SUN+SEA at The Albany
Sun & Sea, a multiple award-winning opera that is being given its UK premiere by The Albany, is like nothing else you’ll ever see, an astonishing cocktail of contrasts that takes the weird and the wonderful, the surreal and the all-too-horribly real, the cosmic and the mundane and melds them into a minimalist masterpiece about global catastrophe. It’s a human vignette that manages microcosmically to encapsulate the sum of the manifold disasters now threatening Mankind.
The jaw-dropping effect of the production - created by Lithuanian composer Lina Lapelytė, librettist Vaiva Grainytė and director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė (pictured below) - begins the moment you step on to the circular balcony of the Albany and find yourself looking down on an auditorium that has been transformed into a sunlit beach complete with real sand, 25 real swimsuited holidaymakers and even a real dog.
The performers, a mix of pro singers and volunteers, are a careful cross-section of society. They include an elderly couple worrying about the chemicals in their suncream, young children making sandcastles, a smugly well-off mum who regards a bleached coral reef as a must-see tourist attraction, an ageing businessman worrying about his career, a young widow whose husband drowned in Thailand, a gay couple enjoying their first holiday together, a pair of identical twin sisters (one of whom may be a 3D printout) and a pair from the Far East who toss a beachball decorated with a map of the world. The symbolism may be obvious but it’s never heavy-handed.
The libretto eschews dialogue and instead has the characters soliloquise about their own hopes and fears – and , by extension, our hopes and fears for the planet. Each aria and choral interval is set to a wondrously simple minimalist score which brilliantly emphasises the magnitude of the problems engulfing us and our world, from macroeconomic madness to global warming, from toxic waste to climate change. And all of them are sung beautifully.
It’s not difficult to see why Sun & Sea, which is at the Albany as part of acclaimed London theatre festival LIFT, has already been showered with international awards – its subject may be apocalyptic and its mood mournful but the production throbs with life and joyful originality, underscoring yet again the power of contrast to put across a message. It runs until 10 July. Whatever you do, don’t miss it.