Mary Woodward Review

Anarchy at the Opera, Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Review:

National Opera Studio / Scottish Opera

**** (4 stars)

The National Opera Studio works in partnership with the six major UK opera houses to give a group of singers and repetiteurs nine months of intensive training to prepare them for an international opera career.  A week’s residency with Scottish Opera, working with director Emma Jenkins and conductor Derek Clark culminated in an evening of Anarchy at the Opera.  It was a celebration of the Theatre of the Absurd, in which characters find themselves in ridiculous or incomprehensible situations: the programme’s suggested alternative title of Twelve Characters in Search of an Identity seemed very fitting.

Korean baritone Josef Ahn opened the evening with the prologue from Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, warning us what to expect and exhorting us to “make more babies”.  Before we could attempt to do this, however, the rest of the cast burst into the mirror-lined cage and took us on a Ride Around Moscow, courtesy of Shostakovich.  A quartet of characters arrived in ancient Pompeii but found no-one there [Le Roi Carotte quartet by Offenbach]: we hardly noticed, as our attention became riveted on the non-singing young man in bathing trunks, who became the focus of the chorus of The Mikado’s Japanese young ladies preparing ‘her’ to sing her self-congratulatory aria The sun, whose rays are all ablaze.

More gender-bending followed with the trio for female voices from Handel’s Alcina in which the eponymous sorceress is denounced by the heroine Bradamante who has come to rescue her beloved, Ruggiero, from Alcina’s enchantment.  Another heroic woman – Thèrèse – vengefully waved her giant pink feather duster as she rebelled against her enslavement to her husband, who kept demanding that she cook bacon for him, ultimately discarding her giant pink balloon breasts and deciding that in future she would no longer be Thèrèse but Tirésias [Poulenc again, most delightfully!].

Yum Yum now morphed into Oberon, summoning Puck and charging him to find the flower which will enable him to cause Tytania to fall in love with whichever monster she next encounters [neatly advertising Scottish Opera’s current performances of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream] before Julietta and Michel tried to make sense of the dream world in which they were existing, in which no-one except can remember more than the last few minutes of their past [Martinů’s Julietta].

Another confused person – Geronio – searched for his wife and her seducer at a ball but was unable to pick them out from a room full of clones [Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia].  Oberon told Puck where to find Tytania [welcome wanderer: I know a bank – Britten again] and wreak his vengeance upon her when she awakes from sleep.  Saffi has dreamed of a buried treasure: the fortune teller Czipra encourages a sceptical Barinkay, who loves Saffi, to dig at the exact spot – revealing a fortune and enabling the two to get married [Johann Strauss II’s Zigeuner Baron].

Back in Pompeii, the entire cast assemble and in the act 2 finale to Offenbach’s Le roi Carotte endeavour to convince the locals to join them on the train. thus escaping Vesuvius’ imminent eruption.  This lively conclusion to an engrossing, fantastical seventy minutes, brought warm and prolonged applause both for the singers and their repetiteurs who joined them on stage.  Further applause was for the exuberant playing of the Scottish Opera Orchestra and their conductor Derek Clark.

It was fascinating to see a talented group of singers display such versatility of language and style as they switched composers, genres, and moods.  All were very good, but inevitably some shone – most particularly Korean baritone Josef Ahm and Belgian counter-tenor Logan Lopez Gonzales.  South African tenor and baritone Monwabisi Lindi and Kamoleho Tsotetsi stood out when they were given anything to sing, but didn’t get the same solo opportunities as some of the other singers.  All those taking part are names to watch out for in future!  

At the time, I was happy with the ‘drag’ Yum Yum of Logan Lopez Gonzales, but afterwards I began to question why it should always be the highest-voiced male who is expected to behave campily and / or gets dressed up as a woman.  Soprano Laura Lolita Perešivana gave a brilliant performance as Thèrèse/ Tirésias, and Handel’s trio happily featured Joanna Harries playing male Ruggiero and Siân Griffiths as [disguised male] Bradamante: what is it with tenors and baritones that they only feature in comic drag roles [think Rossini’s Comte Ory, where the tenor and his courtiers disguise themselves as nuns to get into the local convent]?

In view of the current events in Europe, I was both sad for and encouraged by the presence onstage of  Russian soprano Alexandra Chernenko and Ukrainian Inna Husleva, while Crimean-born Nadia Kisseleva, was one of the team of repetiteurs.  If only other peole could, like these three women, learn that co-operation is better than conflict…

Anarchy at the Opera, Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Run Ended


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