Credit: Johan Persson
Attending The Skating Rink, a World Premiere, commissioned by Garsington Opera was a wonderful new experience attending another Opera festival. Before I get to the opera itself, a little about the venue. This is by far the most relaxed opera festival I’ve been too (black tie is the norm but a lot wore other formal clothing especially the terrific heat that there was), it’s a stunning venue nestled in the Chiltern Hills, the venue doesn’t impose itself on to the landscape, but merges with it, as a part of it. You can have a great wander and explore a lot of the environment, on the day that I went there was a huge herd of deer in the distance.
The Skating Rink is based on the novel of the same name by Roberto Balaño, with a libretto by Rory Mullarkey, composed by David Sawer, directed and designed by Stewart Laing and conducted by Garry Walker. In a pre-performance talk, Walker talked about how he saw Sawer’s music for The Skating Rink to be amongst the most precise and challenging that he had had. He talked of how with some opera, if a note is missed or there, or not played exactly right, it doesn’t matter, but with this music, every note is there for a reason and every note must be played perfectly or it’s noticeable; luckily for the audience, Walker is a great conductor and the Garsington Opera Orchestra are fantastic.
The story is told in three acts, by three different characters: Gaspar, Remo and Enric. Each act goes over the same story but from their own perspective, bringing a new viewpoint and new to answers to some of the mysteries brought up. The structure works very well.
The set design by Laing is very effective. He ordered an ice rink from Switzerland which is fake (not frozen water) but people can skate on ice skates on it, and people can walk (carefully) on it too. It is stunning that he was able to get one and use it, seeing an actual ice skater ice skate during it is amazing. The other parts of the set- a boardwalk at the front with sand; a room that can move around the stage; tents and some boxes to separate areas all work well.
The music is an almost 50-50 split of more ‘traditional’ classical music (which I enjoy very much) and more ‘modern’ opera music (depends on it). In the first two Acts, apart from the music when the skater is skating, I would say that the music is interesting, but not too enjoyable. However, Act 3 and the Coda I loved it. The music came together, the modern aspects of the music worked perfectly with the story and it was perfect. I think if, having listened to Act 3 and the Coda I went back and rewatched Acts 1 and 2, I’d enjoy it even more.
The majority of the singers were chosen and signed on to this project 4 years ago, the roles were pretty much written with these singers in mind and it does show. For me, the strongest performers were Sam Furness as Gaspar, the lead of Act 2, his voice is fantastic and he has charm in spades. Ben Edquist as Remo, the lead of Act 1 and both Nuria’s- Lauren Zolezzi (who sang and acted) and Alice Poggio (who performed the ice skating) were all fantastic and made the audience really care which is quite an achievement when they really don’t have long to do it. Also, as it’s really important, I did love the ending, it was perfect and special kudos to Laing who who made it like incredible.
The Skating Rink is a real achievement. Is it perfect? No, but nothing is. Is it interesting and makes you want to see it again? Most definitely- Garsington, revive soon please!