Owain Park, a young composer literally at the end of his final year studying Music at Cambridge University, presented his chamber opera The Snow Child at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His eerie, bleak musical landscape instils the haunting story of a count and countess and their encounter with a beautiful snow child in the dead of winter.
Adapted from Angela Carter’s fairy tale from her short stories book The Bloody Chamber, Park captures the disturbing, dark shadows that befall the innocent snow child. Gareth Mattey’s staging was minimal. Paper was sporadically laid on the stage with moody lights above, alluding to icicles and setting our frosty scene.
With a unique chamber orchestra and six talented voices, which include three narrators, the music is unsettling, atmospheric and distinctive. Through the poetic chamber score, the opera subtly combines with splendid solo passages from its singers, which hint on the macabre and ghastly nature of the short tale.
The musicians of the performance (currently waiting for official names from the company) I saw at Edinburgh’s Paradise in Augustines were superb. String, percussion, and woodwind instruments had their own place within the score that evolved into a variety of textures and intricate details, highlighting the sinister winter’s journey.
Peter Lidbetter and Amber Evans gave fine performances as the count and countess. They evoked their characters well – a passive and lustful count besotted by the naked child in the snow and a green-eyed countess. The narrators, Hannah King, Ed Roberts and Sam Mitchell, also provided interesting vocal colouring as a group ensemble or solo act. Yet, Helena Moore provided the purity and virtuousness of our Snow Child. Dressed in white, her voice conjured the angelic and naïve victim, the counter balance of the count and countess who eventually murder and ravage her.
Intriguing as this new work was, however, I felt that surtitles or a libretto at hand would have been beneficial. At times I felt out of the loop and unsure of where we were in the story.
Before we were introduced to the opera, Moore sang Marco Galvani’s work The Deserted House, a poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, to open up the evening. Acting as a warm-up and neat pathway into The Snow Child, it wasn’t as inspiring or stimulating as the chamber opera itself. Yet the intention was there to prepare the audience for a gruesome expedition of grime story-telling.