Oh. My. Stars. Let me start by saying that I have fond memories of attending a performance of Judith Weir’s opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom at The Royal Opera House back in 1990 (I think) when Scottish Opera came down for a week’s residence, and three years later admired the slightly dotty Blond Eckbert at ENO. We’ve had to wait almost twenty years for Weir’s latest full-scale opera, Miss Fortune which opened at last year’s Bregenz Festival to lukewarm notices, and last night it received its UK premiere at The Royal Opera, who co-commissioned the piece. It was an outstanding disaster.
It’s hard to know where to start, but as I sat slack-jawed at the sheer awfulness of the entire undertaking, served up in Chen Shi-Zheng’s arty, vacuous staging, I couldn’t help but think of all the operas crying out for a staging at this most prestigious of addresses, that continue to be neglected. Could no one have pulled the plug before this witless farrago ever got near a stage? What was Weir thinking of? The opera is based on an old Sicilian ‘Riches to Rags’ story, but Weir has updated it, apparently to make it a fable for our times, and in the process has completely lost her way both musically and dramatically. The libretto is an embarrassment, unless of course Weir’s target was an audience of under-7s. Musically it’s instantly forgettable, although to give the composer her due I’m convinced the scene where the ladies are pressing shirts (yes, it really is that exciting), is a tongue-in-cheek parody of Siegfried’s forging song. It made me smile. But that was about it.
Rasping trombones, tinkling piano, and unremarkable vocal lines make up the opera. At an hour and a half (thankfully there's a thirty-minute interval), the opera is an hour shorter than Das Rheingold, yet feels twice as long. Throw in a brace of black break-dancers, who go around torching things and generally making a nuisance of themselves and you have some racist stereotyping of black people thrown in for good measure. It beggars belief.
A fine cast is wasted on this drivel, but full marks to Emma Bell (Miss Fortune), Anne-Marie Owens (Donna), Andrew Watts (Fate) and Noah Stewart (Hassan) for showing such stoicism in the face of adversity. As Simon, who sings about how lovely his shirts are ironed, Jacques Imbrailo gives a stellar performance. Paul Daniel conducts efficiently and the orchestra do what they can. An evening best forgotten.