ben frost The Wasp Factory (digipak CD, £10.50)label: Bedroom Community
‘The Wasp Factory’ is the very first opera from Bedroom Community’s Ben Frost and is an adaptation of the Iain Banks novel. It was first premiered at Austria’s Bregenz Festival and finished up in London’s Royal Opera House. This is the first time the audio has been released. Frank is no ordinary boy. The sardonic, misogynistic antihero of Ben Frost’s first opera, ‘The Wasp Factory’ - libretto by David Poutney - is a young psychopath, a sort of mad scientist manipulating human beings like insects in a depraved behavioural experiment. Born and raised off the grid on an isolated island and warped by brutal trauma, he recounts, in a series of monologues, the obsessive rituals, up to and including dispassionate human sacrifice, with which he attempts to find the balance and order hidden in the seeming chaos of an indifferent universe. The Wasp Factory of the title is a miniature maze into which Frank feeds actual wasps as a form of divination, the method of each insect’s demise - fire, poison, drowning - standing as a portent of the future. It is also an emblem of his own maze-like mind: a living, buzzing machine and a labyrinthine deathtrap. The opera itself is a kind of ritual, unfolding with the same coldly indifferent and clockwork inevitability as Frank’s machinations. However, the materials Frost works with here are perhaps warmer than one might expect from the composer of electronic experiments like ‘Aurora’ and ‘Theory Of Machines’. Now the focus is on the ‘live’ sounds of a small string ensemble and, for the first time, the human voice and over the repeating, tessellating musical cells of that string accompaniment he sets Poutney’s text to tuneful, even soulful vocal lines, an extraordinarily unreliable narrator describing scenes of extreme violence and horror in music of incongruous loveliness.
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