Gods of the Game: a Football Opera

Music by Julian Philips, Aran O’Grady, Ábel Esbenshade, Blasio Kavuma and Lucy Armstrong, writer and librettist Phil Porter
Grange Park Opera
Released

Soren (David Webb), Viko (Michel de Souza) Credit: Marc Brenner
Eva (Milly Forrest), Viko (Michel de Souza) Credit: Marc Brenner
President (Alan Ewing), Soren (David Webb) Credit: Marc Brenner

Gods of the Game: a Football Opera could be the perfect introduction to opera for anybody who thinks that the art form is pompous or stuffy.

This brand-new 100-minute work, recorded before a live audience on stage last month, is not too far from a musical. In addition, it shamelessly borrows highlights from everyone’s favourite opera / TV adverts, while the best of the singing would do credit to any operatic stage.

The drama would also be worthy of a classical opera, partly because it tends towards the melodramatic as one might expect when the subject matter is football.

The first half takes place in 2029 as two unnamed countries vie for the right to host the soccer World Cups for men and women the following year.

On one side sit honourable Viko and Eva from a relatively disadvantaged nation. On the other is Soren, a bumptious, self-confident prig of the kind that theatre audiences love to hate.

In achieving his goal (pun absolutely intended), Soren not only presents his country’s credentials to the selection committee but also a hefty cheque to the organisation in addition to healthy backhanders for those in positions of influence.

They are led by bass Alan Ewing who believes that presidency should primarily be a stepping stone to the benefits of bribery and corruption.

The second half comprises not only a pair of World Cup Finals but also a more insidious battle between the forces of integrity and those who believe in winning at all costs.

Perhaps inevitably, the women’s match is a curtain raiser to the men with plucky Eva, gorgeously sung by soprano Milly Forrest, beautifully demonstrating the trials and tribulations both of playing the biggest match of her life and then trying to beat the system.

In doing the latter, she is nobly accompanied by her old mucker on the field Martina, now a film director portrayed by mezzo Idunnu Münch.

What follows in the men’s match is pure Boy’s Own fantasy, combining aggression, cheating and late goals, the fun boosted by breathless and hilariously humourless commentary from Lee Mack.

The on-field drama as Michel De Souza’s strong baritone Vico contends with the flightier tenor of David Webb playing Soren then moves across to the committee room and the front pages of the papers to leave a satisfyingly tied-up ending.

With the assistance of director P J Harris, Grange Park Opera has done this new work proud, staging the action in a compact gym-like space enlivened by Duncan McLean’s video designs which enable a much larger chorus to support the performers on stage and The Gascoigne Orchestra conducted by George Jackson.

Since the show will be free to air on Sky Arts, anyone who enjoys opera or football is strongly encouraged to give it a go.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher