Peacekeeping / The Filmmaker And The Organ Trader

Jane Fox and Ashley John Long
Asking4It Productions
Ffresh at the Wales Millennium Centre

The Performances For The Curious season at the Wales Millennium Centre has seen a vast range of acts take to the venue’s smaller stages, purveying “conventional” theatre, stand-up comedy, lounge music, drag etc. This operatic double-bill, however, has to be one of the most artistically and thematically ambitious.

Taking place in the main restaurant area, the show was introduced by one of its supporters, Welsh Assembly Member Joyce Watson, who proclaimed her ignorance of opera, but applauded the fact that the authors of the pieces we were about to see shared her abhorrence of human trafficking.

Peacekeeping begins on a note of uneasy calm. All four singers—two male, two female—are on-stage, providing a choral introduction alongside the ensemble—harp, cello and tuned percussion, with the oboeist contributing from elsewhere in the room before joining them; all eyes are on the conductor (presumably composer Ashley John Long—no programme notes were provided).

Presently, each singer moves centre-stage to deliver a solo. A woman dressed as a soldier “celebrates” the way in which females are exploited during times of war, as prostitutes or spoils of conquest. Another female singer, in an elegant gown, tells of how, in her culture, women are forced to hide their faces for fear of inflaming the passions of men, and are habitually harassed.

A male singer, clad in black and sporting a cross, warns women of hellish consequences if they do not toe the line. The other male singer, in a suit and bowler hat, does not get a solo, but plays his part in the chaotic climax, during which numerous war-zones are referenced.

Jane Fox’s libretto is angry and deeply felt, but somewhat on the nose. Long’s score veers from the tranquil to the tempestuous, before leading us to a troubled, smoothly discordant resolution. An unsettling forty minutes.

The Filmmaker And The Organ Trader is in stark stylistic contrast. Rather than utilising a live ensemble, the recorded score is electronic, and harshly ambient. We treated to a long intro (perhaps a little too long), staring at the empty stage, which now sports a tropical café-style table and some chairs.

Eventually, a short-skirted woman appears, pursued by a constantly sniffing man in a Hawaiian shirt who is filming her and promising to make her a star. Another man, more overtly rapacious, in gleaming gold jeans and t-shirt intrudes, and subjects the woman to a brutal—and, it appears, fatal—sexual assault, which his colleague records on video.

Then comes a lengthy interlude, during which the men enjoy a meal whilst poring dispassionately over the recently acquired “snuff” photographs. This is followed by the second operatic set-piece, during which a business plan is formed (the clue being in the title).

Again, the libretto makes up in passion for what it lacks in subtlety; and the music is uncomfortably hypnotic. At around thirty minutes in length, Filmmaker… is perhaps the less satisfying piece, despite its more developed narrative—it plays like a few extracts from a much larger work.

Those with a greater knowledge of opera than I will be aware that cruelty to women is a traditional theme. This skilfully performed double-bill places it squarely in a global political context, to startling effect.

Reviewer: Othniel Smith