LONDON — It could have traditionalists gagging on their champagne, but the next production on the Royal Opera House's main stage in the UK capital will feature a troupe of breakdancers spinning and body-popping to the music.
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"Miss Fortune", a new work commissioned jointly by Covent Garden and the Bregenz Festival in Austria, is by British composer Judith Weir and transports an old Sicilian folk tale into the present day.
In the updated version, Tina, the Miss Fortune of the title, falls on hard times after she breaks away from her wealthy parents when they lose most of their riches.
She encounters gangs, a kebab van and a sweatshop before love and the lottery offer the possibility of a better life.
But it all depends on Fate, who pulls the strings with the help of a sinister group of young "enforcers" played by the Soul Mavericks dance troupe.
Ajay, one of six members of the award-winning group taking part in the production, called the venture "untouched territory.
"At the end of the day it's art, so everyone is going to have different opinions," the 25-year-old told Reuters in between rehearsals at Covent Garden, the central London home of a Royal Opera House more used to ballet than breakdancing.
"I really loved doing the show. It's something completely different."
Weir said the breakdancers were not originally her idea, but were suggested to allow Fate to manipulate events on stage.
While the theme of losing and winning a fortune resonates with audiences today, the composer and librettist did not want her work to be seen as a social commentary.
"It's not very interesting just to do this polarity between the filthy rich and the very poor, although we caricature those in a way in this piece, but there are also people in the middle," Weir said.
The composer called the show a "lifetime moment" that was rare in a world where new works were few and far between. "The chances are so rare to do it, and the big question is how people build up their craft?
"There are a certain amount of opportunities to do smaller scale work and I think that can often be really great, but to have all the resources of one of the biggest opera houses, it really does not happen to people very often."
Emma Bell, singing the lead role, stressed the importance of commissioning new music.
"I think that the way forward for opera is new work ... I think that it needs to move on from that place (familiar repertoire)."
Introducing new operas, and new ideas to old works, is fraught with difficulties, especially because the costs of staging an opera are high and audiences tend to flock to see "classic" productions.
Tickets sales for Miss Fortune, which opens on Monday, March 12, have been slower than hoped.
One reason may be negative headlines surrounding the current production of Dvorak's "Rusalka", which was booed at its opening last month by audience members who objected to its setting in a seedy modern-day brothel.
Reviews were mixed, however, ranging from one star out of five to five.
Covent Garden famously staged another new opera last year based on the life of Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith. The controversial project won over at least some of the critics, with the New York Times calling it an "improbable triumph".
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.