Review: The Last Hotel
Sadness, more sadness, and mashed potatoes
Welcome to 'The Last Hotel'! Let me show you to your room – in fact the only room in the hotel. Everywhere, life is happening, everywhere, the world is moving, but not here, not in 'The Last Hotel', where the mannequins hang stiff and still.
Describing what happened in this modern opera is hard enough in itself. Plot? What plot? If there was some semblance of a story, I would not be able to tell you what it was, but equally that didn’t seem to matter. Instead, 'The Last Hotel' serves as an exploration of human sadness in every form, of noise and silence, of being watched and watching, of belonging and dissolving into the cold, clear air. Every discussion and solitary thought inevitably comes back to death in a way that can sometimes seem forced but nevertheless gives the play an air of doom-laden inevitability. In 'The Last Hotel', death is everywhere – in the flowerbeds, in the vodka tonic, even in the mashed potatoes.
The performances are masterful, with the three singers each holding their own despite the challenging libretto. Lara Cosmetatos’ Woman is perfectly tragic, her twitching, neurotic movement complementing her strong, sad voice, while Morgan Overton’s Husband is so completely and overbearingly awful in the best way, throwing chairs and roaring about his manliness in a wonderful display of entitlement and obliviousness that seemed to confirm that all men are, indeed, trash. But the performance that presses on my memory is Sophie Ellis’ Wife, who is quietly breathtaking, standing trembling and awkward at the side of the stage, yearning and dreaming in a violet light. Arthur Goggin’s Caretaker, meanwhile, a constant Brechtian presence skulking silently on the edge of things, gives the impression of needing to tell the audience something very important but never being able to find the words, culminating in the opera’s explosive final image.
But, the women are so miserable! And the husband so oblivious! As scene follows scene, we hear aria after aria expressing female misery in excruciating detail from every possible angle: the Wife longs to be washed away by the sea, the Woman sees death in every selfie, they both yearn to be carried up into the air, expounding their sadness to an almost masochistic extent that becomes tiresome after a while. The layers of sadness, wave upon wave upon wave, are momentarily held back in what was for me the most stunning moment of the play, a delicate and tender duet between the Wife and Women, their voices united in a haunting, echoing song that I would gladly listen to again and again. Another stand out scene was the karaoke party (actually it's never really explained what it is, but the characters vaguely yell “Sing!” at each other), which rivalled the High School Musical karaoke scene in its dramatic intensity, and also featured EXCELLENT HIGH QUALITY green screen, which alone is worth the price of admission.
The production as a whole is slick and professional, blending song, dialogue and video effortlessly, while the stark and bare staging creates a dream-like, unreal space which focuses all attention on the tortured psychological musings of the characters. The lighting, too, is sparsely and elegantly employed, turning a dark red in one scene to reflect the entrapment of the characters, not only within the hotel but also their own minds. The costumes are both perfectly chosen and highly covetable (Those white stilettos! That red velvet jacket!), while the orchestration adds perfectly to this dark, anguished atmosphere, a constant hum of discordant violin scrapes and flute rasps which builds up and builds up then stops momentarily, shockingly, before inevitably continuing its apocalyptic throbbing. Olivia Railton’s videography underlines the sense of entrapment, blurring the line between the real and the unreal through uncomfortable black and white grainy Soviet-esque footage of reflections, corridors and, of course, sadness, reminding the audience that there is a world beyond what is being shown on stage and that they, too, are watching and being watched.
Like most opera, 'The Last Hotel' occasionally swings into the absurd- the mundanity of lines such as “coupons to gain access to the internet can be purchased at the reception desk” sung in a melodramatic soprano jars horribly, perhaps deliberately, with the dreamy overall texture of the work, and it’s sometimes hard not to stifle a laugh. Indeed, opera as a genre has gained a reputation for being pretentious, difficult and confusing. So does 'The Last Hotel', a modern opera written in the last five years, do anything to combat this? No, absolutely not. Instead, it actively embraces these normally off-putting elements to create a work of theatre so jarring, so disorientating, so deliberately obscure that it just sort of…works.