Review: Gariné, Arcola Theatre

Gariné is full of light-hearted humour and is not your typical opera. It is an adaptation of the nineteenth century opera Leblebidji Hor Hor Aga, and is composed and directed by Gerald Papasian as part of the Grimeborn Festival. The Arcola mention that the festival seeks to showcase “innovative adaptations of traditional operas. Unknown, rarely-seen or under-appreciated works. Brand new pieces from the most exciting up-and-coming composers, musicians and companies”. This opera consists of musical scores and drama that are conventionally found in traditional operas but is blended with parody, which is definitely innovative.

Humour is often a good way to break the ice in a conversation and, in this case, is a good way to introduce new audiences to opera. However, the humorous style in the opera may not necessarily appeal to some as it is a bit corny at times. Howeever, it does into the overall semi-staged style of the opera. Director Papasian gives narration throughout the performance with periodic direction as a direct part of the performance. The occasional direction telling actors where to stand or to go off stage, along with the odd hesitation in lines here and there, gives the impression the opera had been rehearsed in a short time. However, actress Danae Eleni gives a more serious and convincing performance as Gariné, sincerely depicting the plight of a young lady who wants to act despite her father’s disapproval.

As the opera is semi-staged the stage only consists of a large trunk filled with props, which doubles as a platform, and a piano upstage right, played very well by maestro, Kelvin Thompson. The lighting is kept to a minimum and changes only a few times throughout the opera. Costume consists mainly of black tie and outfits that represent traditional Turkish dressing. This simplicity in aesthetics allows substance to take centre stage, which is useful particularly in types of theatre that typically tend to consist of majestic staging, costumes and lighting. The important factor is ensuring the semi-staged style doesn’t come across as a bad imitation of a traditional opera.

The best aspect of this opera – and the heart of any opera – is the music. The singing by the entire chorus is melodious, passionate and gripping. It’s amazing what sounds can be created with some vocals and a piano, and the operatic essence is clear in the music. The overall opera would have a more polished finish if the drama was at the same intensity and certainty as the music. For many, operatic singing is distasteful because it is often thought to be inaudible, but the operatic singing in Gariné is clear enough to hear and enjoy.

Though Gariné may not be to everyone’s taste, it is a comedic opera that strips away the usual razzmatazz in opera and offers the audience a new interpretation. It’s always risky offering a fresh take on an established art form, but it is worth taking. Papasian defied some norms and sought to fuse the old with the new, which is fairly done. For those that are sceptical about opera it’s worth also taking a risk and checking out the Grimeborn Festival for a chance to experience opera with a difference.

Gariné played at the Arcola Theatre as part of the Grimeborn Festival, which continues until 29 August. For more information see the Arcola Theatre website. Photo: Robert Workman.