Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Glyndebourne Live Broadcast: Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail ★★★★

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Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) (1782) reawakens audiences of Mozart’s genius with some heart-felt arias and a throbbing whirlpool of an overture. He was only 26-years-old when he composed the opera.

Die Entführung is famously known for being criticised by Mozart’s then commissioner, Emperor Joseph II for having ‘too many notes’, and although a comedy opera, its subject isn’t so innocent. Much like Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), there are misogynistic and racial slurs honing in on Eastern and Western values, particularly the Ottoman Empire so, it’s always interesting to see how directors choose to stage a production.

This year, Glyndebourne has David McVicar directing the opera for their summer programme, which was broadcasted live at cinemas [July 19 ]. At the Gate cinema, Notting Hill, older audiences familiar with the work attended, yet some of them were a little too impatient to see its ending. McVicar’s instruction to include the full singspiel may have been the cause of this, which produced a half play, half opera concoction. One cinema viewer shouted, ‘hurry up!’ during a dialogue between Belmonte and Pedrillo in act I.

In spite of how long the opera was the singspiel didn’t spoil my experience, which, surprisingly, was refreshing. The fine German diction and frivolity between the oafish Osmin (Tobias Kehrer), artful Pedrillo (Brenden Gunnell) and noblemen Belmonte (Edgaras Montvidas) were things to relish about the opera. The merciful efforts from heart-broken Pasha (Franck Saurel) to claim Konstanze’s love (Sally Matthews) were also significant parts of the production.
Photo by Tristram Kenton for The Guardian
 McVicar’s traditional and safe staging seemed to go well with the beautiful score. The overall set was visually pleasing with period costume, green gardens and Ottoman Empire-inspired, lavish interiors for Pasha’s harem, designed by Vicki Mortimer. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and their period-specific instruments appropriately added a unique touch to the decadent opera with Glyndebourne’s music director Robin Ticciati at the helm. The overture was gutsy and Ticciati conducted with aplomb.

Undoubtedly radiant and sensual was Matthews as our trapped heroine who says one thing but does the other - she allows Pasha to kiss her one second but rejects him in another. Her ability to reach stratospheric notes seemed effortless though it had me thinking, at times, how cruel Mozart was to make sopranos sing such top notes so often and between one another. And because of this, I could hear her straining in ‘Martern aller Arten’, but, resilient as she was, she kept singing until the end.
Montvidas was lyrical as his character’s virtuosity and bass singer, Kehrer sang as an awesome, but nasty Osmin. He soon became a favourite amongst the audience, even though he displayed an evil ogre and less of a comedian. His scene with Mari Eriksmoen, as Blonde, throwing pans and dishes at each other was one of the funniest moments of the opera.

Eriksmoen performed as a crafty and cheeky Blonde, and with Gunnell’s speedy Pedrillo made a cute and hilarious couple on stage, cleverly depicting the social divide with Belmonte and Konstanze’s relationship. 

Despite not having to sing Franck Saurel was a thrill to watch too as the sensitive Pasha. With saucy scenes of a sexual violence, teary eyes, passionately said words and a half naked torso, Saurel was the stuff of great acting.

Thanks to Live broadcast of Glyndebourne audiences can gain insight of Glyndebourne performances, minus the dinner jacket and fascinator.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail is still showing at Glyndebourne until the 10 August. Click her to purchase tickets. They are also going on Tour this autumn so there’ll be another chance to see it at other venues in England – book early to see the production on Tour.

The next cinema Glyndebourne showing is Fiona Shaw’s Rape of Lucretia on the 9th of August also showing at Gate Cinema, Notting Hill. Click here for Gate Cinema website or here, for other UK cinemas.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Quay Players's Sister Act: The Musical

We are familiar with Whoopi Goldberg and her nunnery antics in the 1992 film comedy, Sister Act. The movie was such a hit with international audiences that it was turned into a musical for both the West End and Broadway stage ten years later. Whoopi Goldberg even had a hand in its creation! Based on Bill and Cheri Steinkellner’s book, Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics with Alan Menken composing the soulful and jazzy music.
Since 2009, the musical has been performed regularly and has succeeding in giving audiences an entertaining evening. Last night [23rd July] was the first night for The Quay Players, the first amateur dramatics group, to perform the musical at Greenwood Theatre, London Bridge. Queues of up to 250 people were forming outside of the theatre, just minutes before the show began.
A strong hold of, up to, thirty ensemble members kept a keen and excited audience waiting but once the spotlights were on, the silly gags, from night club dancers, show time nuns and ‘gay boys’, made the wait worthwhile. 

Sarah Brand directed the musical, which, more or less, follows the same narrative as the film with Latino honey, Catriona Lowe as our diva, Deloris. Her vocal ability seems effortless alongside  her strong stage presence, which engaged the audience from start to finish.
Caroline Smith performed as Mother Superior who gathered much empathy from the audience even though her character is meant to reflect the authority of Maggie Smith’s Reverend Mother. Convincing and heroic, it was hard to see her as an antagonistic force to Deloris’s pursuit as she gave an astounding performance. Their duet ‘Here within these walls’ was one of the many poignant moments of the show.
The baddies and their camp performing were instilled by, no less than, murdering boyfriend, Oliver Mitchell with Scott Topping, Joseph Samuel Cryan and Tom Scambler as Joey, Pablo and TJ. They provided some bizarre, yet nicely paced choreographed dances created by Emma Mitchell. There were also some stripper-like performing too, proving the camp trio could woo the convent sisters, which may sound cheesy but somehow managed to amuse the audience anyway!
The cop, Sweaty Eddie, is a favourite too, suitably performed by Will Strutt with his solo song, ‘I could be That Guy’. The tune has a similar tone to the musical number ‘Cellophane’ from Chicago, but there’s a positive injection of hope with the ensemble ripping off his clothes, twice! It’s also a great opportunity to hear the versatile score to the piece with the musicians in the pit and musical director, Mark Smith at the helm. 

Catherine Bensley as the weedy-nun-turned-stratospheric vocal singer, and Julianne Palmer Mitchell as the crazy, cartwheeling sister, Mary Lazarus deserve worthy praise for their performances as well. Not forgetting smiley Ryan Govin as the golden dressed priest, Monsignor O'Hara.
Much like the film, there’s a lot to be captivated by from the ‘nun on the run’ musical. There are impressive costumes, ornate set designs and props including intricate church stain glass windows that give a fine finish to the production.
It's a local production with a few minor directional and stage-related issues that could have been tightened. But, by the end of it, you’ll be tired from laughing and still buzzing from the catchy songs and electric stage energy. You won't get the stuff of a West End based show, but you'll end the night on a high. 

Featured Dancer... Kelly Boylan
Featured Dancer... Sam Hare
Featured Dancer... Katrina Johnson
Featured Dancer... Shona King
Featured Dancer... Sarah O'Malley
Featured Dancer... Eleanor Strutt
Featured Dancer... Katie Underhill
Ensemble... Anil Aksay
Ensemble... Craig Holmes
Ensemble... Mari Booth Spain
Ensemble... Aine Brown
Ensemble... Susan Chandler
Ensemble... Kenneth Cheung
Ensemble... Mandy Dooley
Ensemble... Janice Edgar
Ensemble... Liz Edwards
Ensemble... Alex Finch
Ensemble... Shirley Hayward
Ensemble... Pip Hodson
Ensemble... Katy Holmes
Ensemble... Sandy Holmes
Ensemble... Kim Hooper
Ensemble... Jeanette Hopper
Ensemble... Fergus Kinnon
Ensemble... Darren Knight
Ensemble... Spencer Mitchell
Ensemble... Barry Pavey
Ensemble... Beccy Reese
Ensemble... Agata Rozpedek
Photos courtesy of Quay Players. 
There are three performances left: Tonight and two showings tomorrow - July 25th.

Monday, 20 July 2015

★★★★ NT LIVE: Everyman

For Rufus Norris’s debut production as the new artistic director at the National Theatre Everyman deserves to be classed as big, bold, eclectic and entirely relevant. For a start its lead character, Everyman is performed by Award Winning Actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor who yanked our heartstrings in the Oscar Winning film, 12 Years A Slave. Secondly, the contemporary and electric coloured set is actually a backdrop for a morality play originally written in the 15th century. And, on top of that, you have poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy writing reams of poetry and script for this adapted production. (Norris stated that Duffy began with twenty pages of script, which ended with seventy-two pages for the show.)
I wasn’t there at the National Theatre. Tonight [July 16], I was at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill with cinema audiences who also enjoy watching live theatre from the comfort of their local cinema. This was the first time I had seen the production and whilst viewing it on the big screen, it seemed to work really well considering the versatility of Ian MacNeil’s brilliant staging and visual elements, not to mention Ejiofor who, we know, looks good on film.
As we see NT audiences get settled in the auditorium, we watch as a cleaning lady sweeps the Olivier theatre stage, yet even before the show has began, we’re unsure if she’s part of the show or a NT staff member. All is confirmed when she turns around, projects her voice and speaks at the audience. Actress, Kate Duchêne, says ‘Enjoy it while it lasts!’ Before we know it’s actually God ranting about the falsehood of man in a dirty apron simultaneously brushing dust off the floor. Yet the quiet is instantly destroyed by an ambush of electro, dub step and high intensity club music.
Everyman celebrates his 40th birthday with coke, alcohol, debauchery and sin, and whilst this is happening the entire stage looks like a visually intensifying (and amusing) music video. Choreographer and Movement Director, Javier De Frutos adds in the intimate slow-mo, vitality and dynamics to this corrupt scene with a neatly casted team (up-to 22 supporting actors and actresses). 
Courtesy of The Stage/National Theatre
With a pair of rubber gloves and a plastic carrier bag, Irish actor Dermot Crowley makes his entrance as Death, yet don't let the humour and sarcasm fool you - there’s still a glimmer of evil in his eyes. There’s no dark cloak or nightmarish hood to identify him – just a snappy and scary persona that forces Everyman to look back at his life for a meaningful act he had committed. The rest of the show is the hair raising journey Everyman takes.
Everyman goes back to his mother, father, sister, so-called clubbing pals and a load of abstract characters (Vanity, Knowledge and Goods, etc.,) in search of a good deed yet nothing is redeemable, nor attainable. He has a reflective moment when he meets his younger self, Everyboy (played by Jeshaiah Murray) and says to him, ‘You’re so lucky!’’ Through Everyman’s desperation Ejiofor convinces us that we’ve had a few moments asking ourselves similar questions: ‘What have I done?’ or ‘What is my good deed?’ That once, we have doubted ourselves and regretted a thing, or two. 
Yet, with all such brilliant staging and acting, there are scenes that move super fast, from one abstract character to another, that it's hard to keep up with the pace, including the toing and froing from old English and casual slang. In one scene, Everyman is in prayer talking about the Act of Contrition and in another has a revelatory dialogue in plain verse with Vanity about his secular love for credit cards and bling bling. But these tiny blips didn't change how together the message of the play was cleverly delivered.
Duffy, naturally, has a way with words, which shaped the story exquisitely. Paul Arditti also deserves his due as sound designer as well as the ensemble of musicians directed by Williams Lyons. This included interesting instrumentation from a hurdy gurdy, racket, crumhorn, recorder, bagpipes, gittern and many more.

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Monday, 6 July 2015

Dress Rehearsal of Royal Opera House: Falstaff 2015 - NOT A REVIEW

I had the privilege of attending a dress rehearsal at the Royal Opera House (ROH) of Robert Carsen’s Falstaff on Saturday [4th July] and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the opera I saw in the format of a dress rehearsal. This is the second time I have seen a live performance of Verdi’s final opera (the first was with Fulham Opera). Falstaff is a detour from Verdi’s usual tragedy operas, being the second comedy opera he had written. Based on the original ideas from Shakespeare’s plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, Verdi catapults Falstaff into opera with money troubles, questions over ‘honour’ and his love of food, booze and women. No surprises there.
Naturally this derives from Shakespeare’s original image of the clumsy knight, which has entreated theatre audiences worldwide, yet Verdi’s opera didn’t receive the same praise. Although the opera gained positive reviews at its premiere at La Scala in Milan (1893), many Verdi fans had reservations over the music, which, they felt, didn’t resonate with what they were used to. They wanted the big, bolder arias sung by tragic characters. Yet Falstaff is a thoroughly enjoyable opera not simply because it is a comedy that is centred on a character many are familiar with, but because its librettist, Arrigo Boito put together a clever story that gets an opera audience laughing from start to finish.

This is the second time Carsen’s opera is being shown at the Royal Opera House, since 2012, and from what I saw from the dress rehearsal, Carsen’s production depicts Verdi’s opera in an intriguing way through the Scottish highlands and post WWII inspired sets. This also includes gentlemen club reading rooms and Stepford Wives’ 1950’s kitchen heaven.  These clever set designs are creations of Paul Steinberg and are so bright you may require sunglasses, but I’m not complaining. Set in a mix of contemporary clothing, most of which are fancy, velvet and highbrow, with long pleated skirts and dinner jackets, there’s not a hint of a knight’s uniform anywhere.

Ambrogio Maestri was convincing as John Falstaff with his tall stature, jolly charisma and gigantic voice. He is witty as well as silly in the way he seduces the ladies, Alice and Meg. Alasdair Elliott, Lukas Jakobski and Peter Hoare are also funny add-ons as Bardolph, Pistol and Dr Caius.

This was spruced up by Mistress Quickly, which was sung by Agnes Zweirko who couldn’t get enough of flashing her chest at the dress rehearsal audience, with her clothes on! Come on people! Kai Rüütel and Ainhoa Arteta as Meg and Alice Ford were also perky on the stage with their bright yellow and passion red ‘50s get up. Some costumes they wore, designed by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, is the kind of couture I’d like to be seen wearing at a fancy party (but I hardly get the time to go to many of those.)

Roland Wood as Fontana is also amusing, but when he sang as Ford in Act 2's È sogno o realtà, it is perhaps the closest audiences get to see opera-seria in Falstaff. Wood got a loud applause for his singing but no pity was offered to Ford for trying to cuckold Falstaff or his wife, Alice.

Anna Devin was a cutey pie as she sang as Nannetta with Luis Gomes as her secret lover, Fenton. They sing so sweetly together and the lighting powers of Carsen and Peter Van Preat only made you sicker of the heightened puppy love, only because it is extremely soppy. The entry of a special guest in Act 3, that is a horse is also added to great effect. He stands in his stable eating hay. Aww!

The Royal Opera Chorus didn’t fail to entertain either. They played a huge part in the dress rehearsal and they did exceptionally well, as did the ROH orchestra, dressed in jeans and casual tops. No judgement – it’s a rehearsal.  And I was totally impressed with conductor Michael Schønwandt who conducted without looking at the score; in fact he had his music score book closed for the most part.

Sat at the centre of the balcony were creatives with light on and paper and notes at hand. They whispered throughout the dress rehearsal while some sat behind the conductor's head who also read their notes of the score as the opera was being performed. This could have been the director Carsen and revival director Christophe Gayral, but I can’t be sure, as it was rather dark.  
The changing-of-scenes took a few seconds longer than a public showing would but because I knew that it wasn’t an real performance, I was able to detach myself from the usual things that would be a pet peeve to me if I was reviewing an actual show. Either way, there was nothing worth booing or hooting about at the rehearsal. 

I have also attended the dress rehearsal of John Copley’s last showing of his production of La bohème this year, which premiered forty years ago. (It’s still showing now!) Often dress rehearsals are offered to audiences who want to get a glimpse of a production before they are ripe and ready for an public viewing, yet there are many pluses to seeing a dress rehearsal before they are beamed to the general public. It gives paying customers the ability to see how the creatives (stage crew, directors) and, most of all, it’s cast, musicians and singers work and operate when they are rehearsing.  I’d highly recommend people become a friend of an opera house, particularly here at the Convent Garden. I've learnt a lot through the two rehearsals I went to. The relaxed environment for its performers and flexibility for its production team to tweak and amend things last moment is an interesting insight. It also makes the dress rehearsal audience feel part of something that is still in the making. 
Often the production knows that they won't be held down by the scrutiny of the media during a rehearsal so they might only work as hard as they can get away with by rehearsal standards. For this reason I haven't written anything specific about my opinion of the cast's vocal skills, acting or the production's stage direction. What I can admit is that I absolutely enjoyed Carsen's production and encourage others to see it. If the dress rehearsal I saw was anything like this evening's first night [Monday 6th July], then the production team should be proud. They must have done extremely well as they were awesome when I saw them. 

Ends on the 18th July with only four performances left - Click here for more information