Mark Simpson: reviews of Pleasure on tour
Mark Simpson's new chamber opera Pleasure, a powerful drama set amidst the abandon of a gay nightclub, was premiered in April, touring from Leeds to Liverpool, Aldeburgh and London.
Mark Simpson’s new chamber opera Pleasure won plaudits on its premiere tour to Leeds, Liverpool, Aldeburgh and London. Jointly commissioned by Opera North, Aldeburgh Music and The Royal Opera, the work is compactly scored for four singers and ten instrumentalists. As staged by Tim Albery with Psappha conducted by Nicholas Kok, Pleasure demonstrated the 27-year-old composer’s vivid theatrical imagination, developed across an eight-year gestation with librettist Melanie Challenger.
"Simpson says that his inspiration came from his experiences on the Liverpool club scene, in which he and other young men sought emotional solace from a sybil-like toilet attendant. Yet it turns out to be the perfect operatic subject: squalid and earthbound yet imbued with a radiant, almost mythic quality… At the start of what one hopes will be a long operatic career, Simpson has pulled off a genuine coup."
"Simpson’s self-confessed aim is that his music should supply those qualities of intimacy, beauty, warmth, pain and suffering that he sees lacking in much contemporary opera. He does this with skill, variety and strong dramatic impulse… With a sterling cast led by Lesley Garrett – powerfully eloquent, suppressing her natural glamour and embracing dowdiness – and Steven Page brilliant as a cynical drag queen, all angles and bones and bling and slap, it has the makings of a hit."
"Don’t be misled by the title. Though just 75 minutes long, this gripping new opera is a potent cocktail of incident and emotion — but far more about pain than pleasure… Though written for just ten instrumentalists, the score is virtuosically varied, with the strings generating tenderness or lyrical fervour in contrast to the predominantly churning, dark-hued wind writing. Although there is no direct pastiche of club music, Simpson slips in enough hints of techno to suggest the hedonist escapism of the dance floor we never see."
"The very first instrumental notes are dark and sombre, and they prepare us for a scenario which is essentially disturbing and, for two of the four characters, ultimately tragic… Psappha brought out the great variety of colours and textures in Simpson’s brilliant score. Pleasure makes a powerful impact…"
"…the score radiated warmth and zest…"
The first all-Simpson disc, featuring chamber and ensemble works, has just been released on the NMC label, and this summer brings his orchestral opener Israfel to the BBC Proms and first performances of a new trio at the Edinburgh and Salzburg Festivals, with the composer as clarinettist joined by Pierre Laurent-Aimard and Antoine Tamestit.
> Further information on Work: Pleasure
Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke