Eclectic cherry-picking has a distinguished history in music: figures as diverse as Shostakovich and Ravel used it to great effect. However, when a composer interpolates borrowed styles into an opera score it is vital that these serve and advance the drama and don’t distract us for their own sake. In Aurora, his second commission for Bury Court Opera, Noah Mosley includes allusions both plain or oblique to Beethoven, Mahler, Michel Legrand, Nino Rota, gypsy melodies and the soft shoe shuffle, together with quick bursts of turbo-charged oom-pah. Too much already.

Katherine Aitken (Wild Woman) and Isolde Roxby (Aurora) © Robert Workman
Katherine Aitken (Wild Woman) and Isolde Roxby (Aurora)
© Robert Workman

Yet the young composer’s professionalism cuts through in thoroughly satisfying orchestrations delivered by a first-rate 18-piece band wherein a standard instrumentation is enhanced by an accordion’s welcome tang. For long spells the scoring itself is a freewheeling pleasure – although one that’s tune-led rather than drama-led, much to its detriment. Mosley’s second act is more convincing than his first as it relies less on pastiche and more on his own language. Some of his supernatural motifs are especially impressive. This talented young composer needs to heed his own voice.

Aurora is based on the Italian folk tale of a princess who languishes close to death for no discernible reason and is cured by a mysterious wild woman who cautions her not to abuse the spell that has saved her. The spoilt girl takes no notice and is duly punished; but after rejecting the courtship of one prince she is rescued by another and a happy ending awaits.

The story is a good choice for opera as it treads both familiar and unfamiliar territory, but it requires careful treatment in order to grip a modern audience. Ideally it also needs some degree of relevance to our times. Mosley’s strengths notwithstanding, this one falls short.

Isolde Roxby (Aurora) and Magid El-Bushra (The Rejected Prince) © Robert Workman
Isolde Roxby (Aurora) and Magid El-Bushra (The Rejected Prince)
© Robert Workman

It is almost saved by its production. There are brilliant visual touches in Aylin Bozok’s stylish concept for Bury Court Opera and the monochrome aesthetic is clearly realised. Designer Holly Pigott’s stark, clean lines are helped by Ben Pickersgill’s outstandingly atmospheric lighting but hindered by a couple of impossibly steep steps that remove every singer’s dignity when they clamber up or down them.

Yet what excellent young artists they are, and how confidently they negotiate the feebleness of Elisabetta Campeti's libretto in which characters introduce themselves with all the subtlety of an interview candidate. “I’m the king,” announces Andrew Tipple’s gruff but suave King. “Bregostena is my name,” declares Katherine Aitken’s crook-backed, evocatively sung Wild Woman.

Dominic Bowe as the Exiled Prince (and Aurora’s eventual husband) has the worst of it in a leave-taking solo scena that fills the prologue. “Farewell, fragrant woods,” he calls. A little later: “Now it is time to set out”. Eventually: “But no I must go away”. Well, indeed. Yet Bowe, too, is an asset to the production and a worthy match to Isolde Roxby’s outstanding Aurora. Pleasantly rounded both vocally and in her characterisation, this young, blissfully-monikered soprano holds the evening together. Not even she can escape the clunky lyrics, alas, as witness the triple tautology of “Oh no! That is terrible! I’m so sorry.”

Andrew Tipple (The King) © Robert Workman
Andrew Tipple (The King)
© Robert Workman

A first-rate chorus of 11 is kept busy in various groupings, most notably as hunters (“We are the hunters”) and river nymphs (“We are river nymphs”). Bozok treats them to a little light choreography whenever possible, something that’s doubly welcome in an opera where too many talking heads stand and deliver the plot in order to fill us in.

In places Aurora resembles a musical, but without the toe-tapping tunes and with terrible lyrics, while the titular princess’s lack of emancipation has dated it from the outset. The opera's message is little more than ‘what matters to a girl is picking the right prince’, and from a female librettist a line like “…the only two women I have loved on this unredeemable earth” is, sadly, irredeemable.

**111