Less than a month after my unfortunate visit to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to see The Knight of the Burning Pestle, I was back in the side balcony for a stab at what I thought might be a more successful evening – a production of 17th century opera L’Ormindo (by Cavalli). Afterall, what I’d enjoyed the most about the last production had been the music (authentic Jacobean! this with singing by the Royal Opera!) and the playhouse itself (smells like beeswax!), so why not focus on the positives and see if a better evening resulted?
I’m pleased to say that even with a candy-floss plot, Ormindo was a charming evening, enhanced greatly by the decision to have the singers performing in English. (When I realized I might be heading for an evening of supertitles in a theater where half of the seats can’t see various areas of the stage, I got a bit worried.) I got to stretch my brain to try to follow along with the lyrics as sung – a big of a new experience for me – and I did well without a single crib note.
The performance was done tongue-in-cheek from the start, with “MUSIC” (you could tell because it was spray-painted on her robe) descending from overhead and giving us all a lecture on what a wonderful temple we were about to worship her in; it was clear that we didn’t need to get TOO serious about our high art. Our “hero,” Ormindo (Samuel Boden), competes with Amidas (Ed Lyon) for the love of Erisbe (Susanna Hurrell); the boys have a pectoral contest and even go for “my tattoo is bigger than yours” one upsmanship. Side characters complain about the local morals and are groped from the trap door; Erisbe appears on stage wearing a bed.
But the tomfoolery in no way indicated shortcuts artistically; the singing and musicianship were wonderful. I loved the (counter?)tenor duets of Boden and Lyon, and the harpsichord-led orchestra (in period costume) well-satisfied my Early Music ear.
And yet, still, after two hours, I took advantage of the second interval and made a break for it. It’s not that it wasn’t enjoyable, and the Farinelli-like presence of Princess Sicle’s nurse Eryka (Harry Nicoll) was a wonder to behold and to hear sing; but in some ways it had gotten a bit samey-samey. My bum had gone numb on the thinly padded benches, and since I’d just blown my sleep budget on a three hour long show the night before at the National, it seemed that going home would be the best thing. Still: I felt I’d got £40 out of what I did see; and when I got back to work I booked for two more shows there. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has taken a place in my short list of the most beautiful buildings in the world, next to the Pantheon, the Asamkirch in Munich, and the lunchrooms at the V&A; I plan to go regularly – but perhaps less on schoolnights.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014. The run ends on April 12th.)