Postcards From Dumbworld

In typically unconventional fashion, composer Brian Irvine continues to confound with his latest opera

Familiarity with Brian Irvine’s musical and compositional career leaves one in the happy position of thinking that you know what to expect. Amusingly, one experiences a typical unconventionality surrounding this first complete performance of his latest opera Postcards from Dumbworld.

I'm intrigued by the symbiotic relationship which has grown up between Irvine and his co-conspirator in all things unorthodox, John McIlduff. The latter wrote the deceptively deranged libretto for this piece of theatricality.

Of course, putting on an opera is a massive undertaking and even the army – the 'cast of thousands' – before the audience on stage and below the stage are only the front line. Especially impressive are the many fine voices, such as baritone Jonathan McGovern or soprano Rebekeh Coffey. But the casting is consistently of a high standard and mention of one or two in particular is unfair.

Backing all of the singers is the latest incarnation of the Brian Irvine Ensemble, which again proves that its members would doubtlessly sell their souls to achieve what their eponymous leader desires. I could not envisage members of any other musical entity behaving like lunatics to get the exact effect required. But I am not fooled: these musicians are highly capable performers and skilled improvisers.

Musically then, from a vocal and instrumental standpoint, Postcards From Dumbworld provides the vehicle for a totally professional production and one that has been worth all the support it has received. The difficulty though, in one hearing, is trying to figure out what this opera is all about:

'Set in a world where bingo, bubbles and giant rabbits conspire to create unmeasurable happiness the opera follows the lives and struggles of several interconnected individuals...'

Most of those individuals are not exactly ordinary but each one of them portrays, in a heightened sense, aspects of personality which are entirely recognisable by each and every one of us. Characters such as Morris the 30-something who hasn’t quite managed to find his role in life; Shirley, his concerned mother and slightly larger than life bingo caller; Eddie the fantasist misfit; the shy repressed librarian; the duo of hoodie bullies. And others. Dumbworld is evidently full of these people. But is it a world I want to contemplate?

And maybe here is the real point behind this opera. Brian Irvine’s eccentrically individual music creates a sensitive and sympathetic space in which these operatic characters can find a voice. I don’t think this is 'an opera with a mission' but like all good art, Postcards from Dumbworld can generously transform the unlikeable into the acceptable - and, through its many moments of humour and pathos, maybe provide us with a sensitive little glimpse of whatever heaven is to us.

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