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.’
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.
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.
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
Fri 20-Sat 21 April
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
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?
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?
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
THE MUMBLE TEAM
Has headed to warmer climes with the Migrating Swallows, but we…
WILL BE BACK WITH THE BIRDS IN THE SPRING
After the huge success we had with our “La Boheme” and “Rigoletto” projects hCFlyde Opera are preparing their next production: Cosi fan tutte by W.A Mozart, in Italian (with English surtitles) and with double cast. This is a project to help young soloists to gain more stage experience and to learn a new role. Working with our amazing team and Orchestra of Clyde Opera Group will give singers the opportunity to improve their technique, work with the conductor in all rehearsals, then perform a full role in a well organised production, fully staged and with orchestra. This is the public’s opportunity to join us for 10 days and be part of a wonderful experience. CO’s previous performances of “La Boheme ” and “Rigoletto” were sold out- they are now convinced that the public will love this production too. Rehearsals and performances between the 19th-29th of July 2018 (GLASGOW, UK). Performances on the 28th and 29th of July 2018.
Participants must be available during the entire period of the project. This is a workshop for the training, specialization and advancement of professional opera singers. The workshop will be based on the study and practice of musical interpretation; dramatic interpretation; diction, Italian pronunciation and expression of the text; study of musical dramaturgy in the score, techniques of body movements, posture and acting; vocal ensemble and score study. The production will be double cast and participation will be based on auditions for specific roles. The program is in two parts: 1) musical rehearsals/staging and 2) fully staged opera production (with orchestra). Certain selected artists will be engaged in a concert arranged to take place in a nice little town near the sea. For anyone interested in applying, please include the following with your application: High definition photos, curriculum vitae and repertoire, as well as video-clip (YouTube), a scanned copy of your passport or equivalent identification document that is currently valid. Applicants outside Europe will have to submit the visa and / or residence permit / work permit where necessary. Note – all the applications must be sent to the following address: email@example.com
Applicants who are accepted for an audition will receive notice of their acceptance by email or phone. Fees: All the participants accepted in this program will pay a participation fee. The fees are: Fiordiligi (soprano) £700, Dorabella (soprano) £700, Giglielmo (bass) £700, Ferrando (tenor) £700, Despina (soprano) £700, Don Alfonso (bass) £700. The fee includes the 11 days of the full program (masterclass, rehearsals with all our 3 pianists and orchestra, staging and singing lessons; also, lunch/every day is included + refreshments all day). If you would like to apply for 2 different roles please let us know in advance. The fee is paid in 3 instalments. If accepted into the program there is a deposit of £150 to be paid in maximum 30 days after acceptance (probably before the 25th of January 2018). The deposit is deducted from the fee. Accepted applicants will be responsible for their own flight and accommodation costs (accommodation could be provided if booked in advance for £475 -£550 / person) if you want to know more please get in touch. The organization could indicate available hotels and B & B options; information will be communicated to everyone interested by email.
Deadline for applications is 10th of December 2017 (interviews/auditions to happen before Christmas). If applying from abroad CO could organise Skype interviews or auditions. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gilded Balloon Teviot
Until August 27th (15.15)
Now and then you see something so original and unexpected you will never see things the same way again. This is one such show. Right from even before the show starts when we are serenaded in our seats by the cheesy keyboard stylings of a song who’s only lyric is “Waiting for the show to start” you know you could be in for a treat. Then when an anemic, awkward, googly eyed creature with a Tin Tin haircut walks on to the stage and starts apologizing for the show before it’s even begun you know it could go either way. And, truth be told by the audience reaction, it went both. Either stunned into confused, uneasy silence, storming off in disgust or beaming and cackling with delight. Thankfully I fell into the later category and frankly see it as a damning condemnation of humanity to react any other way. What was not to love?
The music itself was a monumental achievement. Almost an hour of uninterrupted ebbing and flowing of Gershwin like melodies done through your little brothers shitty Yamaha PSR keyboard. Endless musical motifs, references and jokes. And jokes there were so many. Like the airplane films if there was one you didn’t find funny now there was bound to be one coming up that you’d find hilarious. Or as in much of this show’s humor, one you’d be clever enough to understand. And this was one of the beauties of the show. There was absolutely no attempt to dumb it down for a mass audience. And in these days of emojies, made in Chelsea and Donald Trump that is certainly a refreshing change. Lyrically he was outstanding. To be quite honest I don’t think I’ve ever heard wittier or better constructed comedy lyrics anywhere. One song was literally just all the expressions for being gay – but they all rhymed! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A gay, autistic bulimic man singing a comedy opera about his time spent in prison and mental breakdown may not be to everyone’s taste but it damn well should be. Outsiders are often the only real voice out there and that’s why everyone should listen to them but then, if they did, I guess they wouldn’t be outsiders anymore. That being said Robert White should be the biggest comedy star on TV today. He is like no-one else before and I expect since. He should be hosting the panel shows and participating as all the contestants. Step aside Jimmy Carr, your time is (thankfully) up. And you can’t even play a decent trumpet! So remember this name – Robert White. If there is any justice in the world the star of tomorrow. Just come and see the show I implore you. You may love it, you may hate it, but whatever happens you’ll remember it. And isn’t that the important thing? Like Lars Von Trier said – “Great art should be like a stone in the shoe” and Robert White is a fucking great Boulder.
Reviewer : Steven Vickers
Aug 11-15, 17-22, 24-28 (21.50)
Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!
A unique and very clever stage production bubbling Andy Warhol Art Pop Panache. A love Story told in three parts that coexist together through the medium of Opera. With a String quartet and a Hip Hop band, blending classical music with funky electronica, this is a feast for senses, that is at once lovely to witness. The cast are all extremely good looking and the genius of the book and stagecraft is nothing less than entertainment at its very, very best. Like a sailor to a siren I had been drawn to the beauty of The Countess singing her part in The Marriage Of Figaro on The Royal Mile after afternoon prayers in Saint Giles. The Countess had a face that was equally as beautiful as her voice. but it was her voice that stole me. So I pleaded with the Mumble editor to arrange for me to review this magic piece work. What I witnessed in this capacity was not what I was expecting. But this made things delightfully entertaining.
It all begins with the heroes of the show settling in on the cuddle couch. Amelia has just secured a job as a Lawyer and Stephen is a struggling composer, both are at the end of a busy day & Amelia wants to watch Kim Kardashian’s televised 72 day marriage with NBA Basketball Star Kris Humphries , while Stephen wants to watch The Marriage of Figaro. At first compromise with the remote control for the telly is workable. Now this is when the stagecraft bursts alive and the switch between Rhythm and Blues and a chamber orchestra becomes palatable. When the remote control was pressed by Amelia, her choice was represented on the left side of the stage. Kim all figure hugging pants and lace sexiness, with the passion of a new married couple, Kris all butch muscular testosterone with one thing on his mind and it wasnae basketball.
When Stephen takes control of the box we are taken back in time to the Marriage Of Figaro. The Count is being a bit of a canute, wooing Wwmen with his literary skills, The Countess gets wind of this and this is where the problems start. Both the Count and the Countess looked fantastic. All period frills and elegant ball gowns. It was right up Divine’s street, Once a New Romantic always a New Romantic. So on the right hand of the stage a fully blown opera. With the Countess giving a mesmerising performance (Divine was awestruck) this is when the stage lighting was brought into full effect. Two marriages on the brink of collapse and one relationship struggling because of telly choices. All sung in fine voice. Sexy & marvellous & sexy entertainment indeed.
Reviewer : Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
Where were you born/where did you grow up and where are you living today?
Our bedroom’s window opened to Andrássy út across the Budapest Opera House. I spent my childhood watching this building where Gustav Mahler was opera director for a few years. When I was 8, I got my first subscription as a birthday present. I had a diary then, noting which singer I liked or disliked and why. Now I live in Berlin and Budapest.
When did you begin to understand you had a gift for music?
Coming from a musical and theatrical family this question was never asked. My father was a composer/conductor/ translater of operas into Hungarian and my mother should have become a singer. We discussed music, culture and literaure around the dinner table. I learned to read music before reading letters.
You have music in your bones. Is this natural or has it taken some training?
We were brought up by the Kodály method, an excellent school. Studying piano, violin and finally cello also helped. Training is very important at an erly age.
You play several instruments. Which of these would you say was your forte?
When I graduated with cello in Vienna, I realised that I am not really an instrumentalist. Repeating the same works and practicing for many hours didn’t appeal to me. I was interested in the meaning of music and art in general. And I was interested in working with people.
What does Iván Fischer like to do when he’s not being musical?
Now that I am also directing operas, this profession seems much more real: being responsible for the sound alone was never exciting. Being responsible for the essence of a work is really me.
You are the founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, can you tell us about the company?
It is an excellent and innovative orchestra. I achieve the best results with them, although I am fortunate: I can work with the best orchestras of the world.
What are the secrets to being a good conductor?
You need to be a good, well trained musician, and a good, responsible human being. Conducting means absorbing the work completely and passing t it on to an orchestra and an audience. The absorbing process needs musical qulities and the sharing process needs human qualities.
In recent years you have been steadily gaining an international reputation as a composer. What has motivated you to begin creating new music?
I discovered this gift relatively late because I was so busy as a conductor. Composing needs time and a quiet place. Now I always compose in a small Hungarian village. It is the greatest pleasure at the moment.
You will be performing at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, can you tell us about it?
Next to a concert I will present my Don Giovanni production that was first performed in Budapest and New York in 2011. Now I changed many details, extended the concept and I think this production can now be seen in a more mature version.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Ivan Fischer?
Many tours and the finishing of my new children’s opera.
9 – 12 August 2017 : Festival Theatre