LIVE REVIEW: The Wind – Erland Cooper and The Chorus of Opera North @ Sage Gateshead (24.02.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Tracy Hyman

The Wind seems a fitting title for a show happening just a few days after a series of storms hitting the country. The latest project from the prolific Orkney born Erland Cooper, in collaboration with the Chorus of Opera North, The Wind tells the story of a young girl moving West to the barren dust bowl of the Texan Prairies, with its unrelenting wind and dust storms, to live with her cousin. Unwanted attentions on the train journey there set the scene for a tumultuous emotional journey highlighting the predatory nature of men (including rape, murder and jealousy) and the vulnerabilities of a young girl in the 1920s, along with a dark warning that the wind usually drives women mad.

One of the last silent films created, as talkies became the popular art form, The Wind, directed by Victor Sjöström and starring Lillian Gish, is perhaps often overlooked, whilst considered to be one of the greatest silent films ever made.  

Erland Cooper’s musical score is the perfect accompaniment. Often inspired by the nature of his homeland Orkney, having created soundscapes of the landscape and birdlife in past compositions, he transforms The Wind into a devastatingly haunting aural delight. It is atmospheric, intense and powerful throughout, unrelenting just like the wind in the story. The vocal of the Chorus of Opera North add a ghost-like quality with their operatic vocals using the human voice as an instrument rather than for their spoken words. A chanting motif, the Mojave Chant, repeats throughout the score, weaving the story together. At one point there is a break from the atmospheric relent of the wind sounds and the woodwind play a light-hearted melody at one of the many humorous moments within the story. A welcome relief from the howling of the wind.

Erland leads from the sidelines, adding the intricacies of the live soundtrack with the many electronic and manual instruments that adorn his corner of the stage. Layers of sound come together with reel-to-reel tape, a giant fan and hand-held mic amongst other machines to create the whirling and swirling sounds; a homage to the original soundtrack, which was created in the Mojave desert with 20 aeronautic engines. In between tweaking the sounds and the effects, he looks on, overseeing the musicians like a master of a ship, smiling and nodding to the soundtrack.

This was the World Premiere of this sonic adventure, and it captures the listener and transports us into the dust land on the screen, the operatic vocals of Opera North draping across the landscape hauntingly. A requiem of sorts to the wind, to its representative the ghost horse, to the silent film era. A tribute to a long-lost art form, which both absorbs and enthrals.

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