Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House,
Launched by the Royal Opera House last year, the OperaShots programme offers composers from unconventional backgrounds a chance to take their first "shot" at opera. Alumni include composers of film and TV scores, and pop and world music artists. Characterised as a "shot across the bows of opera", the scheme is designed to challenge those traditions that give the genre such a bad name. Combining big names and boundary-breaking, it is also the kind of the project whose misguided worthiness bellows louder than any operatic tenor.
Leading the charge in 2011 have been Anne Dudley, composer for The Full Monty and arranger for the Pet Shop Boys, and Stewart Copeland, a member of the Police whose film scores include Wall Street and Rumble Fish. With Copeland's extensive experience of writing for the concert hall and Dudley's gift for orchestration, it was a programme that promised sophomore skill after the hit-and-miss attempts of last year's freshmen.
Copeland's history as a drummer throbbed through the rhythms of The Tell-Tale Heart, his version of Edgar Allan Poe's macabre miniature, a grisly, Gothic nugget. The musical processes may have been rather undigested, but the stagey drama of Soutra Gilmour's fleapit theatre designs and Copeland's libretto lent weight to the music's simplicity. All jazz inflections and sung-spoken narrative, the whole thing had the feel of the Zeitoper of Weimar Germany - witty and darkly self-regarding, but neutered by a complete absence of innovation.
If Copeland's composition owed more to Purcell than pop, Dudley's The Doctor's Tale was even cagier about its lineage. A scrubbed and polished post-Sondheim piece of musical theatre, the score's slick orchestration was glossy and expensive, but disguised a lack of personality. Terry Jones's absurdist libretto of a dog-turned-doctor offered some consolation but, in an opera an hour in length, the motifs felt eked out.
These two works are entertaining experiments, but under the banner of opera they are at best failures and at worst frauds. If these were the best shots that contemporary composers have to hurl at opera's sturdy hull, then Bohème and Butterfly will live to fight another day - a pyrrhic victory indeed for a genre so desperately in need of worthy provocateurs.