Saturday, May 28, 2011

Opera concert: Handel's Ariodante

To appreciate Handel's opera Ariodante, presented in concert form at the Barbican this week, I think you need to get into a baroque frame of mind. The trick is to appreciate the prettiness of it without falling asleep like the little woman next to me did. It was not too hard to get into this frame when an impressive cast headed by Joyce DiDonato and Il Complesso Barocco.

As the first half of the performance closed with the incredibly dramatic "Scherza infida" sung by DiDonato for someone not familiar with the work it was easy to wonder how that could be topped in the second half. It was sublime music with an eerie bassoon accompaniment. But by her final aria, Doppo Notte, there was more breathless breathtaking music making that the audience could not help but cheer and applaud, even if the epilogue was still to run.

AriodanteThere was some very fine music making here, which helps bring to life this piece. Even for a concert version, it was fairly dramatic. Costumes and scenery were not necessary when the singers could act (and push music stands about). Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Polinesso, the rival to DiDonato's Ariodante was particulary good in getting so much out of the villain's role, both in voice and performance. It was tempting to hiss, but only in a good natured way, and she had many fans by the end of the evening.

The last time I saw DiDonato she "famously broke her leg on stage". It is not often you get to witness modern opera folklore, but one suspects as DiDonato goes from strength to strength this will be one of those stories to dine out on for years to come... Her new album Diva, Divo was released earlier this year, but a full recording with Il Complesso Barocco is also available from June... Not even indigestion from eating a chicken breast smeared with salsa and stuffed in a worn out focaccia from the Barbican's canteen could put me off enjoying the evening. The six-thirty start necessitated eating there (amongst the flying pigeons) out of desperation. Live and learn...

Signs from outside Mansion House tube this week

Originally uploaded by Paul-in-London

Taking a stand against the rivers of urine, it states:
Please note - this is NOT (much underlining) a toilet (just one underline) so don't piss up it (sic). Go before you leave the pub or wine bar (for the posh pissers). Thank you (your mother).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Opera Last Look: Werther

If opening night was a sensation watching Rolando Villazon in the title role, closing night didn't disappoint either. At the curtain call Villazon was very excited and shouting like a very satisfied man. The audience was on its feet applauding. It was mutual admiration. Villazon's performance made Werther, a tragic story about a young troubled poet who falls in love with a woman committed to someone else, incredibly passionate and engaging. His act three aria was worth the price of admission alone. Even in the context of an incredibly melodramatic opera, you couldn't help but be drawn into this world. And at the curtain call I couldn't help but think he must be awfully fun at parties.

Opposite Villazon was Sophie Koch playing Charlotte, the woman who is his obsession sounded great too. But focus of the  opera is the tragic young poet. With Antonio Pappano in the orchestra pit, the music was incredibly lush and intense. All breathtaking stuff... It was enough to make you want to go home and write obsessive poetry for hours. Here's looking forward to Villazon's next engagement with the Royal Opera.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Theatre: The Cherry Orchard

1000000871It was only two years ago when I last saw a production of The Cherry Orchard. Either I have seen too much theatre, or this play is a favourite in this town. It is probably a favourite given its subject matter of class and the property ladder. Now that is something everyone who goes to the theatre here can relate to. And I really don't get out and see that much theatre surely?

The last time it was at the Old Vic, this time around it was around the corner at the National Theatre, and in a new translation by Andrew Upton. The most discernible difference I could note about this new translation was that there are a few more potty-mouthed words, which in the context of the drama and its setting makes the performers come  across like they are frightfully naughty schoolchildren. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the characters in this play could be construed as being a little naughty I suppose (or at least incapable of making sensible decisions).

There is also the problem that this production feels lost in the huge space of the Olivier theatre, despite over extending the set so it stretches across the stage. It is one big house this time around. Big is not always better and everyone also has to shout and play it big in this production for fear of not being heard... If feels at times that the characters have to be larger than life just to be heard (and seen). Chairs are thrown, big dance numbers are staged, emotions are larger than life...

But having said all that, the cast are great. Headed by Zoë Wanamaker, she gives an excellent performance of the conflicted Ranyevskaya, which will have you feeling sympathy for her and wanting to slap her at the same time. Conleth Hill as Lopakhin, the serf-made-good, gives an excellent performance balancing the comedy and drama that is central to the story.

So even a Cherry Orchard with a few blemishes is still a great night at the theatre and this show doesn't disappoint... Much... It is also part of the National Theatre Live and will be broadcast around the world on 30 June. The close ups of a broadcast might even benefit this production. Sitting in the circle it was hard to tell what facial expressions were on the actors.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Theatre: Fing's Ain't Wot They Used T'Be

Fings at union tonight
Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be is not so much a musical but a music hall revue of songs with a very loose excuse for a plot. It feels a little like a downmarket Guys and Dolls (or at least one transferred to the East End). There are busty prostitutes, gamblers, fights and a sissy male... But not much of a story. That is not to say that it is not rather enjoyable with the songs being a pastiche of music hall styles where humour and melodrama are more important than characterisations or  driving forward a plot. This current production at the Union Theatre has an energetic cast and is a slick production. It sounds good too, with a small orchestra that is supplemented by the actors playing instruments as well.

It is amazing to think that Lionel Bart had written this the year before Oliver! as this is not in the same league. But perhaps that isn't the point. This is much more of a sing along. It's tempting to sing along at times and I am sure @Johnnyfox was doing it every now and then. Grab a beer and go see it and have a good time. It runs until June.

Just brush up on your cockney slang before-hand as there is not a glossary in the programme. Interval and post show musings follow...


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Theatre: A Delicate Balance

It's a delicate balance...

There was something odd about this revival of Edward Albee's 1966 play A Delicate Balance, which is playing at the Almeida Theatre.

It's not just being warned upon entering the theatre to switch off rather than silence your phones as the slightest noise will upset the actors. It is that almost without warning, the actors will emote at such intensity that things become so disturbing and painful to watch it feels like you are watching someone's mental collapse. At one point during Wednesday evening's performance a mobile phone went off behind me and I feared that suicide on stage may have been next.

It is a play about a respectable middle class couple, their family, friends and perfect life. Although naturally being an Albee play nothing is quite what it seems and there is a secret terror ripping at their lives. Despite the drama, this is also a very funny play with some incredibly witty lines. But all the while you are kept on edge as you are never quite sure when things are going to take a turn for the worse.

The cast is led by Penelope Wilton as Agnes who is restrained to the point of being unbelievably remote. Her almost lifeless husband is played by Tim Piggott-Smith. Against this is Imelda Staunton playing Agnes's sister Claire who seems to be a permanent house guest in their home. She manages to provide the comic relief as she recounts such adventures as shopping for a topless swimming costume. As their daughter is returning home from another failed marriage, their lifelong friends arrive unexpectedly.

All the action is set in an oval-shaped living room. The round room was a somewhat distracting set for me as I couldn't help but keep wondering what shapes the rooms in the rest of the house were, and whether any house would have an oval living room given that it would lead to a lot of dead space. Given the importance of alcohol in this family the layout of the bar seemed unusual, but there was a substantial array of spirits, mixers and glassware for the various drinks consumed throughout the day.

Even suffering from jet lag from returning from Australia, this was a sharp and enjoyable play. The restrained and nuanced performances sometimes stretch the bounds of believability and can be at times frustrating, but the script directions are often very specific so it must be a difficult piece for actors to interpret. But then again acting in a straight jacket is part of what this play is all about... Go catch it... But have a martini first to loosen things up... And switch your phone to flight mode...