Feb 28 – Mar 4
Here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played sung or whistled but Figaro. Certainly a great honour for me Amadeus Mozart
Edinburgh is a talented place indeed, & to see last night a student production brimming with such unobjectionable talent maintains the city’s position as chief eyrie of the arts. Edinburgh Studio Opera has just commenced a five night run of Mozart’s delectably silly ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ directed by burgeoningly brilliant Thomas Henderson. The guy’s got style, & a sense of history, & by delving deeper into the roots of ‘Figaro’ eked out the improvisational traditions of the Italian commedia dell’arte, full of brash & funloving archetypes, as found in Pierre Baumarchais’ original play. Henderson studied opera in Florence, & like any British artist with their salt has incorporated the commedia elements in his own way; presenting the supporting performers as mime artists with free license to do dress up & pretty much do what they like; telling the Mumble; ‘This is the very essence of the commedia dell’arte: the opportunity to create enough distance from reality through farce & laughter to be able to critique ourselves & the society we live in.’
The one thing they did not do is sing, which is of course left to the professionals, for indeed the singers of ESO’s ‘Marriage of Figaro,’ despite their youth were all sublimely top-notch. Beside them the equally young orchestra played with perfect fluidity & timing, which is absolutely essential for this chatty wee Opera. Apart from the outstanding overture, Mozart kind of tinkers with embellishments throughout most of the ‘Figaro’, leaving a kind of cinematic accompaniment to the libretto which would have astounded the original audiences. The female’s were especially effervescent, from Jessica Conway’s moodily entrancing Countess, through Sarah Gilford’s Susanna – whose singing was like coming across Princess Serendip singing by a pool – to Jaimee Marshall’s Cherubino, whose superluscious voice literally warbles on the neck-nerves. Then, in the middle of it all stomping about in dramatic operatic fashion was Timothy Edmundson’s Figaro, who just got better & better as the performance went on, especially when he sang to Cherubino;
Here’s an end to your life as a rover
Here’s an end to the young casanova
It was fun for a while but now its over
We shall soon wipe the smile off your face
This one of the better sections of the libretto produced by Jeremy Sams. The English language & Mozart rarely mix. That was what I discovered as an operatic fledgeling when I saw an English adaption of ‘The Magic Flute’ in Richmond, West London in 1998, & my opinion was not altered last night. Saying that, the ESO have done wonderfully, & Mozart would have been proud, & at only £15 a ticket, they are giving the Edinburgh theater-goer a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the rare & luminous meteor strike that was, & still is, ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’
Reviewer : Damo Beeson Bullen
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Team are taking their annual Holidays,
& will be back in full force on January 1st 2017
Except, of course, for Mumble Theatre, which we like to keep an eye on
Saint Cuthbert’s Church
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
5 / 7 / 9 April
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
14 / 16 April
Imagine the relief & euphoria when the Bay City Rollers arrived in 1975, giving the teenybops a chance to enjoy rock & roll music apart from the serious-minded, unsmiling rockers of the post-glam mid-seventies. In the same way, there is something so joyously & eternaly childlike about Rusalka, the crowning glory of Antonín Leopold Dvořák’s search for a definitive expression of the Czech ‘anima’ for opera. Indeed, me & the missus have been chatting about taking the girls to an opera, but at 6 & 8 we felt it was maybe too soon. However, despite Rusalka being dressed up in the sonic & aesthetic garb of cultural maturity, it is still a children’s tale, which taps into the child still in us all. A perfect choice, then, for our bambino’s first opera.
A fantastic fable, Rusalka is a mermaid who falls in love with a prince – the perfect fairytale fare. Its librettist was the Czech poet, Jaroslav Kvapil, who while staying in Denmark in 1899 began to re-read the tales of Hans Christian Andersson, including the Little Mermaid. Of his lyric fairytale he produced, Hannah Nepil writes, ‘it is no surprise that Kvapil wrote his libretto for the rebuilt national theatre. He made a point of describing Ruslaka as a quintessentially Czech work in the tradition of Karel Jaromir Erben, a writer loved for his macabre, folk-like ballads. Indeed, the rhythm of Kvapil’s language conjures up the Czech bards’s, as does one of Rusalka’s main charaters, Vodnik, on whom Erben based one of most gruesome poems.’
I cannot praise highly enough how excellent was the stagecraft. I loved the simple shapes that dominate the visualities – the oval pool, the straight-lined trees, the circular moon, were so simple they were practically hypnotic. To this were added the monstrously brilliant internationally renowned talents of Sir Williard White, whose dread-locked water-goblin, Vodnik, was a wonder. ‘Poor Rusalka, caught up in this dazzling world,’ he mourns wistfully as his unsullied daughter gets caught up in the sticky webbing of human relations. “Souls sin,” he tells her, “But souls love,” she replies.
Rusalka herself, played by Anne Sophie Duprels, was a voluptously beautiful lead, while her Prince, peter Wedden was unfortunately a little, well, wooden. the rest of the chorus, cast were top notch however, while choreographer Lucy Berge’s all-singing, all-dancing nest-haired dryads buzzed about the stage like graceful gazelle, while Clare Presland’s kitchen boy was a class act.Yes, I must admit, Ruslaka was a completely riveting watch.
This production is full of clever little touches, such as Rusalka’s bloody legs after she’d had her tail hacked off, & the stagecraft is the real star of the show. Its been over half a century since Rusalka paid her first & only visit to Scotland (1964), which is a bit of a travesty really. Perhaps there is a certain snobbery about Czech opera, admittedly it is not as lyrical as the Italian, or musically stirring as the German, but a s a mystical sonic spectacular Rusalka trancends them all. Amidst it all, as well, we may hear the magnificent aria, the ‘Song to the Moon,’ which is nothing short of divine.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
Plot: Lyricism: Music:
Set: Costume: Lighting:
Singing: Acting: Choreography:
Saturday 9th April
Scottish Opera is like a lovely silk glove, whose fingers reach into the very fabric of the national fibre, stroking our psyches into a fluffy state of mind, as from Dunvegan to Moffat we Scots go about our business in a much finer spirits for a night at the opera. In the case of The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari, I found myself transported from the exterior high-rises of Glasgow’s West End down into the Woodside Halls & into a merry-go round of choral splendor, all played out on a sense-piquing chequerboard floor of jade & white
Scottish Opera’s ‘Connect Programme’ brings to & works with 14-21 year-olds, & boy do they do a good job. This year’s offering is a new opera, their third world premnier in 8 years, by librettist Allan Dunn & music by Karen Maclaver. Based on a silent film of 1920, The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari tells the story of a trip to an Edwardian fairground where a certain freakshow sonambulent, Cesare, awakes to announce that one of the visitors will die that night. His emergence from the cabinet, like a warbling Frankentsein’s monster, is the highlight of the whole piece, singing his heinous prophecy with a startling soprano. She did, of course, & the rest of the story unfolds from there, ending up in Gartloch asylum, from whence the plot begins to twist & turns like a slippery saragosan eel.
Director, conductor, boss-man Chris Gray should be proud of himself here. This senior lecturer at the university of Aberdeen is a widely sought trainer of young & amateur operas, choirs, companies & orchestras, & I can see why. At a terse seventy minutes, his Cabinet is a short, snappy splurge of operatic energy, though delivered by singers of varying quality. Some of these were unfortunately drowned out by the orchestra, who, by the way, transcended their years with flawless pernicity. The star role, however, was Andrew McTaggart’s Dr Gallagher, & boy does he pack a good of lungs. Daniel Keating Roberts meanwhile, as Cesare, delivered a sweet soprano, while the excellent, cohesive chorus was a joy to watch.
The Cabinet is a entertaining & slightly traumatic piece, which utilises slick lighting & modern sound-effects to create a carnival of disbelief. Although at times I did feel I was still watching the silent movie version of the 1920s, with a pianist tinkling along, for the vocals, as I have said before, were too muffl’d to make out. Still, the Cabinet is a fun-loving, retro-oozing, dynamic one-act piece & with a few tweaks could go on to be a classic.
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Reviewer : Damo Bullen