It comes to something when it takes as long to read the explanatory guff in the programme as it does to listen to the opera itself – and whatever happened to music being expected to make its own points?
For all its worthy intentions, Edward Rushton’s Babur in London struggled to make an impact, given the wordiness of Jeet Thayil’s libretto which, without the benefit of surtitles, was too often incomprehensible.
So we missed much of the drama and argument in this confrontation between London suburban Islamist activists and the visionary appearance of Babur, the first Mughal Emperor (and a wine-loving, opium-snorting sybarite), who points out so many home truths to them.
We are in a flat which serves as a bomb-making factory (what looks like a library is in fact an array of plastic bottles).
Eventually we get a trite flash of lighting (which we assume are the 7/7 bombings) and the action flips to Paradise, which proves a disappointment to the zealots.
Rushton’s score is busy and earnest (but so were those of university student composers 40 years ago, none of those examples appearing to have survived), with a piquant little orchestra of multi-faceted flute, percussion, cello, bass and electric guitar, Tim Murray conducting the ensemble fur neue musik zurich with meticulous authority.
John Fulljames’ Opera Group soloists performed with devoted commitment, headed by the Babur of Omar Ebrahim (a veteran of Tippett operas – now you’re talking), and the agonised Saira of Annie Gill.
Some political operas remain in the repertoire: Beethoven’s Fidelio (despite its flaws), John Adams’ Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer. Posterity will pronounce upon Babur in London.