The Blank Canvas

Music, Classical and opera
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Spyros Syrmos’s debut opera has moments of originality but needs to be painted fully.

In an opera about an artist called Lucy who suffers from a condition that causes her to see a riot of shapes and colours where none exist, one might expect, well… a riot of shapes and colours.

Unfortunately, much of Spyros Syrmos’s debut opera lives up to its name, and while the score to ‘The Blank Canvas’ has suggestions of Bartók in its stark, crystalline soundworld, there is little invention in the music itself – the piano and vibraphone endlessly swapping chiming chords, while the shrill flute follows the vocal line.

And yet, there are moments of originality. The unusual instrumentation – the singing of a lullaby against a brooding, angular accompaniment – shows some good ideas, but too often the arias outstay their welcome as their simple melodies repeat unchangingly.

The libretto by Fay Wrixon – based on her own story – tells of a woman, coming to terms with the onset of blindness, who belatedly discovers her late husband Peter’s secret support of her career – yet still eventually falls for her pining agent, Gio. It is not clear what the message is in all this tumult, and it’s not helped by Lucy Bradley’s mostly static direction.

Such shortcomings, though, are not the fault of the singers or musicians. The soprano Melanie Sanders gives a gripping vocal performance as Lucy, Edward Hughes provides solid support as Gio, and another tenor, Edmund Hastings, grows in confidence as Peter. The ensemble, too, play confidently.

‘The Blank Canvas’ is the winner of OperaUpClose’s Flourish writing competition and there is definitely the sketch of an original and engaging opera here – but it needs to be painted fully.

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