Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top Theatre in 2015

I didn't get the chance to see as many musicals and plays in London this year. However, having viewed thirty-four shows, there was still a lot of theatre craft and creativity to praise. Here are my favourite shows from Theatreland; from the West End and Fringe world.

Other links: 

Opera at a Glance in 2015. My review from major opera houses in London (Click here)

Fringe Opera Favourites for 2015: (Click here)

Top Fringe Operas in 2015

I saw sixty-four operas this year. A third of them were small-scale productions. Yet no matter how tiny the venue were or how small the budget seemed, there were an array of memorable and fascinating productions that made an impression on me. Here are my favourite operas from the London fringe scene in 2015. Enjoy!

Other links: 

Opera at a Glance in 2015. My review from major opera houses in London (Click here)

Review of Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House (Click here) Ends in the 7th January.

Dress rehearsal of Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci (Click here) Last showing is on Jan 1st.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Opera at a Glance in 2015

Here it is.

I saw sixty-four operas this year and reviewed fifty of them. My opera reach was limited to London this year, however, as you can see there was a ton of tremendous performances. I've selected a handful of operas that really made it my year.  

Fringe Opera Favourites for 2015: (Click here)  

My favourite Theatre shows for 2015: (Click here)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

ROH: Eugene Onegin ★★★★

Nicole Car (Tatyana) and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Eugene Onegin) by Alastair Muir
Last week director of Opera, Kasper Holten announced his departure from his position at Covent Garden and return to Copenhagen in March 2017.  The news caused mixed reaction. Some relieved while others, like myself, upset yet, still, praising him for the impact he has made on the opera landscape since his appointment.

The Royal Opera house’s final opera for 2015 ends with Holten’s production of Eugene Onegin, which premiered in 2013 that was apparently unimpressive, founded on excessive symbolic and theatrical devices far removed from the original ‘seven lyric scenes’ written by Tchaikovsky.

Although I didn’t see the 2013 production, I was thoroughly satisfied by the opening performance last night. I found myself fully engrossed in the nostalgic and sentimental scenery and crafty directorship - undoubtedly Holten’s ideas. Perhaps some technical changes have been made since the first outing but the application of memory and knowledge through experience was effectively poignant, more so for the tragic tale from the verse novel of 19th century Russian author, Alexander Pushkin. 

Semyon Bychkov conducts the piece and he is no stranger to Eugene Onegin; it was the first opera he ever conducted in Leningrad when he was only 20 years old. The opera has sentimental value to him, deeming it as one of 'operatic loves', alongside Carmen and La Traviata. 

Familiar with the music he paces his baton with subtlety and fine, light tempo. Last night he refrained from conducting loudly too soon and only unleashed this when necessary, such as the death of Lensky, the letter scene and the doomed ending for Onegin.

Hvorosktrovsky (Onegin) and Michael Fabiano as his best friend, Lensky by Bill Cooper
The ROH orchestra perform the famous Polonaise fruitfully, and I found that the brass didn’t fall short on causing chills in the auditorium in the opening bars of Lensky's aria in the duel scene. Bychkov allows for a long pause between the last two scenes to differentiate the music and change in tone from the rest of the opera.

The opening scene is an echo of how the story will end. Anyone familiar with the ending of Eugene Onegin may see this is a mental test - to see whether the production delivers on building up to such a climactic and bitter conclusion. 

Set in late 19th century Russian high society, Mia Stensgaard colours the set with autumn hues. Katrina Lindsay dress the lead cast and ROH chorus, who sing gloriously, in handsome period costumes. 

The staging is set in a country estate seen from the inside. Large doors open and close to reveal various backdrops from autumn meadows and stormy winters just before the tense duel scene between two best friends. Faint visual images of written words are projected onto the stage for the letter scene where Tantyana shares her feelings to the oafish Onegin. 

Emily Ranford as the young Tatyana and the glorious ROH Chorus by Bill Cooper
The Russian tale behind Onegin is interesting. Lensky arrives with his friend Onegin, who inherits a neighbouring estate from his uncle, yet he has very little interest in running it. Onegin finds amusement flirting with Tatyana, and this is all it takes to rouse Tatyana’s imagination of a sweet romance between them.

Tatyana spends the entire night writing a love letter to Onegin and once delivered to him, her crush becomes gossip amongst society. He lectures and rejects her. To evoke Tatyana’s anxiety and misery, Tchaikovsky writes her music in a peculiar and complex fashion, different from Onegin’s dressed-down composition. 

Bright and excited young tenor Michael Fabiano portrays the charming poet, Lensky. Making his debut at the ROH, Fabiano wins the audience with his convincing performance as an honest romantic that turns into a hothead when he sees his lover, Olga flirting with Onegin. By the end of scene 4, audience are blown away by Fabiano as he leaves the stage in a rage, singing of his betrayal from his lover and best friend. (Someone behind me was so touched by his performance that she burst into tears.)

Russian's much-loved baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky returns to the Covent Garden after being diagnosed with a brain tumour and poor health this year, which led to cancellations of all pre-planned events through to August. Thankfully he responded positively to his treatment and returned back to the stage in September at the Met in their production of Il Trovatore. Similarly, he received much praise at the curtain call last night.

In good health he sung potently and dark-voiced as ever to project the Byronic Onegin. We got to see the best of Hvorostovsky in the final scenes where he begs for Tatyana to forgive him and love him again. Tchaikovsky cleverly changes up the music and gives Onegin more emotional intelligence in this tableaux in a passionate and alluring duet with Tatyana. Hvorostovsky lets loose and unleashes heavy passions as he kneels to Tatyana's feet, embracing her, unwilling to let her go.

Australian soprano, Nicole Car had sung the role of Tatyana at Opera Australia last year. She makes her debut at the Covent Garden where she also shines, showcasing her understanding of Tatyana's innocent tenderness and delicate predicament.  

During the opening scene, a younger version of Tatyana tip toes around with her head in books. Yet by the end of the opera, Car's soaring lyricism shimmers and reveals the inner feelings that had been tapped by Onegin. In the Letter Scene she gives the audience a moving performance with hushed expressions. However, in the closing scenes she presents a bolder and grown-up version of Tatyana with full-throated bursts, telling Onegin to leave her alone for ever. Here you can see one of the most momentous parts of the production - seeing Car and Hvorostovsky singing the words, ‘Happiness was within our grasp. So close. So close.’

Nicole Car (Tatyana) and Dmitri Hvorosktrovsky (Eugene Onegin) in the final scene by Bill Cooper

Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto sings brilliantly as Tatyana's husband. His performance is exceptionally precious in Prince Gremin’s aria.

There's smart ideas at work in Holten’s production, even though I felt the first scene was quite slow and visually uninspiring. The use of doubling characters with younger versions of Tatyana and  Onegin cunningly highlight the nostalgia of youth and its simplicity. While the remainder of Tatyana’s teared books, a tree branch from the death scene of Lensky and the corpse of his body, where Fabiano lies on stage for the remaining scene, are reminders of the scar of past experience, lessons learnt and the sacrifices made in this heart-breaking opera. 

Sung in Russian, the opera meant a lot to Tchaikovsky's personal life. The Royal Opera House is simultanously performing a sold out production of Tchaikovsky's family festive ballet, Nutcracker. Yet life was not as rosy for Tchaikovsky, and this work definitely demonstrates that. To truly understand the composer, one must see Onegin. 

Currently showing until the 7th of January - Click here to check dates and purchase tickets. (Alternatively, you can queue up for day tickets. Doors open at 10am.)

More opera reviews:

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Piaf at the Charing Cross Theatre ★★★★

Cameron Leigh as Piaf ©Gabriel Szalontai 
This year marks the century of the iconic French chanteuse Edith Piaf. To celebrate, Charing Cross theatre unleashes Pam Gem's play, Piaf, directed by Jari Laakso, which was first staged in 1978. The play is quite an eye opener. It pulls away the glamour of Piaf's singing career for the part of Piaf’s life that we are not so familiar with.

As much as she was the Carnegie Hall super star, the play describes Piaf's earlier poverty-stricken life, as potty-mouthed Édith Giovanna Gassion, brought up by prostitutes, and addicted to alcohol and drugs. 

Piaf (Leigh) with husband, Marcel (Zac Hamilton) ©Gabriel Szalontai 
The script is clear-cut. The scenes move from episode to episode of her traumatic life. They are neatly interlinked with her record-breaking songs including Padam, Padam and La Vie en Rose. It’s what keep the play musically alive alongside Cameron Leigh’s perfect performance of the international cabaret star.

The talented performer-musicians are also strong forces on stage, playing several roles in Piaf’s tragic journey. Stephanie Prior is impressive as Marlene Dietrich as well as Piaf's nurse. Samatha Spurgin is brilliant as Piaf's old time friend from the brothel, Toine. 

Leigh with Brian Gilligan, Mal Hall, Zac Hamilton, Philip Murray Warson and Kit Smith ©Gabriel Szalontai 
Brian Gilligan, Mal Hall, Zac Hamilton, Philip Murray Warson and Kit Smith add dashes of humour and electricity to the production, performing a variety of male roles that ruled Piaf's life including German soldiers in WWII, doctors, Louis Leplée (the club owner who discovered Piaf), Theo (her last husband) and police detectives who suspected her of murder. 

Leigh is the tour de force of the show. She nails the title role vocally, characteristically and physically. If you ever wanted to know what Piaf was like in real life, Leigh is your best bet. She can re-enact her every emotion effortless. Seeing her perform Non, je ne regrette rien is a gut-wrenching experience. Many members of the audience had tears in their eyes. However, one wonders if she really was as coarse as Gem depicts her - with an East London cockney accent but, just, the French version.

Scenes where Piaf discovers her husband, Marcel Cerdan had died in a plane crash or suffers from a car crash in 1951, with broken arm and ribs, are convincingly performed by Leigh. The audience pity Piaf's hard life.

If you’re a fan of Piaf, get a ticket now. Cameron Leigh's performance is simply mind-blowing.

Piaf (Leigh) with Toine (Samantha Spurgin)

Currently showing at the until January 2nd. Click on the link to purchase tickets. 

Director: Jari Laakso; Musical Arrangement and Supervision: Isaac McCullough; Movement Director: Katya Bourvis; Designer: Philippa Batt; Lighting Designer: Chris Randall.
 is produced by Gillian Tan, Blackwinged Creatives, Steven M. Levy and Sean Sweeney.

For more theatre reviews on Trend Fem,
click here. 
Dress rehearsal of Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House (Dec 2015)

Tom Stoppard, Hampstead Theatre (Dec 2015)

Henry V, The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Barbican (Nov 2015)

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, Trafalgar Studio (November 2015)

Thursday, 10 December 2015

⭐⭐⭐ National Theatre Live: Eyre at the Gate Picture House (Notting Hill)

Charlotte Bronte's eponymous novel of the life of Jane Eyre is considered avant-garde, ahead of its time, dabbling with gender roles, sexuality and religion during the 19th century. Yet through Bronte, Eyre was given an individual voice that went against social whims, and was arguably one of the first examples of proto-feminism, of the century.

Now, still, showing at the National Theatre is Sally Cookson's ensemble adaptation, which was first shown last year at the Bristol Old Vic, as part of a hugely successful two-part show. Presented as a single show, this 210-minute drama begins with Jane (Madeleine Worrall) crying like a first born child, with atmospheric music performed by a impassioned band who prepares the audience for the psychological ordeals that this would-be child later endures. With Cookson, however, it's abundantly clear that she studies Eyre's cruel and desperate upbringing, rather than hone in, so much, at the troublesome and confusing relationship she develops with Rochester. 

Stage designer, Michael Vale offers a rustic, wooden maze of ladders and platforms for the complex characters to dance, run and hide away.  The jazz ensemble (piano, drums and brass) is stationed centre stage throughout; either they are singing and banging to the beat of Eyre's feet, or buzzing to a stagecoach charade, running on the spot to signify Eyre's journey to a new country estate or the draconian Thornfield Hall School.

Cookson's play instills the neglect and abandonment of various family members in Eyre's life, from her parents, her kindly uncle and best friend, Helen Burns (Laura Elphinstone), who were lost to the widespread diseases of the time. This follows her hardship under the verbally abusive Aunt Reed (Maggie Tagney) and over-zealous Mr Brocklehurst (Craig Edwards). Aideen Malone's exquisite display of light and Benji Bower's howling score represent the fragility of Thornfield Hall and the chilling depression of Lowood.

Worrall's sensitive and tender portrayal of Eyre has crafty nuances of childishness, which appeals to Felix Hayes's aggressive and Byronic Rochester. Hayes retains an assured and bold Rochester whose overt superiority exudes rough-around-the-edges masculinity. Craig Edwards
animatedly performs as his giddy and curious dog, Pilot and Melanie Marshall gives a gracious and heart-felt performance singing as Rochester's insane wife, Bertha.

This original production puts a musical twang to Bronte’s 19th century tale and brings to life the internal voices that haunted Eyre. The performance is visceral and the music is, almost, unforgettable. 

For more information on Jane Eyre, please click here.

Click here for NT Live's performance of A View from the Bridge with Mark Strong. 

NT Live Review of Everyman, click here.

Click here for NT Live Review of Tom Stoppard's The Hard Problem.

Friday, 4 December 2015

#ROHcavpag - Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House - Dress Rehearsal

Aleksandrs Antonenko, Dimitri Platanias, Carmen Giannattasio with the ROH Chorus.
I was delighted to see the general dress rehearsal of Ruggero Leoncavallo's triumphant twin operas of love, jealously and passion. On Monday (30th November 2015) the Royal Opera House had its general dress rehearsal of the double bill staged, provincial Italian styled production, by director Damiano Michieletto (who caused a controversial storm over what critics called 'a gratuitous rape scene' in this year's production of Guillaume Tell), with designer Paolo Fantin. 
Preparing for the Live Relay

Eva-Maria Westbroek sings the role of Santuzza in the first 'melodramma' in one act, which she had done at the Met Opera this year. I had seen her perform as Maddalena (Andrea Chénier) and Anna (Anna Nicole) at Covent Garden yet seeing her as Santuzza was completely spell-bounding. It is the best I have ever seen her. 

There are no words to describe the performance of Aleksandrs Antonenko as Canio in Pagliacci. I recently saw him as Otello at the Live in HD broadcast from the Met, however, seeing him on stage was far more potent. The tenor roles of Otello and Canio have something in common - jealously, and watching him point at the mirror as he sung the glorious vesti la giubba made hairs stand on end. It was truly amazing. An audience member behind me said, "oh, the suspense!"

Pappano, Martina Belli, Elena Zilio, Eva-Maria Westbroek,  Carmen Giannattasio, Dimitri Platanias and Benjamin Hulett.
The production showed the various dimensions of Dimitri Platanias singing three roles of Alfio (Cavalleria Rusticana), prologue (Pagliacci) and Tonio (Pagliacci). The only time I had a drop of sympathy for him was seeing him as a representative of the stage singing the words, ' we are men of flesh and blood, we breathe the air, just like you!'

Royal Opera House Chorus singers
There were outstanding performances from Carmen Giannattasio and Martina Belli as the seductive and promiscuous wives,  Nedda (Pagliacci) and Lola (Cavalleria Rusticana). The most touching duet was between Dionysios Sourbis and Giannattasio singing as Silvio (Pagliacci) and Nedda. 

I enjoyed the fine singing of Benjamin Hulett as stage creature, Arlecchino. Just wished there was more words for him to sing! And Elena Zilio moved me from the moment the curtains were lifted as she looked over her murdered son, Turiddu (Antonenko). Seeing her embrace a weeping and regretful Santuzza (Westbroek) was also an emotional scene. 

Antonio Pappano was spirited throughout his conducted of Leoncavallo's gorgeous music with its wave-after-wave of soul-stirring tension. And there wasn't an ounce of stage misconduct from Michieletto. Possibly the best production I've seen so far this year at the Royal Opera House. Will Eugene Onegin top this? We shall just have to see.
Pappano, Martina Belli, Elena Zilio, Eva-Maria Westbroek,  Carmen Giannattasio, Dimitri Platanias and Benjamin Hulett.

Performances are showing until the 1st of January 2016.  Click here to buy tickets.
It is also available to see in cinemas across the globe on December 10th. Go to your nearest cinemas. (Click here for more information on ROH Screenings.) Alternatively queue up early for day tickets, which are available every day from 10am. 

More Links:
 Andre Chenier review with Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek (Click here).

Otello - Live in HD from MetOpera with Aleksandrs Antonenko review (Click here).

Anna Nicole with Eva-Maria Westbroek (Click here).