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The Blue Woman Review – Tense Atomic Violence Opera Against Women | Opera

TRoyal Opera’s latest new work is, as director Katie Mitchell describes it, perhaps more of an installation than an opera. By exploring the “fragmentation of the female psyche after sexual violence”, in music by Laura Bowler and words by Laura Lomas, The Blue Woman is in some ways reminiscent of the New Dark Age, the sequence of female composers that the Royal Opera put on its main stage in October 2020, also directed by Mitchell, with Grant Gees videos that similarly draw focus.

Eight women meet us inside blue walls: four singers in front, four cellists behind. The upper half of the stage is a long screen showing Gees’ film of a ninth woman, played quietly by Eve Ponsonby. We see her inside the bare walls of an abandoned tower apartment, or writhing like trapped in the screen, or taking a train, going down to the riverbank, walking through the city. From the lines of Lomas’ concise poetic libretto, it seems that she is searching for the person she used to be before the trauma engulfed her. The singers who deliver these lines can be four people sharing similar experiences, or four versions of the same person.

Bowler’s score, conducted by Jamie Man, plays with our perceptions. We can see the singers and cellists, but there are other sounds that amplify those that seem to come from nowhere, generated by a percussionist, or the voiceover of Lomas’ words – or, most importantly, the detailed electronic manipulation of all of the above. The cellists – Louise McMonagle, Su-a Lee, Tamaki Sugimoto and Clare O’Connell – use all sorts of techniques, sweeping and fainting and scratching. The singers – Elaine Mitchener, Gweneth Ann Rand, Lucy Schaufer and Rosie Middleton – move from speech to song and back again so fluently that the tones feel like bright colors on the words. It is episodic, static, fragmented – yet tense atmospheric.

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By the way, the route the woman in the film takes towards the end is the one that Sarah Everard took when she was abducted, although perhaps only south Londoners will take it up. With that in mind, Ponsonby’s red hair is reminiscent of Patsy Stevenson on the Clapham Common vigil, staring into the camera as police pin her to the floor. Others will find their own associations, some of them painful. The blue woman does not show a way to catharsis. But the feeling it leaves behind is one of defiant resilience – not entirely hope, not yet, but not despair either.

At the Royal Opera House, London, until 11 July.

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