Review: Obsession An Opera in a Play?

Reviewed on 18th May 2017

The theatre as a whole is the home to all form of art from plays, musicals to opera and many more, these different forms can often be inspired by each other to create based on what they have seen. Obsession, directed by Ivo van Hove and based on the film by Luchino Visconti brings forward a lot of elements from opera’s history in a way that feels as a nod to it’s history rather than a pastiche that for me makes the show very enjoyable.

The production begins with a very minimalist set on the large stage the Barbican offers yet this does not feel underdressed or empty which is an impressive achievement, what is equally as impressive is each of the pieces of the set that stay throughout the production such as a accordion that can play itself, a engine that hangs from the ceiling or a treadmill disguised to match the wood flooring. Each of these pieces feel well thought out and well executed which is made better by the support of the lighting which supports each of these elements and as the story progresses supports the moments on stage very effectively.


The story of Obsession follows Gino (Jude Law) who walks in on a dictatorship marriage with an old man (Joseph) and a young woman (Hanna). The relationship between Gino and Hanna becomes very passionate very quickly which the production follows through to it’s end with murder along the path. The story at moments feels like a nod to Carmen by Georges Bizet for example in one of the first conversations Joseph and Gino have Joseph reveals he was a soldier once similar to Don Juan who stats in Carmen as a soldier, in a much more obvious turn the rhythm for the Habanera is hummed during the course of the play; an opera aria from La Traviata is even sung by Joseph which in the context of being inside a play I feel I should give a pass to without analysing his lacking in operatic voice technique.


The music of an opera is a very important element and the music for Obsession equally feels important and becomes the integral part of the scene to work. On the most part I get to give Composer Eric Sleichim’s music a lot of praise from music that feels operatic to choral that is joyous to hear as Sleichim’s music builds from a well crafted underscore to become the key element. This makes it worse when this doesn’t work and the music become overwhelmingly loud that serves no purpose or out of place with the moments on stage.


Overall Obsession is a very interesting production and through most of it is an enjoyable one that captivates the audience’s attention and gaze. The nods to operatic history are something I don’t think many audience members will pick up on and coming out of the theatre there will be a lot of discussion and mixed opinions which might disappoint the director who in the European style of directing has one vision for his production however all the nods and hints that I saw inside of Obsession made it a performance to remember and a new experience which I commend the production for that should be experienced and shared to see what different aspects you pick up on and can enjoy which is a very impressive achievement for Obsession to take with it as it progresses to it’s European tour.


Star Rating: 3/5


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