The Very Last Green Thing review – youth opera gives voice to environmental anxiety

<span>Unearthing a time capsule … the pupils of Data-class 452 and their android teacher. </span><span>Photograph: Kirsten Mcternan/WNO</span>
Unearthing a time capsule … the pupils of Data-class 452 and their android teacher. Photograph: Kirsten Mcternan/WNO

Welsh National Youth Opera’s two different age-groupings – 10 to 14 and 14 to 18 – joined forces for this latest production, throwing themselves into it heart and soul. The main thrust was Cary John Franklin’s opera, The Very Last Green Thing, dating from 1992 but set in a dystopian future to give voice to what he and librettist Michael Patrick Albano had found were American youngsters’ greatest concerns at the time, namely environmental issues. Three decades on, when it’s clear that nobody anywhere has been concerned enough, its message is still all too necessary and director Rhian Hutchings ensured it made its point, even if by no means a grand musical affair.

A prologue sees 1990s school children creating a time-capsule, depositing much-loved objects, ones they’d fear to lose. When the capsule is found again in the 25th century, the pupils of Data-class 452 – taught by an android – are intrigued. Trainers, mobile phone, rugby ball and transistor radio are seized with amazement, and the most visually attractive moment comes as they discover a pot of bubble-blowing solution, whereupon a machine fills the set with tiny bubbles which fade and die. This was almost the fate of the plant found by the curious Amy who feels a strange attachment for these last vestiges of growing life.

Central to the piece is the pupils’ relationship with the android for whom ideas and thoughts with “no exterior hook-up, no internal drive” are useless and the nicely quirky portrayal by baritone HoWang Yuen – WNYO alumnus and a postgrad student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – helped sustain the narrative. But, as the pupils reject such tenets, his operating system malfunctions, and they have to reboot him to access water for Amy’s plant to ensure its survival. In a setting boasting of everything recycled, it must be said that this last green thing didn’t entirely inspire the requisite symbolic hope.

The performance had opened with a musical parable based on the story of Solomon’s Ring, devised by the older WNYO cohort together with music director Dan Perkin and Siân Cameron, slickly done, solos clearly projected. By way of finale came a rousing chorus of Jacob Narverud’s Ad Astra.

Given that WNO itself is in jeopardy, it’s ironic that these green shoots of talent and double-casts can’t be assured of the future of the very company to which they might aspire. But they should at least become vocal climate activists.