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Belters and bohemians: Opera Locos @Sadlers_wells

At the start of the Opera Locos performance, the announcement says that they really are singing. You could be forgiven for wondering that, given the amplification turns up the backing track and the voices so loud that you can't always tell what's real. But this is a mostly harmless and slightly eccentric blend of opera classics fused with the occasional pop classic. However, recognising the pop tunes would help if you were over a certain age. The most recent of them dates back twenty years. It's currently playing at the Peacock Theatre .  Five performers play out a variety of archetype opera characters. There's the worn-out tenor (Jesús Álvarez), the macho baritone (Enrique Sánchez-Ramos), the eccentric counter-tenor (Michaël Kone), the dreamy soprano (María Rey-Joly) and the wild mezzo-soprano (Mayca Teba). Since my singing days, I haven't recognised these types of performers. However, once, I recall a conductor saying he wanted no mezzo-sopranos singing with the s

Axes to grind: Violet @charingcrossthr

A game of poker, a greyhound bus trip and a few stops at whorehouses of America lead to salvation. Or so it appears in Violet, a musical getting its UK premiere at Charing Cross Theatre. An inspired production set in the traverse and a stellar cast are somewhat let down by a superficial story. And sound that made it difficult to hear what people were singing about.

Violet is set in 1964 North Carolina.  It's about a young woman who was disfigured as child when her father was careless with an axe. With her life savings she travels on a bus trip across the country in search of a miracle healer and tele-evangelist in Oklahoma. Along the way she strikes up a friendship with benefits with two young soldiers.

With this setup I was half expecting a Dogfight on the bus. But instead of some kinda time, things are kept bright and sweet with its bluegrass score by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley. But soon the sweetness becomes relentless. By the time you're half way through you're already in a diabetic shock from the soaring melodies and lyrical platitudes. There's lots of music, but none allow for anything other than a skin deep examination of the characters.

As Violet Kaisa Hammarlund seems full of boundless enthusiasm that makes the piece fun to watch and worth the journey. Jay Marsh as the sensitive soldier Flick also has some great scenes and strong vocals. Rounding out the love triangle Matthew Harvey also makes his presence felt as the beefy soldier who shows Violet a good time.

The production moves the action further into the theatre with its traverse staging and revolve. It looks great with its with wooden panels covered with body parts ripped from magazines. But even if the sight lines are improved, the sound seems muffled. Particularly when the ensemble is on stage, making it hard to follow what's going on.

Directed by Shuntaro Fujita, this is a co-production with Umeda Arts and will transfer to Tokyo after it concludes its run at the Charing Cross Theatre on 6 April.


Photos by Scott Rylander

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