Page last updated at 13:20 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Blacked-out opera debuts in bar

Claire Booth and Susan Bickley
The performers had to make do without the original set seen here

The cast of a new opera was forced into an impromptu debut in the bar of the Royal Opera House after a power cut.

The lights went out 10 minutes into the press night of composer George Benjamin's updated Pied Piper story, Into the Little Hill, on Saturday.

After 90 minutes of failed repair work, the two singers and 16 member orchestra performed perched among empty glasses.

The critics liked it: "In that confined space it was mesmerising," said The Times. "Who needs lights?"

The first half of the evening's entertainment, Harrison Birtwistle's piece Down by the Greenwood Side, had gone ahead without a hitch at the Linbury Studio theatre within the opera house in Covent Garden, central London.

But then the power failure left 400 members of the audience sitting in the dark for 25 minutes before they were moved into the bar area and given free drinks.

Squatting on the floor

Around 100 die-hard music lovers hung on in hope of the performance resuming.

Composer Benjamin, who was also conducting the work, took the decision that the show must go on despite the lack of a crucial projection screen, flawless acoustics or even a stage.

It was past the original end time of the production when soprano Claire Booth, mezzo Susan Bickley and the London Sinfonietta crowded around the bar to continue.

The transplanted audience squatted on the floor for the 40-minute duration of the opera.

The work was first seen in the UK as part of Liverpool's Capital of Culture year and has been met with acclaim at performances throughout Europe.

A matinee showing at the Royal Opera House went ahead successfully on Sunday and performances scheduled for later this week are not expected to be affected.

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