Corinthia Hotel, London
By Hannah Nepil
Seven years ago, the composer Tom Lane unleashed Flatpack: The Ikea Opera. It was just what one would have imagined: spectators being led through the rooms of the Scandinavian furnishings giant, which conveniently doubled up as ready-made sets. All the music was inspired by the hum of a food mixer, and even the text paid homage to the surroundings, constantly referencing Ikea merchandise. One scene consisted of nothing but the word ‘Billy’, in loving tribute to the highly affordable, highly transportable bookcase.
Found and Lost, a new opera installation by composer Emily Hall, feels like an upmarket reincarnation of that. It unfolds in the five-star Corinthia Hotel on London’s Embankment, exploiting every corner, from the plush master bedrooms to the cramped boiler room, and its bathetic libretto is largely dictated by whatever we happen to be passing, be that hydrangeas and freesias, or pillows and duvets.
All of which scores high on atmosphere, less so on plot. I’m not entirely sure what Found and Lost is about, other, in the loosest sense, than a tryst between the hotel manager and his mistress. She pops up intermittently, on the hotel’s staircase, on a television screen in one of the bedrooms, and in the hotel bar, where she slams down a glass and ostentatiously flounces out. Finally we see her hovering over her lover’s passed-out frame, singing a hypnotic ditty and brandishing a pillow.
Is she going to smother him? Who knows. This production revels in being mysterious, as does Emily Hall’s concoction of dissonant harmonies and medieval drone, which often seems just out of reach. At times it pours out from hidden speakers. At one point we hear the growl of a distant cellist, who only reveals himself to be Oliver Coates once we’ve negotiated the labyrinthine corridors. At full throttle though it’s haunting, powerful music, which, like the works of Benjamin Britten, harnesses the power of suggestion.
One wonders, though, who it’s all for. The audience is limited to twelve, and it’s far-outnumbered by the performers, including seven singers, a cellist, two actors, a guide and several on-hand hotel staff. But that very lack of business acumen was all part of the charm. Found and Lost laughs in the face of practicality. And, in a production of such ambition and imagination, it was easy to join in.