Tuesday, 30 August 2016

#edfringe2016: Theatre Témoin - The Marked ★★★★

The Marked caught me off guard. I knew it was a puppets show, but it was only until after I saw it that I realised that it had a special message about child abuse and alcoholism. Theatre Témoin has worked together with Everyday Theatre Cheltenham to raise social issues in an inventively raw way.  Its masks, designed by Grafted Cede Theatre, may be grotesque, yet their eyes and expressions are completely human.
Set in London’s groggy back streets and alleyways, Jack sleeps rough and sees demons whenever there’s a bottle of alcohol in front of his eyes. Theatre Témoin creates dramatic imagery of Jack’s horrific past through a puppet-made mother with blood flowing through her eyes and long spider-like arms whenever she takes to the drink.

There’s loud noises (you might want to cover your ears), and strobe lights in violent domestic scenes shown through neat and sharp puppetry work. The most unsettling scene is seeing Jack’s mother break a bottle and stab Jack, the little puppet boy, on the neck. Yet there’s a tiny bit of humour with talking Pigeon puppets, some that come in human-size as Jack’s company on the lonely streets. 

Not everything seems to make sense in The Marked, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The moral of the story is clear - drink responsibly, especially if you have children, but also remember that children soak things up fast from a very young age, which eventually creeps up with them later on in their adult life. 

Director Aillin Conant gives us a lesson worth remembering, and its cast shake and move on the stage with energy and dynamism. Extraordinary performances are worth naming here. Dorie Kinnear plays the pregnant girlfriend who hides away  in squatting areas with her abusive boyfriend, played by Tom Stacy. Bradley Thompson is a vital force performing the role of abused victim Jack. His character is much to sympathise with, and he cleverly captures the soul of a boy seeking his mother’s love. 

In The Marked, the imagination is there to raise these issues to a broader audience. For topics that can often be difficult to discuss, Theatre Témoin breaks the foil and allows its audiences to have a larger debate about it. 

This show has ended at the Edinburgh Fringe. More information about Theatre Témoin can be found here. They are showing The Marked in London, Cheltenham and throughout the UK until Spring 2017. Click here for more information. 

#edfringe2016: Manual Cinema - Ada/Ava ★★★★

 Lizi Breit (Ava) and Julia Vaarsdale Miller (Ada)
Ada/Ava by Manual Cinema is a quirky presentation of shadow puppetry and emotional sentimentality, and there’s no hiding from its creators; they reveal the creative process live to the audience as it happens. Manual Cinema takes you on a surreal journey of two elderly twins, close as best friends, ever since childhood, until one of the sisters dies.

It is the sad realisation that Ada and Ava are no longer together, which devastates and resonates the most with this show, which Manual Cinema captures beautifully through its touching narrative and unique artistry. 

Directors Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Vanarsdale Miller (who also performs as Ada) and Kyle Vegter have been successful in North America and won an award in 2014 at the Tehran International Festival. They made their European debut at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe at the Underbelly, which had many audience members give the theatre company a standing ovation on the day I attended. 

The craftsmanship takes place on simple projectors with ready-made images for projecting onto a large white screen. Below Lizi Breit (Ava) and Julia Vaarsdale Miller (Ada) mill around, creating the story of the sisters with various masks, hair buns and old granny clothes to match. 

Ready-to-use cut-outs and stencils are carefully placed to show the audience an animated tale of life, death, and memory. Flying back to their youth, the twins are shown playing fondly together in the sea, watching their feet catch the splashes of waves, yet melancholy arises when the dead sister becomes a skeleton - a fear the other sister doesn’t want to accept. 

Musicians Maren Celest, Michael Hilger, Kyle Vegter and Alex Ellsworth play a huge part of the show by creating the solemn, atmospheric music with a guitar, Rhodes piano, cello, clarinet, synthesizer and live sound effects. This emotional tale can be dramatic and deeply philosophical. One may feel the need to call a loved one immediately after seeing this. 

Friday, 26 August 2016

#edfringe2016: Opera Bohemia - La Traviata ★★★★★

La Traviata is Opera Bohemia’s seventh production and for the first time they are performing a work by Verdi. The independent opera company has been touring around Scotland ever since July and last night they performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in St Cuthbert’s Church.

There’s no denying the vitality of music in La Traviata – based on the story that has inspired films including Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge - which explains why the venue had packed out. Music Director Alistair Diggs has a way of conducting, which is almost like a performance in itself. He gave clear instructions where the ensemble of musicians followed, giving a refined performance and gravitating the music towards a more poetic and highly structured tone. The pace was neither fussy or rushed.

Catriona Clark is a starry diva as Violetta - the courtesan who dies of consumption. Clark is a vocal lecturer and consultant, outside of her opera singing, which speaks volumes about her own abilities, which is supremely impressive. Her ability to move up and down scales with little effort, or at least what seems like little effort, is astounding. Her performance of sempre libera was thrilling and had audiences gleefully bouncing to and fro in their seats. She also engages with the text and presents an excellent understanding of Violetta's disposition, making her performance a memorable one I'd happily see again.

Together with Alfredo, performed by Thomas Kinch, they convince the audience of a true romance. His characterisation is confident and fresh, and he sings with clear Italian and warmth to suit. Aaron McAuley as Giorgio Germont combines all those anti-hero characteristics one would expect from a selfish father. Yet McAuley pays special attention to Germont’s better qualities in the last few acts. His voice is also rich and his duets with Clark in act II are pivotal.  

This La Traviata sparkles with great voices, sentimentality, and thoughtfulness.  Even the detailed staging by Director Doughlas Nairne, is carefully managed, which changes in each act. It seems as if Opera Bohemia has covered every corner of their production, and what was performed in a small church seems as rich as an opera staged in a grand opera house. 

#edfringe2016: DugOut Theatre - Swanson ★★★★★

Imagine being stuck in the middle of the sea in a pedalo with a bunch of strangers with clashing personalities. The world has ended, there’s no way out of the flood, all you see is endless water and you’re left playing boring games like I spy or never have I ever. Not to mention you’re stuck paddling with a toff, vegan hippy, competitive fitness freak and a, somewhat, know-it-all. Well, imagine no more as Tom Black and Sadie Spencer’s have already written a hilarious play that’s currently showing at the Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33). 

DugOut Theatre’s Swansong is a bizarre concoction of a cappella singing, swan impersonations and cutting comedy. Watch as these four characters argue, sing and giggle over their post-apocalyptic mess. After carnivorously killing a passing swan, of which the vegan hippy enjoyed devouring, they decide to become new world warriors in hope of rebuilding the next generation. It’s a comical response to first world problems. 

They use a notebook as a place to list things they miss, such as chips and mayo, Provence and moon cups, and write down stories for the new generation. Sadly, the last page is limited down to either Bruce Willis or a poem about plums in your icebox.

Throughout the performance, the foursome sings calming ritual songs with the lyrics ‘Serene swan, beautiful swan…’ which only enhances the founders of the new world story. Ed Macarthur, Tom Black, Nina Shenkman and Charlotte Merriam are remarkable performers, and really know how to add extra punch to Black and Spencer’s words. George Chilcott's direction makes this an original and authentic show, totally worth running to see on the last days of the Edinburgh Fringe festival. 

Swansong runs at the Pleasance Theatre at 5pm until 29 August (not 16). Click here to purchase tickets. Click here for more information about DugOut Theatre. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

#edfringe2016: Magnetic Opera - La bohème ★★★★★

“Fucking Daily Mail” says Marcello as he, Rodolfo, Colline and Schaunard huddle together around a table to keep each other warm. It’s an empty room of hope with a lampshade, bookshelf and table to seem like home, except there’s no heat. The men need each other to keep their spirits high when the economy isn’t great in their pocket. Magnetic Opera teleports the frostiness of Puccini’s much-celebrated opera, La bohème to Lauriston Halls at Edinburgh Fringe, and it has all the imagination, talent and stage trickery to bring the Parisian 1830s to modern-day poverty.

Director Thomas Henderson’s production encompasses 360 degrees of talent from soloists, lighting design by Tom Turner to the orchestra of Magnetic Opera. Calum Fraser draws out the luster of Puccini’s score with Magnetic Opera's nine musicians, who perform with grace and fine detail. For Lauriston Halls, their musical touch is more than enough to capture Puccini’s music mastery. 

Francesca Matta and Ian McBain perform La bohème –a tale of love and lost in poor and cold conditions – as the lovers, Mimì and Rodolfo. Unexpected, Mimì knocks at Rodolfo’s door to ask for some light and they instantly fall in love, but love is torn apart when Mimì dies from the cold. This sentimental opera is performed heroically and touchingly by Magnetic Opera. All young singers charm and beguile the audience with amazing vocal flair and tenacity. 

McBain’s sings one of the most famous and romantic opera arias "What a cold little hand" with beauty and lyricism while Matta performs ‘Yes, they call me Mimì’ with sweetness and tremendous vocal power. James Schouten and Catriona Hewitson provide animated interpretations as macho Marcello and temptress Musetta - the parallel couple who swear and shout at each other even if they adore one another. 

After enduring Musetta’s flirting with every man at Café Momas, singing ‘When I go along’, Schouten’s Marcello caves in and sings delightfully with her and the gang including Jerome Knox, Sam Carl, Christopher Head who perform as Schaunard, Colline, Benoît and Alcindoro. 

Perhaps La bohème is the perfect type of opera to perform at the fringe. Think about it. Fringe is about performing artistic creativity, storytelling and presenting talent and expertise with very little budget, without the prettiness and polish of a grand establishment. Puccini encapsulated the aftermath of the revolution in France with artists struggling to make ends meet, and, as we know, through independent festivals like Edinburgh Fringe talent and passion for the arts is worth sharing to everyone, on any type of stage. 

Magnetic Opera are performing at 6pm on the 26th and 27th at Venue 163. Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Click here to books tickets. Click here for more information about the company. 

They are performing a new production of The Medium at London's Barons Court Theatre. Click here for more information. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

#edfringe2016: Katie Brennan's Quarter-Life Crisis ★★★★

 Jimmy Jewell and Stephen McGill present Katie Brennan's Quarter-life Crisis at the Underbelly – George Square that has toured around the Fringe scene and settled in Edinburgh for the last three weeks. What’s a quarter-life crisis anyway? I had to think about it because I know what a mid-life crisis is. It means 25-years-old, right? 

Being a twenty-something means (or meant) something different to everybody.  For Katie Brennan, it’s everything from finding any job in the big city, impressing the boys in the bedroom, trying to not misbehave at your best friend’s wedding, (but failing badly,) keeping up with Carrie Bradshaw trends on a budget and dreaming to be whatever you wanted to be – that is if you have a clue of what that is exactly. Paying expensive rent or dealing with unexpected stains on your satin dress comes part and parcel for Katie unfortunately.

She sings great songs performed with pianist Joseph Atkins. Her vocals sound as if they had fallen out of a musical, and she is a joy to listen to. Atkins also composed the musical slash cabaret tunes with witty lines that literally shoot at you when you least expect them – he is brilliant on the keys. The gags and humour can be graphic and too-in-ya-face, but it’s ideal for an audience awake at 10.50pm with G & T to keep them warm, which Katie pulls out of her bra.

An evening with Katie will not disappoint. It's full of laughs, and one to make you feel nostalgic about 90s pop songs including the likes of Spice Girls, Aqua, Britney, Vengaboys and much more, yet there’s also a touching source of hope and positivity to give the folks some life lessons. That includes killing our insecurities as if they were vampires and goblins and singing Doris Day’s Que Sara Sara, with the audience, to wash away the blues.

The show is going on until 29 August 2016 at the Underbelly - George Square. Click here to purchase tickets. 

#edfringe2016: Unseal Unseam, an electroacoustic opera - A White Boy Scream Production★★★★★

In the United States, 20 people are physically abused by a partner every minute, and 1 in 4 women in England and Wales experience domestic violence once in their lifetime. These disturbing numbers indicate the injustice that takes place at home, in private, and the lack of voices that are never given the chance to speak before it is too late. Straight from the West Coast, Unseal Unseam, by A White Boy Scream production, is an artistic performance showing at Venue 13. It comprises of many art forms, where the experience is, unbelievably, palpable, leaving audiences emotionally exhausted by the end of it. (Well, that’s how I felt anyway!)

Director and scenographer, Shannon Knox provides a mash-up of improvised music, opera, film, art installations, voice techniques and graphic imagery. Sound designer William Hutson, and videographers Giuliana Foulkes and Asuka Lin work with Knox to make it all happen. This immersive experience makes audiences feel so many things, including anger and hatred for the male figure in the film who causes physical pain to our vulnerable victim Judith.

Composers Sharon Chohi Kim and Micaela Tobin have dished out parts from Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung. The Hungarian and German composers have one thing in common, which includes melodrama and atonality; it is the way that their intense and highly atmospheric music feel real and seem to happen before your very eyes. 

Being a big fan of Bluebeard’s Castle made it easier for me to see some parallels between the abstract objects used in this performance and the many rooms Bluebeard’s wife enters before her ultimate demise in the opera. In a similar way, the stages of objects are utilized with deep effect. Armory, Blood Garden, Domain and Lake of Tears are just a few of these stages written on a piece of paper in real time, by the man behind the screen. At the same time, different types of torture take place on video, from wrapping aircraft cable around Judith's head to painful teeth flossing – the tortuous type that leaves blood on your lips. This grotesque list goes on.

Judith - the innocent victim - is performed by Tobin with stage wife Sara Sinclair Gomez. Both in long dresses, they move across the stage as the performance moves with the cycle of domestic violence. They produce beautiful vocal sounds in one duet, which goes back to Shakespeare’s Othello, specifically Desdemona’s Willow Song – it is the point where she knows her aggressive and jealous husband is about to murder her. There is a poignant scene where Sinclair Gomez looks as if she is suffocating Tobin. This reminded me of the harrowing moment the Moor attempts to kill is pure wife.  

From start to finish, there's five contact microphones active on stage, which heighten the sounds and echoes of each object: coins dropped in a jar, five foot long chains bashed onto the floor, sand poured onto the table and two butter knives repeatedly stabbing a white panel. The experience is uncomfortable and unsettling. Audiences won't come here for a good time, they'll come to learn and experience something new. Unseal Unseam is a political piece of art about domestic violence utilizing a kaleidoscope of artistic skills, sound techniques and philosophy to bounce onto. It's worth making a loud noise about. 

They are showing at Venue 13 until the 27th August. Click here for more information www.unsealunseam.com and purchase tickets here. 

#edfringe2016: The Mikado - Cat-Like Tread ★★★★

Photos by Tom Paton, assisted ably by Scott Thomson and two very helpful prop masters. https://www.facebook.com/CatLikeTread
Cat-like Tread loves Gilbert and Sullivan and they want to share their magical music world to everyone. Having produced sold out shows, including The Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore, they’ve arrived at Edinburgh Fringe and tickled audiences last night at Space Triplex with everyone’s favourite sing-along-opera The Mikado.

The enthusiastic troupe allowed Nanki-Poo to have his Yum-Yum, eventually. But it wasn’t easy - the drunken stag do and hen party seemed pretty brutal with not-so-pretty hangovers which followed shortly after.

The Mikado is pickle of a story. Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s son, doesn’t want to marry Katisha, with her dashing elbows and shoulder blades, so he runs away pretending to be a second trombone and falls in love with Yum-Yum, who is already betrothed to the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko. But Yum Yum doesn’t want to marry the Lord High Executioner and, sadly, she has no choice on the matter, which leaves Nanki-Poo feeling very suicidal. Then as The Mikado demands an execution to take place, as there hasn’t been many going on lately, (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this is fiction, so it doesn’t matter) Ko-Ko chooses to execute Nanki-Poo seeing as he is willing to top himself. The real trouble begins when they all discover that Nanki-Poo is, in fact, the next ruler of Japan, but they have many laughing gags and dance routines before their execution, which never happens because it's a comedy opera!

Directors Rae Lamond and Sarah Whitty have worked hard getting their performers sharp and poised for this fast-paced show. Gillian Robertson is on the mark as musical director as she looks to skilled pianist Jamie Wilson, who performs the entire score, and the chorus of singers and soloists. 

Dance and movement choreographies are tight with sophisticated clapping formations between the ladies of the chorus and talented performer Scott Thomson, who plays Pooh-Bah The Lord High of Everything Other!

Nick Clelland and Anna Thomson give cutesy performances as the lovers. Clelland’s wandering minstrel is weedy, but he has a heart of gold for his true love and sings lyrically throughout. Thomson’s Yum Yum is a fiery minx in a karate outfit who needs her Nanki-Poo. Thomson is a talented singer, which is shown best in her performance in The Sun whose rays are all ablaze in the second act.

Matthew  Sielewicz’s Mikado seemed to have walked out of an 80s movie. His vocals were solid and rich, with Dougal Freir giving an awesome performance singing as Ko-Ko with his very up-to-date execution list – it was as if he wrote his list off the cuff on the day; he sung about 30-year-olds playing Pokemon Go, Brexit, piano organists and those annoying people on a detox, which was a major giggle fest.

Debora Ruiz-Kordova gives a standout performance as Katisha, singing impressively and giving her all into her own characterization of the middle-aged unwanted woman of the court. There were moments in her performance where I saw the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s Magic Flute.

The opera that parodies 19th century British politicians through all things kimono and Japanese is a brilliant show with witty music, which keeps you hooked, particularly if you enjoy tapping your shoes and singing along to some witty lines. Some favourites include Behold the Lord High Executioner and Tit Willow, Tit Willow, and Cat like Tread gives warm, glowing performances for such songs, and more.

Cat-Like Tread are showing The Mikado now to August 27th. Click here to purchase tickets. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/mikado
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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

#edfringe2016: The Diary of Anne Frank (The Space) ★★★★

Anne Frank played by Polly Ott. (photograph from www.facebook.com/aboutturntheatre)
I remember learning about the Diary of Anne Frank in school when I had never heard of the word ‘holocaust’ before. I remember the profound affect it had on the other children in the class, and I even recall a friend in her teens re-reading it. This is one of the reasons why I was, so, keen to see About Turn Theatre’s very own mono-opera at Edinburgh Fringe.

It is the first show I have seen so far, since flying in from Heathrow this morning, and it is more than I had envisioned. Rather than a simple retelling of a young Jewish girl’s diary and the injustice many Jewish communities suffered in the 1930s, it looks to the future and the lessons of the past. These are the inspirational ideas of its director Sebastian Ukena, where a clever 15-year-old girl wrote the poignant words, ‘I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them.’ 

At The Space (Venue 45), Anne faces you, smiling and ready to read her diary to you. It’s fascinating to hear the first few words of the diary sung by Polly Ott who gives a bold and strong performance, portraying Anne’s turbulent journey through it all. No doubt - it is obvious - she plays a young Anne, yet her depiction of her is a confident and articulate one, of a girl attuned with her emotions and fully aware of the world that is crumbling around her. 

Her hair is neat, and her jumper and skirt are as minimal as any schoolgirl stripped away from her dreams. After each scene, of which there are 19, Ott brings out a photograph of a child from a different part of the world. This captures the voices of various children who also suffered under genocide and civil wars, and never had the opportunity to write down their experiences in a diary.  

Cypriot concert pianist Stavroula Thoma also gives an effective and thoughtful  performance with an atmospheric score, composed by Grigori Frid, which blends into the words sung by Ott. Together they reflect the highs and lows of Frank’s unstable and petrifying  experience. The scenes veer from happiness, suspense, and fear from her birthday with many gifts, the first notice from the Gestapo and the intensifying scene where the Nazis find Anne and her family hiding in the attic.

With some charming scenes lyrically sung, there are disturbing ones too of a crucial period of history. You won’t be leaving the venue with a happy song to sing, but a reminder of how some parts of the world, unfortunately, haven’t progressed from history’s mistakes. 

More information about About Turn Theatre can be found here:
Anne is performed by Polly Ott and Vera Hiltbrunner. 
They are showing at theSpace @Venue 45 from 11th - 27th August 2016. Click here to purchase tickets. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

BBC PROMS: Janáček’s The Makropulous Affair - Karita Mattila ★★★★★

 Eva Štĕrbová, Jan Vacík, Gustáv Beláček, Kartia Mattila, Aleš Briscein and Svatopluk Sem perform under the direction of Jiří Bĕlohlávek at the BBC Proms 2016. (BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)
If you had the chance to live for three centuries would you take it? This is one of the questions you may ask yourself after an evening of witnessing the suffering of Emilia Marty - a beautiful opera singer with a world of knowledge that goes far beyond our time. Leoš Janáček’s (1854 – 1928) Makropulous Affair was performed semi-staged last night at the Royal Albert Hall, after more than 20 years of absence from the BBC Proms, by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with its former conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, an all-round talented cast of Czech soloists and the radiant Finnish soprano, Karita Mattila.

Mattila is no stranger to Janáček as she has performed many lead roles from the Czech composer’s work, which includes Katya Kabanova, Jenůfa and most recently the Kostelnička – one of opera’s villainous evildoers – at the Royal Festival Hall with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra this April. 
Soprano Karita Mattila performs in Janáček’s The Makropulos Affair at the BBC Proms 2016. (BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)
Originally influenced by the play written by Karel Čapek, the opera begins in 1922 at Dr. Kolenatý’s office where a clerk Vítek is fussing over papers for a century-long family case, where Baron Josef Ferdinand Prus’s estate is challenged by Ferdinand Gregor. Yet, what may seem a like a legal battle between families swiftly turns into a puzzling mystery over Emilia Marty’s acute knowledge of Baron Prus and Ferdinand Gregor. 

By the final act, in a tense and dramatic dialectic, where words and ravishing music is revealed, we discover that Emilia Marty is, in fact, Elina Makropulos - the daughter of Emperor Rudolf’s Greek physician who was ordered to test his elixir of life to his 16-year-old daughter. Through the generations, she has changed her name with the same initials EM – Eugenia Montez, Elsa Muller, Ekaterina Myshkin, Ellian MacGregor – and finally, she finds solace in her last days aged 337.

When Matilla comes to town it is always worth trying to wangle a ticket to see her - last night was no exception. Her empowering stage presence in a dashing red dress captured the complexity and seductive qualities of Emilia's character. Singing as the revered opera singer, she laughed and humoured those around her including young, aspiring singer Kristina. She also titillated and enticed many men such as Janek, Prus’s son, who commits suicide for her love, and Prus himself who she leaves feeling cold. Mattila’s voice, however, is bold and animated as ever. She manages to hold out and show the best part of her vocal prowess until the very last scenes where all is revealed, and her identity is exposed. 
Tenor Aleš Briscein performs in Janáček’s The Makropulos Affair at the BBC Proms 2016. (BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)
The cast also deserves credit for giving a grand picture of this contemporary opera, which takes place in various locations; a lawyer’s office, the backstage of a theatre and a hotel room. Given the lack of scene changes or props provided, the extraordinary cast succeeded in bringing the story to life. Aleš Briscein (Gregor), Gustáv Beláček (Dr Kolenatý) and Svatopluk Sem (Baron Jaroslav Prus) sang with richness and depth as Emilia’s pawns in the legal battle over a will that had more than they had ever dreamed of. With smaller roles sung by Jan Vacík (Vítek), Aleš Voráček (Janek), Jan Ježek (Hauk-Šendorf), Jana Hrochová Wallingerová (Chambermaid) and Jiří Klecker (Stage Technician) as part of the comedy features, which balance out the opera seria at the opera's conclusion. This leaves soprano Eva Štěrbová as the curious and sweet-tone Kristina, the benchmark to Emilia’s beauty.  

Jiří Bĕlohlávek conducts the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra in Janáček’s The Makropulos Affair at the BBC Proms 2016. (BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)
There is no question that Jiří Bělohlávek felt at home with the BBC Symphony Orchestra - his knowledge of Janáček’s music is visible through and through. There is a cinematic and dream-like quality about Janacek’s score, here, that is spellbinding and easy to love. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was also superb. They seemed comfortable with the challenges of the music particularly since there isn’t a specific aria to remember, yet this is the charm of the opera. The final scene is the most devastating and ardent, where the stage went green and Emilia sang with her last breath. 

If you would like more information about the BBC Proms and future events, please click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms

Sunday, 7 August 2016

★★★ London Armenian Opera: Fire Ring at Grimeborn Festival 2016

The Armenian opera Fire Ring came with crimson power and Avet Terterian’s musical imagination at the Arcola Theatre for its annual Grimeborn Festival. It was the first time many theatregoers had seen or heard an authentic Armenian Opera, which left many thoroughly enlightened. It was in the main studio that a diverse range of artistic types made their mark on director Seta White’s stage: tragic opera, harmonic and atonal music with translucent dance performances to balance out the hard tension intended by its composer.

The London Armenian Opera (LAO) presented Armenian mysticism and creative flair, encapsulating its influence from the story by B. Lavrenev Forty First, a tale of love, war and revolution, and they weren’t alone. Akhtamar Performance Group and a small ensemble, conducted by music director Richard Harker, thrilled audiences which had them hanging off the edge of their seats.  

Not many are familiar with the Armenian composer Terterian (1929-1994), yet he produced several works including symphonies and chamber works from behind the Iron Curtain and was praised by Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch. His opera Fire Ring demonstrates the composer’s creative spark for the eclectic: modern experimentalism and Armenian motifs with atonality. This is completely justified for an opera that goes as far back as 1967 which found familiar footing in LAO’s 2016 staging. 
Grimeborn has co-produced the work with LAO which expresses the bittersweet torment of a brave girl stuck on an island with the enemy. The opera captures the unsettling and internal struggles of the girl performed by Tereza Gevorgyan who sang with authority and confidence. She provided no sign of vulnerability but pure strength and loyalty to her comrades in the battle. Gevorgyan was vocally charged with passion, yet it was hard to find a sense of affection in her voice, which was also the case for Aris Nadirian, the officer from the other side. Nadirian is a talented performer who also has a gift for the stage, yet the union between these lovers seems invisible, which, unfortunately, cut out a vital part of the story.   

Sami Tammilehto made tough swings on the drums and cymbals, Brant Tilds performed with a fiery trumpet while Kristina Arakelyan provided dissonant chords on the piano, seizing the range of Terterian’s musical mastery. Yu-Wei Hu, on the other hand, hummed the songs of a lilting flute which was accompanied by the instrument of voices from a talented cast of young opera singers, underlining the intimacy between the rival lovers. 

Bass-baritone Benjamin Beurklian-Carter and tenor Stephen Mills sung from the back on the right side while mezzo Anaïs Heghoyan and soprano Tanya Hurst were on the left. Together they created penetrative sounds that revealed the web of destruction stuck on the island. ‘Da da da da da’, ‘da dum, du dum’ and high-pitched notes from the mezzo and soprano, although uncomfortable in the beginning act, were performed on repeat with tense music which was best explored in the second act.

Dancers: Arpi Kojayan, Maria Khorozyan and Asya Ghalchyan were a visual splendour to the show. Dressed in white, they lightened the mood by bringing down the tension with soft, synchronised choreographies, reminding the audience of the romantic narrative, and the moon and the mountains that surrounded the girl and the officer. 

In studio one, the performance became alive by the second half while the first didn't waste time and headed straight into a midst of fierce instruments and violent voices, which may put off some audiences. That being said, those who are up for a challenge may enjoy it, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted though. Fire Ring has a lot of firepower and emotion, which requires mental preparation, yet there’s a satisfactory ending with an unexpected conclusion.  Hold on if you can. 

Grimeborn Festival is still taking place for the next coming weeks with more opera performances including The Marriage of Figaro and Mozart and Salieri. Click here for more information and purchase tickets.