Tete a Tete festival aims to stretch definition of modern opera

Tete a Tete opera festival in King's Cross

Tete a Tete opera festival in King's Cross - Credit: Archant

This King’s Cross new opera festival is hit and miss, but well worth a visit, says Michael White.

It’s called the “world’s largest festival of new opera”, and with 40 different shows playing over three weeks, that may well be true of the Tete a Tete Festival which comes round again this month.

The shows are short – which is as well because you can never guarantee the quality.

They play on a conveyor-belt system, three or four per night, though sometimes more. And they require an open mind as to what opera actually is, because some of them stretch the boundaries beyond recognition.

But if you’re prepared to take a punt, Tete a Tete can be a curious, exotic and enlivening experience (if crazy). And this year it happens in multiple venues, all based around King’s Cross.

Potential highlights (though you never know) include a Rock Tosca, a pair of pieces by film composer Jocelyn Pook about mental crisis, and a show called “My Voice and Me” based on the true story of a singer who loses his voice so completely he can make no sound at all. An operatic challenge if there ever was one.

But something else to watch for is an adaptation of the MRJames ghost story “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You” by former Camden Town composer Louis Mander and his Belsize Park librettist Jack Cherry.

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For Cherry it’s a first venture into opera, after starting out in rock bands and then studying double-bass. For Mander it’s the latest in a catalogue of operas on which he’s collaborated with eminenti like Stephen Fry - who wrote the libretto for a setting of EMForster’s “The Life to Come” which has lived up to its name in that it’s still waiting for a production.

“But that”, says Mander, “is an epic piece. “Whistle” is just 45minutes with a cast of three singers, one dancer. And not unduly serious. Whimsical is probably the word”.

According to the website it’s The Others crossed with Fawlty Towers, which might suggest that Mander has no interest in ghosts. But when I ask, he casually drops into the conversation that apart from writing music he works part-time in clairvoyance.

Keep that open mind.

Tete a Tete runs 21 Jul – 9 Aug. Oh Whistle & I’ll Come plays Sat 1st Aug & Sun 2nd at the Drill Hall, Chenies St. Details: tet-a-tete.org.uk

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