Saturday, 3 March 2018

Dialogue of the Carmelites, GSMD

I joined a posse of colleagues to go and hear the Guildhall School Dialogue of the Carmelites (in French) as we knew a cast member. It's always nice to have a localised reason for going along to see a show such as this beyond the music as it changes ones focus - especially in a grand piece such as Poulenc's Revolution drama - and leaves plenty open to be a surprise.

It's a well-costumed show and excellently lit. The cast has a big range of voices, as one might expect, but quite a bit of strength in depth. The principal parts were well-cast. We sat near the pit which was a treat, as one could hear both the orchestral blend and individual colours with great clarity in this wide, dry theatre.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Iolanthe, Coliseum

A Cal McCrystal opera. Well, given that we had to leave One Man Two Guv'nors early having exhausted ourselves laughing in the first half, this conflagration demanded a viewing.

It's worth it alright. This Iolanthe from ENO is colourful and detailed (a tremendous final flourish from the late Paul Brown), with an extra proscenium and illustrated wing flats actually opening the theatrical experience out to the audience rather than presenting further 'fourth walls'... though part of this outreach to the audience was set in motion at the beginning by the actor Clive Mantle, who comes on in the guise of an Edwardian health & safety fireman to gentle rib the audience, introduce and then joke with the conductor (Timothy Henty) as well as popping up occasionally to extinguish sundry on stage pyrotechnics.

It's possible to argue that the music isn't always trusted to carry the show, with exhaustive pursuit of gags during lyrical moments - but then, what director hasn't tried to inject Handelian da capos with some fresh stage action? The chorus is in its element with almost every single individual essaying their own character in any available sliver of space (recurring jokes include the Screamer, the Repeater, the Drunk Lord, the Fopp) and in a fine supporting cast of animals of various states of animation, there's some excellent, understated work with a puppet dog.

And there's wire work.

And acrobatics...

... you get the idea. I might add that the principal singing is really rather good too, from the impeccable patter of Andrew Shore's Lord Chancellor to Ellie Laugharne's canny Phyllis and

And juggling

... and Bens Johnson & McAteer. We the audience also had a chance to sing but I wouldn't want to end on a damp note, which we can leave to the weather that put very few off an entertaining evening in St Martin's Lane.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Pierrot Lunaire, CWSO, Guards Chapel

Natalie Raybould preparing to perform Pierrot Lunaire
This was an unusual concert to attend by any reckoning - and that's before the weather turned very cold and snowy the night before. Luckily the audience wasn't put off, so there was a quorum of well over a hundred to hear the Countess of Wessex String Orchestra play 'Moonlight in Paris' themed pieces in the Guards Chapel on Birdcage Walk.

Programming is a funny art, and this classically eclectic mix walked the line between inspired and 'just making the criteria'. Vive la difference as intrepid and rather chilly audiences say in the Moonlight in London (although the obligatory National Anthem was indeed obligatory). So, we heard a Lully Overture, a fine, succinct Milhaud Symphony, mellifluous meditations by William Lloyd Webber and Fauré and a (Alto) saxophone concerto by Glazunov, excellently played by a member of the Irish Guards, Andy Braet.

I'm told that the ensemble are trying to programme repertoire outside what is familiar for all sorts of reasons and this is to be commended, as is their conductor Major David Hammond, who is ambitious enough to embrace this idea. It's a peculiar situation watching a uniformed unit, with a formal stage mannerism in keeping with their military basis playing music of a range of affect & temperament (and wit the shameless contemporary touch of reading off iPads with pedal turners).

All this cognitive chicanery was just warm-up for the single work after the interval though. Soprano Natalie Raybould has been performing Schoenberg's expressionist song cycle Pierrot Lunaire for the best part of twenty years and it shows. With its neither fish-nor-fowl vocal styling of Sprechstimme (the words of the poem are spoken but to the pitches and their duration specified in a conventional score) it is important to have a performer who not only knows precisely what they are doing but is also prepared to leave the page behind and grip the audience by its overcoat (put back on after the interval, since you ask).

This was a riveting account of Albert Giraud's poetry (in German, translated by Otto Erich Hartleben) in which the non-German speaker, such as this author, was able not only to hear the text but also understand it. This was also through the carefully detailed rendering of the score by the orchestra (a string quartet with two woodwind and the organist of the Guards Chapel, Martin Ford, on the piano), the most richly realised performance of the evening. Natalie Raybould's technique is something marvellous to watch and hear, pitched speaking of great colour and dynamic, with such a syllabic clarity that it appears her mouth is doing all the acting. My concern that a small group of military students behind me, who had expressed delight in seeing their first double bass earlier in the evening, might have found this a stretch was also put to rest as not a soul left the building until the performers has returned for a genuinely rapturous curtain call.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Salieri First the Music Then The Words, Lunchbreak Opera

There are three arteries by which one hears of shows going on in town: the company; the piece; or the performers. I'd heard that Caroline Kennedy was going to be performing in this one act four-hander in St Botolph's near London Liverpool Street, which is a strong recommendation in itself, though a new company and a little known Salieri piece concurrent with the National Theatre's Amadeus revival sealed the deal.

Lunchbreak Opera are a string quartet conducted from the harpsichord by Matthew O'Keefe. The instrumentalists sat at the back of the hall, by the door, which meant that the audience (which included a number of charming and engrossed 6-8 year olds on half term) was thrust forward to the front of the performing area. Salieri's opera was apparently performed without much cut (we were probably working to an 18th century Viennese idea of a Lunchbreak, then, at 85 mins) but plenty of style and energy. The cast had bent the Regency of St Botolph's parish hall to their whim with vigour, humour and considerable costuming effort, not to mention generous singing, despite reels of recit. No doubt the ensemble issues that plagued the early performance I went to were resolved by the end of the full week of performances.

There was style and sonority aplenty here so one looks out for their next adventure.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Jakop Ahlbom's Lebensraum at the Peacock Theatre

A chance encounter with the trailer video (they do work!) had brought me to get a ticket to see Lebensraum. Advertised as based on a Buster Keaton silent film (The Scarecrow, 1920) I thought we might be going to see contemporary dance, until we found ourselves surrounded by posters of the London International Mime Festival at the Peacock Theatre. I was delighted that a paying punter had actually turned up in a breton top.

In fact, the strong design, loose narrative and and trio of mime artists made for an encounter that was essentially physical theatre. The show benefits greatly from an integrated band, Alamo Race Track, playing large-toned electric American folk as if in character on stage. There's lots of fun without recourse to all-out slapstick; when this happens its ambitious and occasionally breathtaking (there's a particularly alarming-then-astonishing coup de theatre near the end). Everything is geared towards entertaining the audience and, by this reckoning, the event was entirely successful.