BWW Reviews: THE BLANK CANVAS, King's Head Theatre, August 31 2014
Lucy (Melanie Sanders) is a painter who has lost her husband Peter (Edmund Hastings) and is losing her mind, as visions fill her studio's blank canvases and her husband looms in plain sight - dead, but walking and talking, as the memory plays tricks.
Gio (Edward Hughes) loves Lucy, but Lucy can't let Peter go, which tests Gio but does not break him. When the physical reason for the visual invasions of geometric shapes is diagnosed, Lucy's eyes become ever weaker, but her vision for her future becomes ever clearer.
Composer Spyros Syrmos and first-time librettist Fay Wrixon won the second of OperaUpClose's annual Flourish new opera writing competitions with a piece that sounds grim on paper but has many funny, touching, moving moments as Lucy finds her way between Peter, an ordinary guy who happens to love a brilliant artist and Gio, a promoter who just can't conceal his delight at news that Sky Arts are planning a documentary on Lucy - much to her disdain.
It's not just the story that's bang up to date, so too is the music (beautifully played by Chad Kelly, Alyson Frazier and William Renwick), the notes often crashing against each other as Lucy's visions torment her. But, lurking somewhere between piano, flute and vibraphone, as it lurks in Lucy's mind, is a resolution, a calmness, a more melodious tone that music and mind slowly edge toward.
The singing is, as so often with OperaUpClose's productions thrillingly, well... close up, voices soaring and dipping within touching distance - and look out for the champagne cork! Edward Hughes and Edmund Hastings (how bizarre that their names are so alike given that they play two halves of the "one man" Lucy so needs) sing with tremendous power, but are perfectly balanced against the instruments and for the space - not something that all performers get right first time when up close. Melanie Sanders does a lot of worrying, a lot of frowning, but always stays (just) on the right side of sanity, her singing never less than demonstrating a mind that is sliding but not yet out of control. Her voice is a delight, the aural equivalent of the paintings we never see.
The Blank Canvas (continuing on Sundays at The King's Head Theatre) is a serious piece of work that asks questions about the limits of what we can see and judge, in terms of both the physical world and the emotional world. Music, singing and acting come together to offer multiple layers of explanation - or, just maybe, to offer multiple reasons to let one's spirit free and follow one's heart.