Edinburgh Playhouse

Thursday 30th March

2017

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IMG_20170331_105242502.jpgIs it that time of year already, when the fabulous Ellen Kent invites us all to her private operatic society, in order for us to become more educated, lets say, in what an opera should be. She & her Moldovan maestros are in Scotland for a wee while, of which stint Ellen told The Mumble in an earlier interview, ‘There’s something atmospheric about Edinburgh – I love the Playhouse – I always make a point of coming up to Edinburgh for the shows & this year I’ll be staying for all three. I do like Scotland, what is there not to like, I’ve got my shows there, we’ve just played Glasgow Concert Hall – I have to say we get well over a thousand people every night – its just a pleasure, people come in a big way. OK, Edinburgh is a bit of a mission to fill – its a bit big – but I do Glasgow, I do Dundee, I do Edinburgh – I just love Scotland, but particularly Edinburgh, its one of my favorite cities.’ As always she is serving up a three-course meal, with the starter being Puccini’s inimitable La Boheme. Set in Paris & sung in Italian, its four acts tell the story of a poet called Rodolfo, his musewoman Mimì, & her tragic early end. The title comes from Puccini’s activities in the early 1890s, of which Robert Beale told the Mumble; ‘he & a few friends formed what they called the ‘Boheme Club’, meeting in an old hut near Puccini’s villa at Torre del Lago in Tuscany. Some were locals & some from the group of painters who worked in the area.  They got together to eat, play cards & drink & had a set of rules which included ‘The treasurer is empowered to abscond with all the funds’ & ‘It is forbidden to play cards honestly.’ By 1896 the opera was ready, & after its first performance in Turin, at the Teatro Regio, it has projected far beyond its early dilettante status into a true stellar satellite of the operatic pantheon.

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La Boheme is also one of Ellen Kent’s favorites, & the care she has shown for the piece with this particular production reflects her love completely. Her backdrops are magnificent, & their place in this opera was described by Ellen in her interview; ‘I love art – my great friend is Ralph Steadman – I see opera in pictures – I am very filmic, accompanied by beauty. La Boheme indulges that, each scene reflects a French Impressionist style or painting – my act 1 is more Renoir, for example.‘ In fact, perhaps they were a little too magnificent, for the scene transitions did linger a little too long, I thought, but as soon as the transition was complete all was forgotten. You simply cannot rush genius, & Ellen Kent has something of Da Vinci’s eye when it comes to an aesthetic. In Act 2 we have the Jardin des Tuileries on market day, an exquisite scene with brilliant costumes, a brass band & marching children. Even better was melodramatic Act 3, which contained a constant &  enigmatic snowfall. All in all, a spectacle showing how Ellen Kent applies her mind mind to a classic art form, & reinvents it with pitch-perfect vigour.

Thomas Chatterton

The libretto  – by Luigi Illica &  Giuseppe Giacosa – is a perfect thing, especially come the sweet-scented fragrance of Rodolfo’s love lyrics to Mimi. Lines such as ‘Because I am the poet, she is poetry,‘ & ‘in blissful poverty I squander rhymes & song of love like a rich man… I have the spirit of a millionaire,’ float down straight from the slopes of Parnassus. The singers were positively excellent, with Giorgio Meladze’s Rodolfo maintaining a sustained majesty through his rather difficult part. At times it seems as if his voice were a chamber orchestra, all playing the same note in perfect harmony. He also managed to pull of the gay opening, a difficult to perform romp through Parisian bohemia; but there was a fine bouncy rapport between the five actors, as if they were the operatic prototypes of the three-stooges. It was also adorable to watch Rodolfo sing with, act alongside & caress with much sweetness with his co-star, Alyona Kistenyova. There was an exceptional sweet chemistry between them, their voices interweaving like branches of ivy snaking up a single polar tree. Together they invoked in me a genuine pathos at the end, when Mimi boarded her death-bed just as Keats mounted the Spanish Steps.  Another young English poem sprang to mind as Mimi stretched her arm with  her final breath, & created an image I had seen before, concerning the Death of Thomas Chatterton, & I am curious to know if Ellen was aware of this in her conscious or subconscious mind. Kistenyaova’s soprana, however, was outdazzled I think by Olga Perrier’s Musetta, who looked, moved & sounded amazing. From the moment she glided onto stage in a pink dress in Act 2, leading a lovely white Scottish Terrier, she dominated the stage with her glitzy style & splendid arias. Her dog had won a recent competition advertised in the Edinburgh Evening News, & though a little bamboozled at times, was calm enough to let the opera flow about it with nothing so much as a bark. A tremendous effort from the insatiably high-standard-setting Ellen Kent.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

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