Glasgow Theatre Royal
March 1st 2017
Some things, the best of things, take time. From inception, through evolution, to the final progression into folk-lore, there are very few classics that were tossed off in an hour or two. Claude Debussy’s Pelleas & Melisande is of the former sort, & the end product is quite simply divine. Debussy had seen the original play by Maurice Meterlinck in Paris, 1893, & had the first draft of the opera composed by 1895. But it would be another decade before he was happy with the piece, & we must all be grateful for his artistic care. Full of bassoons and cello-laden liturgicals, of its soundscapology Gavin Plumley told the Mumble how P&M was, ‘the product of a long and complex gestation, it reflects the many facets of Debussy’s musical apprenticeship, including his love of Wagner, his study of renaissance polyphony and his experiences of the exotic sounds of the east.’
Within a handful of years, P&M was being played out at the King’s Theatre, & 50 years later it would return as one of the two operas of the Scottish Operas inaugural season – Puccini’s Madame Butterfly being the other. Roll on another half century & more, Sir David McVicar has returned Debussy’s only finished opera to the Scottish hills, & I can still hear the echoes two days on. There is an especial sensuality to the music of P&M, while Debussy’s flirtation with the Symbolist movement runs rampant at all times, a mix which cast hovering night-birds over one’s imaginative realms.
Making a debut full of sincerity & warmth was BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize winner, Andrei Bonarenko, while his beloved Melisande was played by Carolyn Sampson, back with SO after her success as Anne Trulove in 2012’s Rake’s Progress. Her performance simply dripped liquid mercury as she drifted & glided about the stage as if she were a mermaid in the Aegean, & when she sang I felt more a sonorous siren than human being. Around there was no especial stand out singer, but instead a perfectly crafted combination accompanying voices including the dulcet chimes of wee Cedric Amamoo, making his operatic debut as Ynoid.
As Carmen, William Tell & Faust can all attest, he French language is simply made for opera, & Debussy is an excellent exponent, allowing a less formal roll of words which captures the effervescent vitality in the Gallic tongue. When to this we add Debussy accompanying musical touches, light & lucid brushstrokes of his mind, we are presented with a an audio banquet. What P&M also has incredible tip-toing tension. there is a constant nervous quality to the action, & P&M is indeed one of the most psychological operas I have ever witnessed.
The stage set was a sensation, very Noseferatu, & when the curtains condensed down in little squares between scenes, I felt as if I was watching an early 20th century film. To give the set character, Paule Constable waved her magical illuminative wand & one can see how she has won so many awards, such as 4 Olivier Awards, including her the recent ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.’
Although P&M is practically an Edwardian fairy tale, it is also a breathless, nuance-laden masterpiece – Debussy at his most exquisite best – that one should see in Glasgow this weekend if at all possible.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
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: