Zinnie Harris's play about a dark future is turned into an opera.
Love, death, tragedy, romance: opera usually has performers singing about epic, highfalutin topics. But in husband and wife duo Zinnie and John Harris’s short opera set in a tiny kitchen, at one point the performers sing about getting a beer out of the fridge.
This is opera but probably not as most people might know it. ‘The Garden’ is adapted from Zinnie Harris’s play of the same name about a husband and wife in a dystopian future. The audience sit in the kitchen with the two performers, who sweat ferociously because the temperature in their world is high. While the man is out at work, creating a report on the population crisis and what can be done about it, the woman is at home. It’s when a shrub, a green living thing – not something they’re used to seeing – pokes its way out of the floor under the lino that their world begins to break down.
Pauline Knowles and Alan McHugh aren’t opera singers, but they are very good here nonetheless. They begin by speaking their lines, but slowly, here and there, a word is sung and the lines begin to sound more musical. John Harris’s music eventually envelopes the dialogue and soon they are singing throughout, about the strange plant, about the world, about their relationship and about the future.
The sound is not operatic, it’s subtle and intense and has a haunting, longing feel to it and it’s easy to forget that the couple are singing at all. But they are and this adds to the oddness of their world. It’s a surreal, strange piece that burrows under the skin and stays with you.