Jody Talbot’s Everest with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican
Mount Everest: the summit of the world. It is the mountaineer’s ultimate prize and has claimed hundreds of lives since Tenzing and Hillary’s celebrated first ascent 70 years ago. Joby Talbot’s 2015 one-act opera, taking its name from the great peak, tells the suspenseful tale of elements of the 1996 Everest disaster, in which eight people lost their lives, adding to the collection of corpses littering the mountain’s upper portion, never to be readily retrieved.
This opera is bleak and brilliant, its suspense fraught and captivating. The music possesses an eeriness that reflects both wilderness and vast expanse, honing in on the great danger faced by the characters in tackling the seemingly unachievable ascent. Though the work only focuses on parts of the disaster (the three members of the Indo-Tibetan border police who also lost their lives that day do not get a mention, for example), the characters’ tales are here conveyed with a wrenching intensity by a talented cast. Tenor Andrew Bidlack shines as Rob Hall, a New Zealand-born mountaineer and expedition leader, his fine voice, narrow and true, navigating the character’s miasmatic passages with rare beauty.
The piece is quite a matter-of-fact one, so far as contemporary operas go. It is largely literal, seldom straying into the murky, abstract world of symbolism. Slightly elevated fragments of staging represent the globe’s greatest peaks, and the performers roast away in complete and genuine mountaineering gear.
True, the genre can sometimes feels as inaccessible as, say, the summit of Mount Everest, but, in Everest, Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Sheer have achieved something entirely engaging that suits this cast and the BBC Symphony Orchestra down to the ground. Tension is rife yet poised, melody ponderous yet intriguing: a brilliant work brilliantly realised.
Photo: Mark Allan
For further information and future events visit Jody Talbot’s Everest with the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s website here.