Posts Tagged ‘Rosemary Joshua’

Review – The Rake’s Progress – Royal Opera House

February 3, 2010

My interest in seeing the Royal Opera’s version of The Rake’s Progress broke down into two main components. First, I like Stravinsky. I’ve never seen one of his operas, though, but gotta go, right? Second, it was directed by totally famous rock star level director dude Robert Lepage. I mean, I haven’t exactly seen anything he’s done before, but all of the pictures are very cool. And, hey, I found some cheap little seats for 16 quid up in the Amphitheater. And it was going to be in English!

*sigh*

Why oh WHY couldn’t my memories of this show be of something besides the set design? Lepage (who I kept wanting to call Leplant, blame Led Zeppelin) was really wowtastic from start to finish, even though this wasn’t brand spanking new, it was only from 2007 so pretty damned close to cutting edge. This was clear even in the first scene, where the backdrop of animated clouds (over a field, as it were, seemingly in America’s Midwest) moved gently but not self-aggrandizingly, managing even to add to the feeling on stage by becoming darker as the story moved forward and Tom Rakewell (Toby Spence) made his deal with Nick Shadow (not sure who played it this night) and sealed his doom. Wow, Lepage actually gets how to incorporate animation in a way that works! It basically made me think from the very start, “Yep, we’re in the hands of a master here!”

And the miracles continue – the bed that sucks into the stage when Tom Rakewell is “claimed” by Madame Mother Goose (Frances McCafferty), the AMAZING inflatable airstream trailer that is blown up through a tiny hole in the stage, the wee, wee little house with the shadow in the windows representing Mr. Trulove trying to figure out where his daughter Anna (Rosemary Joshua) has gone while she runs around (mostly) in front of the stage as if she’s very, very far from the house. God, I loved the house. And then Anna in her car, with her scarf pulling behind her as if in the wind, finally caught (on a string) and blown away in a beautiful “moment.”

So many moments. So very boring.

According to someone who knows opera much better than I do, whom I heard as I walked toward the exit (at the interval), Toby Spence had a great voice for this part, a very youthful sound but also very strong despite the fact that he was really carrying a lot of stage time. Rosemary Joshua was judged to have not quite his stamina and to have been tiring noticably during the final scene.

I could sympathize, really. While I enjoyed the recitative (I think that’s the right word) moments that had a very 18th century sound to them that I like (will have to research how Stravinsky came up with the score), the rest of the music just wasn’t grabbing me. When the interval came, I realized I was only staying for the spectacle, and I just didn’t care enough about the singing or the rest of the music to want to stay. I’d got my money’s worth, but I was wishing I’d just given up on the tickets and gone to see another Ozu movie at the BFI instead, and angry that it was now so late that I couldn’t possibly see the last showing of Late Autumn. A bad sign, really. But, you know, Chando’s Opera Room was just a short walk away and I did manage to end the evening on a high note – just not one that was coming from a stage.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 30th, 2010. I am going to try to see Tamerlano, which I’m hoping I will enjoy more as it’s an era I groove on more. Ping me if you have some tips for cheap tix as it’s way out of my price range even in the amphitheater.)

Advertisements

Review – Partenope – English National Opera

November 8, 2008

Last night, Worthy Opponent and I went with our friend Cate to the London Coliseum, where the English National Opera was presenting Handel’s Partenope. This actually marked the second time we went to see Baroque opera in a week (the earlier time being Les Arts Florissants on Tuesday at the Barbican with an all-Rameau evening, nicely written up by Wechsler).

Opera’s a bit tricky for me – I like listening to people sing, but I don’t care for the sappy emotions of “classical” opera – both La Boheme and La Traviata leave me cold, though I really like Carmen and have a soft spot for Madama Butterfly. And I’m a big fan of Baroque music. I try to see Baroque opera as being mostly about musical/vocal fireworks and not so much about story telling – which is good because frequently the stories are just incredibly silly. While I may enjoy myself, I still can find myself worn out – as happened both nights this week after hour two went by. Those music lovers of old, how did they do it?

At any rate, despite having a plot so thin it would have served as a good dress for Salome, Partenope was a not bad night out, provided you enjoy this kind of music. I was excited to see two harpsichords in the pit as well as an archlute – the true sign of authenticity in the face of utter uselessness! Picking Christopher Curnyn, an “early opera specialist” (per the program) was, I think, a really good idea – instead of getting some mish-mash of musical styles, the whole thing sounded just right where it was supposed to be (and I’m a bit picky about this after ten years of early music concerts with the Early Music Guild back in Seattle).

I felt this performance had a particularly interesting set and staging. The set and costuming were inspired a lot by the photos of Man Ray (and other artists of the 20s), which I knew quite well from Bill Jay’s photo history classes at Arizona State, and included the showing of Ray’s 1923 film “Return to Reason.”

But … unfortunately, it all seemed to be sort of pasted on top of the opera itself as something to distract the audience rather than actually adding to the performance. There was a man wearing a flat piece of paper around his face wandering on the stage in a near total copy of Ray’s portrait of Andre Breton – but so what? He didn’t speak, he simply moved across the set, attracting attention to himself rather than the people who were actually performing. Partenope puts on a pile of bracelets up to her elbows, making herself look exactly like another portrait, of Nancy Cunard …. but again, how did it actually add to the show? (Admittedly as a costume device it was quite nice, but it was just not a moment of the level of importance as it was played to be.) These little fripperies were more distraction than addition, and in my mind show a real failure in the overall staging of the show. Did the director (Christopher Alden) have such a complete lack of faith in the text? I mean, certainly, the bits where the performers were standing around stiffly singing didn’t really have a lot to recommend them, either, but … well, at least act two was better than act one, even though I thought having the singers drape themselves across the stairs (and then sing, on their backs, while so draped) was quite novel.

There were certainly some fun moments with the performance, such as when the various guests at act two’s party were walking around on a balcony, appearing and then disappearing behind a row of screens, and when one or two arias were sung from inside a toilet (truly something I’d never seen done before – I’ve never even seen a commode on a stage during an opera before!). There were also so many women performing men’s roles that it all seemed like something from a louche 20’s Parisian bar, and when one of them took of their shirt to reveal herself MALE – countertenor Iestin Davies – I found myself completely surprised! That said, what this show was really about was lovely singing, and Rosemary Joshua was a great Partenope – her trills and vocal athletics seemed entirely casual and effortless, as if she could just go on all night and it wouldn’t have bothered her a bit. In fact, all of the cast was good, which probably shouldn’t come as any surprise given that they were chosen to perform on a huge stage in probably one of the only cities in the world where you can gather some two thousand people together to watch an obscure opera from the early 1700s – repeatedly!

However, I did find my patience wearing thin during the second act, and we decided to head home after its conclusion. Friday nights are almost always my weakest ones, and I just didn’t have it in me to watch all of the show. I had bought cheesy ten quid tickets up in the way upper side seats (H 46 if you care), and, while they were occasionally blocked, they were both more than good enough for the price AND they set me free to leave confident I’d got my money’s worth. Thanks to all of the performers for a lovely evening, and I look forward to more Handel soon – most likely The Messiah.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, November 7th, 2008. There will be a final performance of Partenope on November 12th. Be warned it’s three hours and forty-five minutes long. And do forgive my clumsiness in this review – I talk about opera so little it’s hard for me to find the right words to describe it.)