The Snow Child

A short and well-formed chamber opera, which shows lots of potential, but needs to pick up on the details. This is an adaptation of The Snow Child by Angela Carter that stays very true to the original.

The piece has been beautifully designed, with a carefully constructed symbolic world build up from the smallest hint.

A count and countess go riding on a midwinter day, while the count talks about the attributes he wants in a woman. The pair find a girl alone – the perfect girl from the count’s dreams. This makes the countess jealous and she tries her best to get rid of the mysterious Snow Child.

The piece does not shy away from the darker side of the story; whilst the girl is described as a child, she is the perfectly formed girl of the count’s physical desires, leading to her becoming an ambiguously paedophilic sexual object, utterly helpless to the will of the count.

The opening is weak, hampered by the Snow Child singing from sheets that are difficult to hear and understand. However, once the piece gets going it goes from strength to strength, the chorus being an absolute pleasure to hear. A wonderful atmosphere is created with touches of eerie strings, adding a lovely texture to the score, admirably constructing the cold and barren landscape around the characters. The simplistic and repetitious text of the original work suits being heightened to operatic form.

The countess’s voice and performance is nuanced and emotional to watch, plotting and scheming that bleed into helplessness and pity. The narrators, too, are a flexible ensemble that work hard to keep the piece flowing smoothly.

The piece has been beautifully designed, with a carefully constructed symbolic world build up from the smallest hint. Papers scattered across the stage are the fresh snowfall; black, white and red are the only colours seen onstage; flickering candles hang above, providing a mystical setting to perform under. The costumes of the principles are classic and look elegant and timeless - except for the necklace worn by the countess; a shame given the thought that has gone into the production as a whole.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in seeing opera at the Fringe, but who doesn’t know where to start.

Postscript 25/8/2016

After publication, we were contacted by the company with some clarification. The performance I attended was actually two separate productions. The first production The Deserted House, by Marco Galvani, was the first 10 minutes of the performance. Helena Moore, soprano, unhelpfully dressed as her character in The Snow Child but not playing that character performs The Deserted House. This was the weak opening described in the review. If I could give this piece a separate star rating it would have achieved two stars.

The Snow Child begins afterwards. It is structurally improved by the absence of the confusing opening, and maintains its rating of three stars.

The information about two performances was not mentioned on the Ed Fringe website or obvious whilst watching the show.

Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

Midwinter. Invincible. Immaculate. The count and the countess go riding through a field of snow, where they find a young girl – the perfect girl, the girl of the count's dreams and desires. As the three ride on together and their story turns to tragedy, three narrators watch and wait. Owain Park's operatic adaptation of Angela Carter's dark and intense fairy tale is a brilliant and haunting new chamber work from a terrific young composer. The show has already received praise for its choral writing, its poeticism and its evocation of an icy and barren landscape.

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