Eötvös’ As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams
‘Operas are not customarily built around whispers and the absence of song. But the Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös always comes up with the unexpected. Calling As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams an opera at all is a liberty: better call this 1999 creation music theatre, a dream play, even a song cycle with knobs on. Whatever the label, its British premiere by Almeida Opera was something special. Sprung from the Japanese diary written by the 11th-century noblewoman known as Lady Sarashina, here was an hour of mysterious, compelling beauty, about dreams, death, orange blossoms, a hundred autumn nights. Eötvös’s triumph is to embody the diary’s wistful moods in sounds without ever shattering their fragility.
So, in place of singing we had Kathryn Harries’s speaking voice: quiet, hypnotic, electronically enhanced. Alongside lurked a trio of dream figures, dominated by Richard Jackson. Whether slithering cat or purring gentleman visitor, he made each character special. In place of an orchestra came two trombones and the extraordinary, unwieldy sousaphone, with the rest recorded on multitrack tape, diffused through loudspeakers.
Eötvös’s quicksilver music spun off into fantasy blessed always with a dramatic edge. Mike Svoboda and Gérard Buquet’s trombones duelled and blasted like ancient weapons of war. From loudspeakers poured a carnival of surprises: a sword unsheathed, a chattering piano, the tick-tock of passing time. All fresh, fragrant, and human.’