The Sunday Series: Opera in Concert

Theatre Royal Glasgow
Sunday 6th May


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Opera is the ultimate musical experience, a combination of words, music, acting and staging, so why would you go to just hear an opera performed by an orchestra on stage with singers standing at the front? It is not just that tickets cost less because it is cheaper to put on, though that is of course true. The main reason is that for their Opera in Concert series Scottish Opera select operas not often performed because they lack the length and spectacle of the great opera repertoire. This means they are ideal for this form of presentation and with a great national opera company and orchestra and singers of international calibre, the absence of costumes, movement and scenery turns out to be less of a hindrance to enjoyment than you might think.

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Stuart Stratford

Scottish Opera conductor Stuart Stratford’s admirably concise plot summaries, good programme notes and subtitles translating the Russian into English made the stories of Rachmaninov’s two short operas Aleko and Francesca Da Rimini completely accessible. Added to which, the scintillating vocal performances and empathetic presentation of the principal singers made the ‘action’ and their characters believable, despite the restricted acting space.

Aleko was Rachmaninov’s Moscow Conservatoire Gold Medal winning graduation piece at the age of 19 in 1892. The story is not complicated: after an absence, Aleko returns to his band of gypsies, finds that his beloved Zemfira has betrayed him for a younger man, kills them both and then is exiled. An evocative orchestral prelude set the emotional scene and Rachmaninov’s writing for his principal singers gave each voice the dramatic impulse it needed to express the individual’s emotional journey.

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Evez Abdulla

Evez Abdulla’s heroic baritone, all flashing eyes and expressive gestures, gave us an Aleko both passionate and tragic, while the glorious bass of Alexei Tanovitski brought a back-to-earth reality to the role of Zemfira’s father. Zemfira, sung with astonishing beauty and power by Ekatarina Goncharova, captured both her cruelty in betraying Aleko and her ultimate powerlessness. Stirring choruses (male chorus on one side of the circle, female on the other – as if in stereo) and fine playing of Rachmaninov’s melodious and captivating music by Scottish Opera’s Orchestra, gave Aleko a deservedly fine performance.

In 1906 Rachmaninov himself conducted the first performance of his Francesca da Rimini at the Bolshoi theatre. In this concert performance the same singers took on new roles in a story based on an episode on Dante’s Inferno where, in the second circle of Hell, where the lustful are eternally punished, the poet meets lovers Paulo and Francesca and hears their story.

The unsettling harmonies in the orchestral prelude to Francesca da Rimini, with the chorus weaving wordless lines around eerie string sounds, created a sense of restless unease from the outset. Without summarising the plot, the tragedy and core meaning of the story can be summed up in the line, repeated in the libretto: “There is no greater torment than to remember a time of joy in a time of grief.” Once again, the exceptional voices of the four principals brought urgency to dangerous passion, graceful lyricism to love and somber tones to sorrow. It took little imagination to visualise the scenes in which we heard Evez Abdulla as the wronged and murderous husband of Francesca, nor the seduction of Francesca by his brother Paulo sung by Ekaterina Goncharova and Oleg Dolgov respectively, who were both making their debut with Scottish Opera. The audience were enthralled by the quality of what they heard, and we were privileged to be present at the very first performance in Scotland of this important work from Rachmaninov’s oeuvre.

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This concert was the last in the current series, but the next series starting in October is already being advertised. It begins with two more Scottish premieres – of Puccini’s Edgar and of Silvano by Mascagni. With Benjamin Britten’s The Burning Fiery Furnace (at the Lammermuir Festival) to follow, I can think of few better musical ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Mary Thomson

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Madama Butterfly

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Edinburgh Playhouse
Friday 30th March 2018


I love it when Ellen Kent comes to Scotland, & she loves it too, a marriage of romantic convenience, rather like the basic premise of Puccini’s long beloved Madama Butterfly. ‘Why Butterfly?’ I ask’d the vivaciously ebullient Kent. ‘Because it is the most popular opera in the world – a great story and music to die for,’ her reply. After the smash-hit success of Tosca & La Boheme – both Kent favorites – Puccini started musing upon a new opera to stand upon his burgeoning reputation. Verdi had died in 1901, a moment which crowned the ‘regent’ as chief paramour of Italian opera. Butterfly was the exotic result, balancing its floating, febrile wings on the Bashoesque libretto by Illica and Giacosa. ‘At the turn of the last century,’ Duncan Hadfield told the Mumble, ‘the lure of the exotic attracted a number of Western artists in all sorts of ways – the novels of Joseph Conrad, the paintings of Gauguin, Debussy’s pianistic attempt to replicate the timbres of the gamelan. As was his  way, Puccini too spent his Butterfly period almost turning himself Japaneses, researching the country’s native folk melodies, attempting to capture the pattern of Japanese intonation, & exploring the sonorities offered by a a host of the percussion family’s ever-expanding numbers.’  

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The story is simple, a 15 year-old Japanese child-bride is abandoned by her diplomatic American husband not long after the wedding; whose return three years later with an American wife kicks of the inevitably tragic & magically operatic conclusion. As usual, Kent packs her production with international soloists, a highly-praised chorus and a full tight orchestra, with star billing going to the uniquely entrancing vocal abilities of celebrated soprano Maria HeeJung Kim, from the Korean National Opera House of Seoul. Her voice is sweet & siren-like, but great tribute must be paid to Zara Vardanean, who plays Butterfly’s maid Suzuki – their duets are phenomenal, allowing HeeJung Kim’s vocals to flow like melting honey.

Buttery & Suzuki

The set is luscious, an authentic Japanese garden, whose ear-twinkling fountain-gush inspired one of my co-attendees to visit the toilet on more than one occasion.  The First Act is a perfect paean to love, when the fabulously named Pinkerton (the surname is based on famous American detectives), bursts lungs with his Dovunque al mondo, in which he tells the American consul, Sharpless – played by the company’s best male singer, Chisnau-train’d Iurie Gisca – that the Yankee wanderer is not satisfied until he captures the flowers of every shore and the love of every beautiful woman. “I am marrying in the Japanese style: for 999 years, but with the right to cancel the marriage each month.’ A Spaniard (Giorgio Meladze) playing an American, singing Italian in Japan, via Edinburgh; one cannot get more Human than in these moments. First performed at La Scala in 1904, the Japan Puccini portrays is the one perched half-way between the opening up of the islands to the world in the 1860s, & the horrors of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Indeed, Butterfly is set in the very latter city.

The stage is set for tragedy, of course. Pinkerton admits as much in the first act when he sings of Butterfly being  ‘small & delicate like a crystal,’ & an off-the-cuff mention of crushing, ‘her fragile wings.’  Meladze’s voice is clear, smooth & satisfying, like sitting in a bubble-bath drinking gin straight from the freezer – his stint singing with Jose Carreras at the Austrian Opera Festival in 2014 has clearly rubbed off. We know that tragedy is coming, & coming soon, but the sentiment of HeeJung Kim’s poignant ‘Un bel do vedremo’ was simmering still with the chirpy joys of the first act. Spurning the advances of local bigwig Yamadara, she stays stoically faithful to Pinkerton, becoming possessed with a faintness of mind & a total indifference to reality. Things then proceed rapidly dramatical, as one by one the audience’s hands became fixed over our gaping mouths, as our souls drained with the emotion of a superbly drawn out denoument.

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You can still catch her Madama Butterfly this Spring as one of the three operas that form part of Kent’s annual touring tryptych. This year she is offering up La Traviata & Rigoletto – both by Verdi – & of course Puccini’s oriental masterpiece. With Madama Butterfly, Puccini’s mercurial genius attains quintessential harmony, & watching this opera is rather akin to sitting on a marble seat admiring & studying a fine Gainsborough portrait to the sounds of summer birds. Kent has done brilliantly with her materielle, I especially like the entrance of Vadym Chernihovskyi’s Bonze to a cymbal smash, while her gaggle of geishas spinning paper parasols  in authentic costume has seer’d a succulent indelible vision into my heart, as has the beautiful singing of HeeJung Kim.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

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Madama Butterfly

Fri 20-Sat 21 April
Richmond Theatre

Sun 22 April
Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone

Thu 26 April
New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

Wed 02 May
Theatre Royal, Brighton

Sat 05 May
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Flight

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Scottish Opera
Glasgow Theatre Royal
17th February 2017


It was time for the first opera of the year. The long winter is almost over, the nights are getting vaguely lighter, & of course the snowdrop metropoli are in abundance wherever there are fallen leaves to nourish them. The wife & I drove the hour & a tiny bit from East Lothian to Glasgow, a pleasant run, now the East End of Glasgow’s motorway system has been neatened up. It was time for the first opera of the year, the bafflingly brilliant Flight, returning to Scotland for the first time since its 2006 showing at the New Athenaeum Theatre.

Jonathan Dove

The creation of composer Jonathon Dove & librettist, April de Angelis, Flight is a multi-paced, multi-voiced symphonica, all played out in a single setting. This, of all places, is an airport’s waiting lounge, which of course offers fantastic potential for intensity of emotion & the almost infinite possibilities for vignettean dramas. Here, the expectancy of travel within the tens of minutes has the capacity to intensify life a thousandfold. I awaited the potential slivers of society cooked up by Dove & de Angelis with interest.

Summoned to our seats by a mock airport tannoy, I found myself in the bosom of TriStar Airlines, watching stellar-voiced James Laing’s shabbily dressed, documentless fellow roll straight out of Tom Hanks’s Immigrant. Both the Hollywood & the operatic avatars were inspired by the same man, Mehran Karimi Nasseri (aka Sir Alfred Mehran), who lived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport between 1988 & 2006. On stage, right from the start, the operatic version forms a figure much like a quasi-mystical beggar-king, charming his way into the hearts & purses of all the female protagonists. These include a stewardess & three travelers, all four of whom have male interests in one form or the other. The stewardess (Sioned Gwen Davies) has hers right beside her, a fellow steward (Dingle Yandell) with whom she carries on an extremely raunchy affair. This bursts out into vivid, pornographic life in the elevator, & for which reason only the most liberal of parents should think about bringing their school-age kids along. The other three women are passengers; the woman of a certain age waiting for her young Spanish lover (Marie McLaughlin); the pregnant diplomat’s wife who chickens out on the big move to Minsk (Victoria Simmonds); & effervescent Stephanie Corley’s Tina, who provides much of the comedy alongside her husband side-kick & foil, played by the always excellent Peter Auty.

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There is one more female voice, former Scottish Opera emerging Artist, soprano Jennifer France. She plays the Controller, who stands on a lofty perch above the stage, flicking out her supreme vocal talents over the tannoy like the wafts of a peacock’s tail. She really does hit the highest notes hearable to the human ear, & rather sweetly too. ‘This is the best time… just the thrum of air rushing along pipes,’ she sings at the commencement, a phantom-like figure who watches proceedings like the gods at Troy, while commenting on them at the same time in the classical rhapsodic fashion. As Flight progresses, she carries on some kind of weird relationship with Laing. ‘I like him to stare at me & adore me,’ she sings. I’m not quite sure why; it doesn’t really effect the opera at all – its all rather dreamlike – but the theme is there & could perhaps have been given a little extra beef in thee plot.

Musically, that ‘radically accessible… style’ described by David Kettle, like many of the emerging works of artists of leisurely longevity, Dove’s first opera could well be his best. Commissioned by Glyndebourne in 1998, & soaring supersonical across the world ever since, I especially liked the explosive & euphorical lasar-intense flourishes, such as when Bill & Tina, remembering their early passions, dueted, ‘the whole world disappeared except you.’ The music & the lyrics just work so well together, testament to Dove’s meeting with de Angelis at a hothouse opera-writing course at an early, burgeoning stage of both their careers. Occasionally, de Angelis fails like so many others in the English libretto’s fight against the cynghanedd-lacking, rhyme-constricting fibers of its language. ‘Sending planes up in the sky, & then they fly,’ ‘its not my fault, I live in a vault,’ are two examples.

My favorite musical moment was when the entire ensemble gazed towards the audience, transforming us into the runway, at which their vocals whoooo’d at the rush-soaring take-off of one of those, ‘pure clean immaculate machines,’ perfectly complemented by Scottish Opera’s scratch-perfect orchestra.

Fierce night, jagged light, pining wind, pinning us to the ground…

After the first act, a very Caledonian electric storm bursts onto the backdrop, grounding the cast for the next two acts in which the traditional raison d’etre of opera – to entertain, to provoke emotions & to inspire subconscious philosophizing – shall be played out. ‘The airport & the storm,’ de Angelis told the Mumble, ‘are like a forest that people go into, a place where transformations happen. All the characters are hoping for a new life in some ways.’ The second acts begins upon a plateaux of pathos, when minds are made to wander in the dark; a little lackluster at first, but it soon picks up & all hell breaks loose in a typical liberal pre-9-11 Airport where craziness was expected – but not encouraged – & allowed.

There’s nobody in the story whose making a short-haul, insignificant flight. An airport represents people’s dreams & hopes. You’re going there hoping for something – maybe a holiday, maybe a whole new life. Jonathan Dove

The hub-hub of an airport is perfectly suited to a traditional operatic ensemble, & the debuting SO director, Australian Stephen Barlow did a smart job of filling the physical spaces. Behind them, Andrew Riley’s set was simple yet authentic, something which the wife took a great deal of pleasure from – tho’ not so much how the opera played out in the end. After a smashing first act she thought it got a bit silly, but opera – especially one with comic pretensions – is sometimes supposed to be silly. The problem is, the modern brain is trained to place comic opera in an Italian setting at least, preferably several hundred years ago, which Flight clearly cannot. But for me, the archetypes were excellent; swap the stewards for Catholic priests, the holidaying couple for a squabbling count & contessa & we’re off… its all really rather the same. Flight could well polarize the opera lover, but if one puts one’s expectations into a tall ice-fill’d glass, along with a generous helping of pina colada, beside some exotic pool – then its all quite enjoyable, fun, & ultimately musically inspiring.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen


Flight will be touching down…

Glasgow’s Theatre Royal = February 17.21.24
Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre = March 01.03

An Interview with Robert Hersey

Edinburgh Studio Opera are bringing a double bill to the Assembly Roxy; The Mumble managed to grab a wee chat with its director…


Where are you from and where are you living today?27503262_1805649666136408_608678647911178056_o
I was born in Sussex and lived there until aged 16, but our family was always travelling North to Northumberland for every holiday we could. I fell in love with Northumberland at an early age and, apart from a 10 year period in London in the 90s, I have lived and worked from there ever since. We now live in Harbottle in Northumberland at the edge of Northumberland National Park.

Can you tell us about your theatrical training?
I trained at London University and then at the School of the Science of Acting in London. This college, headed by Sam Kogan (I was taught by him), was a wonderful and opening place to train both in Acting and Directing. I trained while working as a full time music teacher and musician. Sam’s approach was a controversial but fitted exactly with my feelings about theatre; Stanislavskian at its heart but twinned with a radical new approach to the actor and directors craft. I have to say though, I have always trusted my natural instincts above anything. That is, a natural curiosity and feeling for theatrical space, musicality and physicality.

When did you fall in love with opera?
My first operatic experiences were watching my uncle, the great English Bass baritone Thomas Hemsley, perform in London and Edinburgh. I quickly became familiar with his work, including his longed period of working with Benjamin Britten on operas such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Death in Venice. I quickly found a love for early opera and majored in Early Music at degree level. From there, I performed as a singer in various operas. It seems an absolutely natural thing for me to combine both my musical and theatrical training in this art form. My particular passion is to work with young people in opera. It seems to me the perfect art form as it combines all the arts and creates a future generation of performers and audiences for this most immersive creative experience.

What are your favorite operas to both watch & to direct?
The operas of Benjamin Britten, Amadeus Mozart and Claudio Monteverdi. I love all of the operas of Monteverdi but my particular favourites are Orfeo and Poppea. I love Peter Grimes, Noye’s Fludde, The Little Sweep, The Turn of the Screw, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Billy Budd. Le Nozze di Figaro is an absolutely favourite of mine too. Actually, I have directed Dido & Aeneas four times so that has to be up there too!

What do you like to do when you’re not being musical?
I am passionate about the natural environment, conservation and rewilding. When not in Northumberland, I like travelling to the Scottish islands and West coast. Also writing poetry in my spare time.

You are quite the nomad when it comes to directing for the stage, where does the wanderlust come from?
I will go anywhere where there is opera…! I love European and Russian theatre and am a passionate European.

What is your role in Edinburgh Studio Opera?
Director

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As a 50th anniversary special, ESO presenting a double bill production of Dido & Aeneas & Gianni Schicchi – why these two operas?
There is a fantastic comedy-tragedy contrast between these two operas which the audience will be fully immersed in. I would love the audience to feel a cathartic sense of tragedy at the end of Dido & Aeneas and to be shocked and challenged through the new narrative of the piece, especially the relationship between Dido and Belinda but also the predatory nature of Aeneas. In Gianni Schicchi, which many will not have seen before, especially never in this traverse staging, I hope the audience feels completely taken into the middle of the fast, furious and hilarious narrative of this absurd comic masterpiece.

What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for Robert Hersey?
I am working to set up an opera company in the North East. We hope to stage two one-act operas in Autumn 2018. As stage director for the Brundibar Festival, I am working towards staging the opera ‘Brundibar’ with a large cast of young people in early 2019.


ESO will be bringing their operatic double-bill to Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy

February 27th & 28th / March 2nd & 3rd

Buy Tickets Here

Off With The Swallows

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THE MUMBLE TEAM

Has headed to warmer climes with the Migrating Swallows, but we…

WILL BE BACK WITH THE BIRDS IN THE SPRING

Little Greats


Theatre Royal, Newcastle
11th November 2017


Opera North is not quite the oligarch-backed opera of the Russian state machine, but it is a distillation of all that is best in the greatest of all the art forms. Newcastle, Hull, Nottingham, Manchester & of course the troupe’s native Leeds are all grandiose beneficiaries of Opera North’s dedication for touring the classics through the operatic backwaters of Britain, whose talented bevvy of musicians & singers are steelishly determined upon bringing the best out of their performances. I experienced them for the first time last Saturday, with the wife & I driving down from East Lothian on a most scintillating sunny day. We had taken a room at the Royal Hotel in Whitley Bay, which took rather a long time to find as nowhere about looked liked the image I had stored in my phone. It then dawned on me I had downloaded an image of the grand whitewashed, cliff-perch’d Royal Hotel in Whitby by mistake, & after laughing at my foolishness the wife & I finally checked into our rooms for the night.

Into Newcastle we went by metro, the Paris of the North-East the wife called it, & there is indeed a salubrious beauty to the city. The Tyneside was especially enigmatic, with its stone’s-throw Millennium Bridge to Gateshead, all set in a plethora of sparkling, water-reflected neon. The grand, sandstone Theatre Royal was equally as splendid; a fine, fine building in which we would take in three of the Little Greats throughout the day – this season’s 6-part program compiled & produced for its loyal fanbase by Opera North. ‘The guiding principle,’ General Director Richard Mantle told the Mumble, ‘is to create a broad range of musical, theatrical & – above all – emotional experiences for everyone. By presenting six short operas rather than three standard-length works we are able to explore the boundless variety of opera in a single season.’

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In the afternoon we caught Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortiliges, a curious dream-poem in which the rampages of a precocious child come back to haunt him. ‘I don’t want to do my homework, I want to go for a walk, I want to eat all the cake,‘ sings Wallis Giunta, also of the Leipzig Opera Ensemble, who proceeds to smash her house up when her parents are out. From this point ensues Ravel’s self-confessed pastiche of styles, reflecting the several different broken pieces of the household which spring to life in order to admonish the Child. Of these, John Savournin as the armchair was a rather remarkable watch; the symbiotic bodyswerving of sensual, mee-owing cats was equally as beaming a vision; the phallic-spouting teapot (John Graham-Hall) appeared rather like one of those African fertility statuettes; & the ascension of cyan-bloused, velvet-voiced Fflur Wyn’s princess from a giant book of fairy tales was pure Alice in Wonderland. ‘You searched for me in the heart of the rose & the scent of the lily,‘ commenced her sparkling duet with the Giunta, which was for me the musical highlight of the L’Enfant.

About half-way through there comes an extremely slick scene change, where the Child’s house is replaced by a starry universe & then a Garden for the denoument. The ending, in which the Child finds forgiveness & redemption among the tutelary spirits of the animals & plants he had systematically damaged in the garden in the past, went a little off-piste. The spirits arrived chiefly as sack-headed gargoyles, which threw my observational sensibilities off-guard a tad – it was quite scary to be honest – while Jon Savournin’s return as the crucified Tree was equally as harrowing. Once I’d calmed down, however, & re-engaged with Ravel’s remarkable creation, I found the performers all carrying out their singular parts with luminous talent, thus creating a stellar whole.

Returning to the Theatre Royal in the evening, while we were dining across the road in the busy but worth-waiting-for-your-food Italian eaterie that is Carluccio’s, the following conversation ensued.

‘Do you have the tickets, darling?’

‘No, I thought you did.’

‘Bloody Hell!’

Matthew Eberhardt

Our tickets were, of course, back in Whitley Bay. With only minutes until the first of the evening’s double-bill commenced, we found ourselves in a spectacular tizz. Luckily, on hearing our predicament, the nice people at Opera North managed to find us two more seats – the last in the house it seem’d – & we were able to continue the feast. With nourishing serendipity, our new seats were right beside a certain Matthew Eberhardt, L’Enfant’s young assistant director, who spoke to the Mumble about touring with Opera North.

 I’m quite sad to be nearing the end. Producing six operas was a massive challenge for us, but an amazing & fun project. We’re finding our audience enjoys the shorter operas. We live in the Netflix generation now, & feed upon a diet of 45 minute slots. As for going on tour, intimate theaters such as here in Newcastle, & Nottingham, are so similar to the Leeds Grand where we are from, that recreating them is not a problem. We’re going to the Lowry in Salford next week, however, & I for one am rather nervous about how we will do on its extremely large stage.

So to the operas themselves, two products of the late 19th century Italian passion for ‘verismo,’ where real life dramas were created by librettists & composers being able to finally do something of their own, freed from the constraints of formal Wagnerism which had dominated every breath, set & step of opera for decades. The sub-genre’s chief themes are infidelity & revenge; to which both Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci & Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana conform with eager purpose. Pagliacci tells the story of adultery & a menage-a-quatre backstage in an opera company, through which the female voices were in full flourish & we saw star turns from Richard Burkhard (the kapitano of Opera North) as Tonio, Peter Auty’s exuberantly dramatic Canio, & Katie Bird as a perfect Nedda. These three, & the rest of the company, enacted their roles in a revered synthesis that made it the best opera of the day. Perhaps I am biased, but there are portions of Ruggero’s libretto that transcend even Dante at times, especially;

 

 

 

Oh, what a flight of birds, what clamour!
What do they seek? Where do they go? Who knows?…
My mother, who foretold the future,
understood their song and even so
she sang to me as a child.
Hui! How wildly they shout up there,
launched on their flight like arrows!
They defy storm-clouds and burning sun,
as they fly on and on through the heaven.
Light-thirsty ones, avid for air and splendour,
let them pursue their journey; they, too,
follow a dream and a chimera,
journeying on and on through clouds of gold.
Let winds buffet and storms toss them,
they challenge all with open wings;
neither rain nor lightning daunts them,
neither sea nor chasms, as they fly on and on.
They journey towards a strange land yonder,
a land they’ve dreamt of, which they seek in vain…
Vagabonds of the sky, who obey only
the secret force that drives them on and on.

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The final panel of the day’s tryptych was the moody slice of maddening village life & the Catholic soul-song that is Cavalleria Rusticana. Somewhere in Sicily, the dowdiness of meniality is deliciously offset by lungtingling lyrics & the only taxi in the village. I’d seen it twice before, but on both of those occasions did not realise how much potential the opera had to be, well, bizarre. Korolina Sofulak clearly had a vision, & brought to the table an aesthetically pleasant & musically wonderful piece, but something a little too abstract was also tossed into the mix & on one occasion I turned round to the wife & mouthed, ‘what the f**k.’ 

Still, Giselle Allen Santuzza was a brilliant watch, protesting & writhing under the cross as she shivered & shook through her post-seduction by Jonathan Stoughton’s Turridu. Phillip Rhodes was also mightily impressive as Alfio, seeing as he’d just had to smash Silvio in Pagliacci only an hour or so before. As a spectacle, it was like eating three different-flavored chocolates at once, but it was still all rather quite beautiful. The music made it so, especially the gloriously influential Intermezzo. Thus, with the night’s histrionics over, when conductor Tobias Ringborg took the stage to join in with the bows – I applauded most heartily his, & the orchestra’s, precise & sublime accompaniment. With that it was time to go, the fantastic night-life of Newcastle’s teeming, tipsy streets was leaving its trot for the gallop, & away we rode into the night…

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

Popup Opera presents Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel

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Wednesday 1st November
Anthony Burgess Foundation Arts Centre
Manchester


We arrived at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation Arts Centre as part of a small, eclectic crowd. I overheard a couple discussing previous performances which is always a reassuring start because they enjoyed it enough to come back. The venue was small and intimate, bare brick and exposed pipework within a building housing history about its namesake. As I took my seat, I have to say, my preconceptions of operatic performances have been banished; no grand theatre, no imposing stage and not a black tie in sight! Whilst I appreciate that the history of opera is important, surely finding a way to keep it alive supersedes this. In an interview with the Mumble, Clementine Lovell said that the team wanted to ‘take opera to places where you wouldn’t normally find it’ and to use the setting to get people ‘to give it a go’. I think Pop-Up Opera should be proud because before the performance started I was already willing to embrace the art, as were the people popping in on the off chance there was a spare ticket. I recommend buying a programme, by the way, not only because it financially supports Pop-Up Opera, but because it provides a useful synopsis, a few German words and information on the backgrounds of the cast and crew that I think sheds light on their reasons for working with Pop-Up Opera.

The room held around 50 people, so everyone was close enough when the Hansel & Gretal began. If I had to find a negative, I’d say that the lack of tiered seating at this venue made it a touch difficult to see scenes that unfolded at floor level, but that’s a minor downside to this improvised environment. Minutes into the performance I and many others were laughing out loud at the invaluable yet unobtrusive captions that accompanied the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. It was not surprising to learn that these had been created by the accomplished comedian Harry Percival; they were short, humorous and provided a simple modern narrative to an opera in its 125th year, complementing the performance, rather than detracting.

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Polly Leach (Hansel) instantly stole the show for me. Polly played the part with such ease, clearly comfortable with the German language. She put on a great show being cheeky Hansel whilst demonstrating the skills she has developed over her many years of committed studies leading to her recent graduation from the RCM. When Ailsa Mainwaring appears as mother she is free from inhibition and performs one of the best stage rollickings I’ve seen! Throughout the performance, Berrak Dyer plays the piano beautifully, leaving me in awe. She was flawless and distracting in only the right places. Before I knew it, the interval had arrived and I was delighted to hear that other audience members were as enthralled as I was. I didn’t take much note of the set until Act III. You need your imagination around the versatility of a mop and I have to say I never thought I’d see a floating hot dog on the stage of an Opera!

The applause at the end of the show was well deserved and didn’t seem enough somehow. In summary, I admit a little apprehension towards visiting the opera, this unease was exasperated when a colleague told me the performance was perfect for ‘someone like me’. I admit that this comment irked me a little, I mean, I’m open minded and I am no stranger to art in its varying forms – but ‘someone like me???‘ He was right, I am the target audience, not the particularly stuffy, overeducated older person (sorry!) that we relate to opera goers but good old Northern girl, Aimee. Like a good journalist I did my research before my visit. I learnt about aria, soprano, the use of language etc but you know what? I don’t need that level of knowledge. I am a beginner, I was the target audience. It isn’t often I can honestly say this, but this is one of the best things I’ve seen. To quote one of the final captions Clementine and the team ‘nailed it’.

Reviewer : Aimee Hewitt