O’Regan/Phillips open their “Heart” to praise at London premiere

"Superb": Alan Oke, right, as Marlow, with the "splendid" Sipho Fubesi, front left, in Tarik O'Regan's The Heart of Darkness. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

The maiden voyage into Heart of Darkness is complete! On November 1, the AOP-developed chamber opera from Tarik O’Regan and Tom Phillips premiered at London’s Royal Opera House in a co-production by ROH2 and Opera East. AOP Artistic Director Charles Jarden, Managing Director and Board President Bob Lee and several members of the AOP Board were there at the Linbury Studio Theater to see the creators take their bows with so much joy and pride that they barely noticed that they were up to their ankles in the set’s water-filled stage.

“This is a show that any opera company in the world would have been proud to present,” said Mr. Lee. “It’s been incredible to watch it grow through our public development process, from libretto to premiere. AOP does really provide something to opera audiences that they can’t get anywhere else – witnessing the creation of a work of art from beginning to end.”

Across the pond here at the AOP office, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of positive response from audience and critics alike. Stephen Pritchard from The Guardian/Observer UK  in particular gave an incredible rave:

Workshopped by OperaGenesis and American Opera Projects, it was developed by Opera East and ROH2 ready for its triumphant world premiere last week – 75 minutes of intense, sinister storytelling, combining crystal-clear narrative with complex ideas about idealism and self-delusion… Underpinning all this is a score of concise originality. Restless, leaping woodwind propel the narrative through the murky waters of the Congo, while interesting combinations of sonorities – double bass and classical guitar, for instance – trickle and bubble through the music… Concision is nowhere more evident than in Tom Phillips’s gloriously spare libretto. Drawn entirely from Conrad’s own writing, it hacks through the dense jungle of the author’s prose and elevates it to the status of the finest poetry.

Jeanne Whalen of The Wall Street Journal said, “’Heart of Darkness’ is very good … The English-language libretto by Tom Phillips is beautiful. … If you think of opera as an often bloated, over-wrought art form with hammy plots and acting, you would do well to try this one. It is elegant, moving, and, at just 75 minutes, short enough to allow time for dinner afterward.” And Claire Seymour from Opera Today said that Tarik O’Regan’s “fluent melodic idiom…skillfully evoked place and ambience with precision and impact.” And finally we can’t help but repeat that “preliminary development work with American Opera Projects and ROH 2’s OperaGenesis, reaped dividends for the finished article as jointly presented by Opera East Productions and ROH2.” Nice to know we’re doing it right.

Read The Genesis Foundation’s digest of press reviews for HEART OF DARKNESS.

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