How far the ENO have come. It is less than four years ago that I saw Handel’s Radamisto at the ENO with a woman singing the castrato role and very static staging. How much better it is now that the importance of the counter tenor has been recognised. This showed up most dramatically in the Act II duet between Iestyn Davies as Bertarido and Rebecca Evans as his wife Rodelinda. His counter tenor and her soprano may have been similar in vocal range but they sounded as different as woodwind and string instruments, creating the most wonderful highlight of the opera. The staging was good too, with good acting from the six singers and one actor who somehow filled the stage and made me forget how few singers there are in most opera seria, although the direction was perhaps a little more tongue in cheek than the heacy plot deserved. Also many thanks for Christian Curnyn who I have now seen conducting four baroque operas at the Coliseum. He currently seems unsurpassably good in this area. My only minor grumble is that, having found how good it was to raise the orchestra pit for Castor and Pollux, why has it not become standard for all their baroque operas?
This is a superb performance from Tim Piggot Smith. I’ve been rather busy (retirement is so demanding) so this is a late review (Rodelinda to come) and very short. This play was a clever comedy with lots of pathos. By the end I was crying but not sure whether it was from sympathy, laughter or tragedy. With a superb central performance and an excellent production, I am sure this is going on to the West End or on a national tour. Either way it’s well worth grabbing a chance to see it. The Park Theatre is a really lovely new theatre, purpose-built and very comfortable and I hope to visit again.
I’m not reviewing everything at the moment: there are lots of shows ending and what’s point of reviewing the last performance? However, this does mean there are some terrific offers out there. Theatre People have just launched March Madness with some really good deals but it’s worth registering for Showsavers to see all the offers around. I’d particularly recommend grabbing From Here to Eternity and Emil and the Detectives while they’re still on as they are both terrific. There are also some tired old musicals I have no intention of paying any money but Billy Elliot is still fabulous and I might go again if it was just a bit cheaper.
Steven McRae starred as the soloist in Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody, an extremely demanding role that he made seem easy, putting terrific humour into the part. The music was fun too, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (that’s the theme that was used for the South Bank Show music). Wayne McGregor’s new work, Tetractys – the Art of Fugue, followed. As with Raven Girl, it was very dimly lit as if he was trying to hide the choreography and I just didn’t get it. If that was too abstract for me, Kenneth Macmillan’s Gloria was almost too literal in its portrayal of the horrors of the Great War, danced to Poulenc’s Gloria. If Steven McRae’s dancing was the visual highlight of the matinee, Gloria was definitely the musical peak, sublimely played and sung by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus. I wish I could credit the singer but there was a last minute change and I’m not sure of her name.
Quinn Kelsey was astonishing in the title role, giving a powerful performance that drew out the complexities of the character. I tend to judge a performance by the ENO by my need to look at the surtitles: in his case there was no need as every word was beautifully, clearly sung. The direction by Christopher Alden followed the same principle as in his version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – take a single set relevant to the world in which the opera was written, rather than its nominal setting, and play everything against that one background. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he used the outside of Britten’s school: half the audience booed on the first night; the other half cheered, including me. This time he used a Victorian gentleman’s club: no-one booed; no-one cheered, including me. There was plenty of polite applause but I’d rather be in a production that gets booed and cheered than one that just gets applauded. I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream twice in a week as I loved it so much. I’m not sure I’ll bother to see Rigoletto again in any production. I’m still not a fan of Italian opera, but it was fun and I am glad I have seen it this once.
This starts with a 1950s couple meeting at a table at a tea dance. They start talking and she tells him she has just murdered someone. He isn’t really listening, talking about the dancing… Over the next thirty minutes we steadily uncover who they are, what their history is and what her confession is about. It may only be half an hour but the writing by Andrew Bridgmont is first class and the acting is perfect The actors are sadly uncredited, even in the theatre’s own publicity, but I am fairly sure the woman was played by Claire Porter as I found clips from an earlier performance on YouTube. It is apparently part of a trilogy of linked plays – I’d love to see all three.
If you’ve heard the radio show, you’ll know that Mark travels around the country, does a little local research then tells jokes and chats about the area with local people. If you haven’t, then that probably sounds a lot less entertaining than the reality. What makes it work is that Mark is clearly, genuinely fascinated with the various localities of Britain. He’s also a very likeable, old-fashioned Socialist and can be very funny. I saw his show in Hayes which is a somewhat amorphous, anonymous area and, like most of the audience, I came from nearby rather than Hayes itself. Luckily, of the 150 minutes he was on stage, he spent less than 30 actually talking about Hayes itself and most of the rest talking about more interesting places he’s visited. Lots of chuckles and a few louder laughs: well worth checking if he’s near you. A look at his website will give you a better flavour of his humour and let you know where he’s visiting next.