Review: The Invader at Theatre Royal, Waterford
The intimacy of the superbly refurbished Theatre Royal in Waterford proves an ideal venue for the première performances of Dublin-born Waterford-resident Eric Sweeney's opera The Invader.
Written in collaboration with poet-librettist Mark Roper, the work celebrates the 1,100th anniversary of Waterford's city status.
The piece is loosely based on 'The Bacchae' of Euripides where King Pentheus and his mother Agave are punished by the god Dionysius because of the king's refusal to worship him.
In Sweeney/Roper we find the parallel Rex and his mother Agatha as well as his daughter Mia, an additional but necessary character to their plot, as well as Dion, the Invader in question.
The opera has a contemporary setting but a female chorus traces its origins back to ancient Greek theatre. With a 10-piece orchestra, the eight-scene structure becomes a concise chamber opera.
'The Invader' is imaginatively presented by the Theatre Royal's own director, Ben Barnes. Monica Frawley's sitting-room design gives the small stage a cramped look but maybe this reflects the 'walled city' in Rex's mind where he over-protects his daughter and leaves one questioning their close relationship.
Folding French windows lead to the 'forest' beyond where Dion and his slaves live in uninhibited abandon.
The end result is none too savoury. Mia, lured by Dion into his wanton band, kills her father.
Sweeney, who conducts, draws one into his dramatic and sensitively melodic minimalist score from the opening bars of his arresting prelude. As the work progresses, he shows his skill in tackling both aria and ensemble that follow a traditional operatic arrangement. His instrumental writing is never less than sentient in supporting the voices and adding its own potent expressiveness.
In the central quartet, mezzo Alison Browner, with consistently clear diction, is a rock of strength as Agatha. As she cradles her dead son pieta-like in her arms, Ms Browner brings emotional credibility to the opera's conclusion.
Soprano Natasha Jouhl, initially somewhat nondescript as Mia, becomes more incisively involved as the tragedy unfolds. Baritone Joe Corbett could be somewhat more focused as father/king Rex yet he brings considerable dignity to what is a demanding role.
Tenor Telman Gurhevsky offers plenty of light and shade as the Mephistophelian Dion and he uses his striking range with varying degrees of timbre and colour.
The seven-strong choral group commands sterling strength as it moves between impassive commentators and sensual seductresses.
The Invader, which will be at the Wexford Opera House next Saturday, deserves a niche in the chamber opera repertory. Hopefully, it will secure it.