarkable way about ice and spring and ethereal mystery. Her performance captivates as does her voice.

Sometimes tender, often absurd and surreal, baffling and confusing. There’re elements of violence and operatic, ‘Screw him.’  sings Yuri, and later ‘mother-f**king, bastard,’ which is the strangest moment in opera ever.

Tippett has a sense of realism, with the stark themes and brutal physicality, but underlying is a softer theme of love, and romance. Hannah (Chrystal E Williams) the nurse has her ‘blue night of the soul’. Where her face is framed by a digital background. The opera runs at an energetic pace, that makes it all the more gripping to watch.

Excitement builds and you have no idea what will happen next. It’s a triumph that the director has breathed such vitality into a forty some year production. the benefit from watching online is you don’t miss out on the action.

There’s a hospital, full frontal male nudity. Full of relevance and dichotomies. The Birmingham Orchestra are there and ravers in day glo-pink, they are chucking dead bodies in a wheelie bin. It’s immersive, discombobulating and vital. It tackles, race, riot and rebellion. Watch before it’s gone.

Reviewer: Rae Foster

Reviewed: 5th July 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★


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