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Kafka-ish: Kafka @Finborough

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In offering proof that Kafka is everything to everyone - writer-performer Jack Klaff plays various roles, including the man himself in what is a part tour, part immersion and part legend of Franz Kafka. He is a writer who achieved fame after his life was cut short due to succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of forty. He is probably better known for his reputation and the Kafkaesque style attributed to his writing than his life. But after this piece, you’re left curious to learn more about the man and his works. And that has to be the best theatrical tribute you could give a writer, even for a writer who stipulated that his works be destroyed upon his death. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre . Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. In 1901, he was admitted to a university and began studying law. While studying, he met Max Brod, who would become his best friend and eventual literary executor. Brod would posthumously publish many of his works and writings. Kafka’s life co

Death Becomes Her: La Traviata @RoyalOperaHouse

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The original hooker with a heart of gold (and lungs full of blood) is back at The Royal Opera House for the Christmas period and beyond. It’s a bright and stylish production that was first seen at the Royal Opera twenty five years ago. But La Traviata, or the “fallen woman”, is more than just froth, bubbles and champagne. It’s also about the frailty of life and how redemption can come in many guises. In this particular version conducted by Daniel Oren, it’s the somber more reflective moments that stand out. Whether you like that sort of thing or not.  In case you were wondering if there’s a plot to all these emotions in La Traviata, it centres around Violetta, a courtesan who at one of her lavish parties dumps one lover for another. But her new suitor, a moderately wealthy man called Alfredo, turns out to be more than she expected and they both fall in love. Meanwhile Alfredo’s bourgeois father seeks to restore the family honour while Violetta grapples with moral choices while

Taking the leak: Count Ory @arcolatheatre

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August at the Arcola Theatre is an opportunity to see fresh takes on classic operas or forgotten works by up and coming opera companies and artists. They call it Grimeborn (just so you’re not to be confused with that other opera festival near Lewes). This year’s series included a chance to see Rossini’s Le Comte Ory translated into English by company Opera Alegria . The time and place have shifted from the Crusades to the Second World War, but it’s still the same story.  A  slightly randy Count Ory (Robert Jenkins) tries to woo his way into the life of Countess Adéle (Naomi Kilby) while her brother is off fighting the war. While the women wait for their men to return, they’re growing vegetables and making do on the home front. But Count Ory hatches a scheme for him to appear as a hermit who can advise on matters of the heart. That doesn’t go to plan, and Adéle falls in love with a farm boy. So his next idea is to reveal his true feelings to her, disguised as a nun. It’s a

Immigrants getting the job done: Carmen @KingsHeadThtr

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Carmen can survive being messed about. After all she’s wearing a gorilla suit at the Royal Opera's current production . Here she’s an immigrant working in a bar,selling NHS drugs on the side and picking up footballers to make ends meet. It’s a grittier, funnier take on Bizet’s opera complete with some fine singing. And it’s currently playing at the Kings Head Theatre . This version by Mary Franklin and Ashley Pearson is like La Tragédie de Carmen , adapted by Peter Brook in the early 1980s. Both dispense with a large ensemble to focus on the love triangle. But in this English version there’s more laughs. Albeit against a grim backdrop of low paid jobs, living out of cars and footballers looking for cheap thrills. You’re never quite sure if you should be laughing or recoiling from the comedy-drama unfolding as the vocals are soaring. But then again comedy is tragedy plus time... The role of Carmen is shared. I saw it played by American Mezzo Soprano Jane Monari. Her Carmen i

Brief encounters: La Tragédie de Carmen @popupoperauk

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In La Tragédie de Carmen, Popup Opera have a distilled version of Bizet’s Carmen devised by Peter Brook in the early 1980s. The gypsies are gone and all that’s left is the love triangle. And some of the best tunes... Carmen in some ways can survive being messed about with. The Royal Opera afterall is presenting Carmen in a gorilla suit . Cutting out large chunks of the story and setting it during the Spanish Civil War makes less sense. And in the venue of the Peckham Asylum the sightlines were a bit challenging. But it still works better than expected. Popup Opera is known for their fresh take on comic operas that tour around the country. But they are on a winner with a more dramatic piece for their autumn season. It doesn’t mess about getting to the best arias. And it helps they’ve assembled a youthful and impressive quartet to bring out the passion. Chloe Latchmore dazzles as Carmen, using her body and her voice as the seductive and sensual woman. She holds your attention with her c

Duelling sopranos, love gone wrong: Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien Und Bastienne @Popupoperauk

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The singing is always the key to Popup Opera’s touring operas in small or unusual spaces. Along with the chance to see some overlooked or minor pieces by famous composers. Again the company does not disappoint with its Mozart double bill: Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien Und Bastienne. The first half of the piece, Der Schauspieldirektor, is essentially half an hour of music stretched out to a mildly amusing farce. Tradition has it that the dialogue around this piece is rewritten. Here the scenario is duelling auditions between two sopranos when a struggling opera company can only afford one. It’s an amusing premise that becomes a bit silly in its execution. But there’s still some serious music making. Particularly when older diva Sarah Helena Foubert and younger diva Hazel McBain spar in a thrilling duet. In the second half we have Bastien Und Bastienne. Both consult a relationship guru (updated from a soothsayer) when one suspects the other is having an affair. After a series of s

The girl with the animal tattoo: Vixen @thevaultsuk

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There's something about the girl with vixen tattoo in Vixen. If you're standing in the bar at the Vaults at the beginning she is likely to push you out of the way singing and asking for spare change. It's a confronting introduction to this part promenade performance of Silent Opera's Vixen. It re-imagines Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen to the streets of London. Here Vixen is homeless, taken in by a different kind of predator only to escape. Rosie Lomas in the role of the Vixen holds your attention with her performance of a determined and resourceful woman of the street. Along the way she escapes a foster carer, kicks out another homeless man from his shelter and falls in love.

Secret marriages and other rivalries: Il Matrimonio Segreto @popupoperauk

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Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage) continues Pop-up Opera's tradition of semi-staging rarely seen works in unusual locations. It's playing at various sites across the country until 30 July. This rarely-seen work is perfect for their style. It's a little bit silly. It has some great arias. And it showcases some fabulous voices from its young and energetic cast. Of course being Pop-up Opera, they add some 21st century flourishes to this  18th century opera. There are endless references to politics and on-point trends.

High stakes and high vocals: I Capuleti e i Montecchi @PopupOperaUK

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Continuing their tradition of opera in surprising and unusual locations, Pop Up Opera delivers a sensational and dramatic compact performance of Bellini's I Capuleti E I Montecchi. It is easy to get swept away with the drama on stage thanks to the strong performances of the leads. While every venue they perform in is different, the basement of a Baker Street restaurant lent itself well to this reworking of Romeo and Juliet. The action takes place in low places and hiding areas and so the polished concrete and bare staging worked well here. And the hard surfaces meant you could hear every aria and recitative.

Trouble at the mill: Norma @E_N_O

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Norma at the ENO is almost a compromise too far. The production moves the action to the Victorian period. And it is a bit too distracting for this tragedy lyrics set in Roman-occupied Gaul. But there is some fine singing. American Soprano Marjorie Owens in the lead role gives a vocally strong performance. She dominates the scenes that she is in. Jennifer Holloway as Adalgisa matches Owens with vocal clarity. Both make their performances seem effortless. Rounding out the love triangle as Pollione, Peter Auty is just as resourceful.

Sex and violence: Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci @RoyalOperaHouse

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Things take a gritty and violent turn in the  Royal Opera 's new production of  the short operas Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.  With its sumptuous music and a production that moves the action to recent times, the melodrama and violence seem so palpable. 

Those underground Italian girls: L’Italiana In Algeri @popupoperauk

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Popup Opera’s second summer show is full of energy, enthusiasm and some fine singing… Even if it is a rather silly show, it is great to see a piece that has not been performed in London for a while in such an unusual space. This minimalist opera group has pared back Rossini’s work and taken away all that business of harems and bad Turks. Instead it moves the story to a modern day den on iniquity - Las Vegas - and the Algiers Hotel. Popup Opera’s unusual choice of venues and performing lesser known works (with a modern twist) is a great introduction to opera.  Silly plotted operas work well with this format and so moving the piece to Vegas gives the tale of gambling, infidelity and cheap thrills a new dimension. Although perhaps a few cuts in the second half to bring things to a quicker conclusion might help.

Hammams of convenience: Mozart's Die Entführung @PopupOperaUK

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There is something appealingly convenient about the format of Pop Up Opera’s productions. They take witty (and often seldom performed) pieces and stage them in unusual locations, with a modern twist. The convenient part comes in the fact these locations are either close to your place of work, your home et cetera. So by the time Die Entführung came to south east London, I was ready to go. Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) is about a hero, Belmonte and his servant, Pedrillo, and their attempts to rescue their lovers, Konstanze and Blonde from an Ottoman harem. Given the popup opera treatment, the harem is now a big brother-like bath house come beauty boot camp where no men are allowed. And no women are allowed to leave (at least until the treatments are complete). In this production most of the spoken dialogue is removed and in place are some rather witty title cards. The role of the figurehead-dictator Pasha Selim is now an omniprese

Looking in the round back: Orpheo @TheRoyalOpera

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The Royal Opera and Roundhouse joint production of Orpheo is a surprisingly fresh and lively interpretation of Monteverdi's early opera based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and his attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back from Hades. When you first enter the Roundhouse, you know you are going to be in for something a little bit different from both companies. Apart from a large circular stage that is thrust forward, there is a giant ramp and seating surrounding it all. You don't normally see that in the Roundhouse where most concerts are standing room only affairs. As the music starts the performers descend down the ramp and take their places as if it were a royal court - with Pluto and Proserpina taking seats at the high gallery. It evokes the origins of this piece as court entertainment, but also as if you are watching Greek theatre. And it gives a sense of intimacy to this large venue. There is also a religious theme running throughout the production with perf

The elixir of Grigolo: L'elisir d'amore @TheRoyalOpera

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Two star performances by Vittorio Grigolo and Bryn Terfel make this current production of L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera so exciting and damn funny. Grigolo bounces around the stage with such energy, enthusiasm and vocal power that makes this production a real treat. His Nemorino, the naive village boy besotted with farm owner Adina, really conveys the hope and longing (and the touch of silliness) that this piece requires. Adina, played by Lucy Crowe has a lovely vocal tone and can act too. Perhaps she seems to nice to ever be so cruel to reject Grigolo's boisterous advances. Bryn Terfel as the quack doctor Dulcamara who offers a love potion to Nemorino to help win Adina's heart has a great voice but perhaps not the first person to think of for this comic role. He seemed tentative on Tuesday in his opening moments. But by the second half he was deftly handling both the comedy and the music and looked like he was having a hell of time. Matching the en

Jumping the shark: Idomeno @RoyalOperaHouse

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There is some fine music making in the current Royal Opera production of Idomeneo . It is such a pity that the production is sunk by Martin Kušej's heavy-handed interpretation of regime change. Perhaps in another production it would be a stylish addition, but a giant rubber shark representing a sea serpent from Neptune highlighted the worst excesses of this nonsensical production. Rubber sharks, concrete walls spattered with blood and overacting extras carrying guns and wearing cheap sunglasses all becomes a bit too distracting for this early opera. Crete has never looked more unrecognisable. Audiences were not impressed either with the creative team resoundingly booed on opening night .

Opera and full frontal nudity: Rigoletto

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David McVicar's oddly modern production of Rigoletto is back at the Royal Opera House . This modern and minimalist dark production has evolved over the years. It is better lit now but there is still an orgy and full frontal nudity within the first thirty minutes. This enables anyone not in the stalls an excellent view of a flaccid penis and a nicely shaved bush. But as time goes it seems more and more superfluous to the main focus of this tragedy of a court jester who seeks revenge. Here is hoping that the production continues to evolve... Conductor John Eliot Gardiner keeps the music well paced. Dimitri Platanias in the title role sounded great and received a rapturous applause for his interpretation of the role. You get a sense more of the doting father rather than the court jester or cursed man here. Vittorio Grigolo plays the Duke and sounds too lovely to be the cad the role calls for, but it is hard not to like when he is on stage anyway. And it is easier to understan

Old doge: I Due Foscari @TheRoyalOpera

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The Royal Opera's production of I Due Foscari which opened last week is a chance to see Plácido Domingo in an age-appropriate role. Verdi's opera is intriguing for its use of leitmotifs for each of the principal roles, but lacks much dramatic fire, other than to see the predictable  tragedy of an ageing ruler weakened and lose everything. Thankfully it is short but it is also give much more interest with some star power and seems a perfect vehicle for Domingo. When his voice was at his strongest, you could also be forgiven for thinking he was back in tenor territory with its rich and bright sound. And at 73, it is an event to watch see such an experienced master at work.

More new legs (and wigs and breasts): Manon Lescaut @RoyalOpera

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Puccini's opera about true love somewhat prevailing over material possessions is given a stylish and slightly filthy update in Jonathan Kent's production at the Royal Opera . But what makes this production memorable is the pairing of Jonas Kaufmann as Chevalier Des Grieux and Kristīne Opolais as Manon. The steamy scenes and vulgarity are balanced against the soaring vocals from this pairing. Perhaps if it were any other duo it might have been a pedestrian evening, but together with the orchestra of the Opera House conducted by Antonio Pappano, the elements seemed to come together to give this work a fresh perspective.

Pop ups and hijinks: Così fan Tutte @PopupOperaUK

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Popping up for one night in Vauxhall recently, Pop Up Opera's latest summer offering, Cosi Fan Tutte, proves that no space can be too challenging for the company's blend of wonderful singing and witty takes on opera masterpieces. This time Mozart's opera buffa has been updated to the Downton Abbey period where Edwardian frivolity and the Great War serve as a backdrop to the proceedings. The opera centres around two sisters, Fiordiligi (Eve Daniell) and Dorabella ( Chloe Hinton ), and their fiancés Ferrando (Adam Torrance) and Guglielmo (Samuel Pantcheff). The fianc wager with Don Alfonso (Alex Learmonth), who is presented here as a Charles Carson-like butler , to test the girls’ fidelity by posing as strangers and attempting to seduce them. In an attempt to win the wager, Don Alfonso enlists the support of the maid Despina to fool the girls.

Vocations and executions: Dialogues Des Carmélites @TheRoyalOpera

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A simple, and at times bare, staging of Francis Poulenc's Dialogues Des Carmélites makes for a memorable and moving production at the Royal Opera . While an opera about the martyrdom of Carmelite nuns during the Reign of Terror, is not going to be everyone's idea of a fun night out, a combination of fine singing, dramatic music and a beautiful production make it a night to remember. The piece is about the journey of Blanche, who leaves her aristocratic upbringing to join the Carmelite nuns, against the backdrop of the Reign of Terror and the nationalisation of all religious property (it helps to know your French Revolution history to appreciate the forces at work here).