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Tag Archive | "English National Opera"

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Review: Rodelinda, London Coliseum

Posted on 03 March 2014 by Amelia Forsbrook

ENO-Rodelinda

The motif of the tattoo defines Richard Jones’ production of the three act tragedy, Rodelinda. Italicised names – symbols of romantic devotion – are scrawled across the bodies of Handel’s characters, dredging the preoccupations of each heart to the surface, and pulling the setting of the play into a relatively modern 20th century. The streaks of ink also underline the superficiality of lovers who spend the bulk of the narrative lamenting old flames or chasing new ones and, ultimately, foreground a production that doesn’t concern itself much with what lies beneath the skin.

After Grimoaldo usurps Bertarido’s throne, the former king abandons Milan, leaving behind Rodelinda (Rebecca Evans) and their son, Flavio (Matt Casey). Dissatisfied with having merely obtained Bertarido’s power, Grimoaldo sets out to acquire the hand of his rival’s wife. Whilst the bulk of the production sees the new leader and his spirited, unrequiting muse divided on stage by only a thin corridor, Jeremy Herbert’s bisected set clashes bureaucratic Milan with the simplistic, pious room of Rodelinda, complete with its mouldy tiles and greying whitewash. Plotted across a set that maps out Rodelinda and Grimoaldo’s opposing worlds, this attempted seduction is destined to fail.

Musically, under Christian Curnyn’s conduction, this work is faultless. With eyes closed, you could get lost in the violins’ taunts, the elegant persistence of the harpsichord and the sweetness with which countertenor Iestyn Davies’s voice melts with Rebecca Evans’s soprano.  Open your eyes, though, and you’ll be confronted with gimmickry left, right and centre. Three treadmills line the front of the stage to indicate the entrapping nature of this bureaucratic system; animated neon signs brings us to a sleazy bar, where poor Bertarido considers his rotten predicament; and Jeremy Herbert and Steve Williams’s blocky computer animation brings memorial imagery to rudely dominate the stage. There’s a punchbag that channels cross-eyes grunge imagery and, later, the characters hop around a toppled statue. Words are drawn on swords, and branded onto knuckles that feed CCTV streams, like shots ripped from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. 

After all of this flamboyant excess, Rodelinda is at its most interesting when it takes time to mull over less ornate imagery. She may live in basic surroundings, but there’s nothing grubby about Rodelina’s spirit. With energy and conviction, Evans brings a rare truth to Grimoaldo’s rhetorical proclamation, “Did you ever see a feistier woman?”. Much wiser than her husband, Evans’s Rodelinda busies herself with schemes and manipulations, whilst our runaway male lead is feebly doubting her faith.

From her abandonment, the character of Rodelinda rises as a beacon of faith and imagination, strengthened by a voice that descends exhilaratingly from vengeful cries to crisp whispers. Biblical allusions have always been here, as mischievous Rodelinda, with a Salome-like command over her own sexuality, demands a councillor’s head as a first condition for marriage; Jones’s production supplements this echo by hammering a devotional image of Virgin and child on our heroine’s otherwise-bare walls – an image that, together with a clever piece of mimicry, enables Rodelinda to toy with the image of mother and child, smashing the idea of passive, gentle victim of fate. Instead, Rodelinda cunningly poses as the quick-witted engineer to the sacrifice of her muted son. Forget the screams of neon and the out-of proportion props – the production could have afforded to linger longer on parallels such as these.

Rodelinda is playing at the Coliseum until 15 March. For more information and tickets, see the ENO website. Photo by Clive Barda. 

Amelia Forsbrook

Formerly one of the Wales Arts International critics, Amelia moved to London in early 2012 with two big aims: to continue working as an arts writer, and to discover whether it's ever possible to pull off both telephones and flying in theatre. With particular interests in regional arts, South Asian performance and twentieth century European theatre, Amelia writes for a number of other publications, as well as being an Off West End Assessor.

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Review: Peter Grimes, London Coliseum

Posted on 01 February 2014 by Simon Holton

Peter Grimes ENO

Despite the familiarly ostentatious surroundings, ENO’s Peter Grimes is aesthetically different to any opera I have ever seen. On almost every level it has elements of coarseness and complexity that seem somewhat alien to the form, and yet, in this case, enrich it immeasurably.

To begin with the set. Designed by Paul Steinberg, it is all bare, polished wood effect and harsh, extreme angles. Somehow, it manages to combine utilitarian minimalism with impressive spectacle. At one point, a storm is wonderfully depicted with a slanting roof spanning the entire width of the stage, which swings open to admit visitors. This is a show containing a large number of scene changes, usually curtain-down during intervals or interludes, and for the most part they complement each other. Opera always seems to contain a certain tension between all its composite elements – the performance, the singing, the design, the music – and this is particularly evident in this piece. It is an occasional distraction, but far more often the source of great interest and impact.

The performers are equally notable. Strong lead roles, both vocally and visually, are supported by an equally strong (and gigantic) chorus. Stuart Skelton as Peter Grimes plays an extremely difficult part with ease and authenticity, and vocally is capable of extreme roughness and power as well as almost unbearable softness. Elza van den Heever, as his somewhat unlucky opposite, Ellen Orford, has wonderful stage presence and movement, and a beautiful voice capable of soaring joy and touching mournfulness. Yet the cast taken as a whole, though well-directed by David Alden, do seem somewhat inconsistent. Some characters are understated and realistic, others cartoonish, such as those of Auntie’s nieces played by Rhian Lois and Mary Bevan. Although they come into their own during a wonderfully surreal scene in the latter half, their committed but bizarre performance is for the most part simply jarring. One character who strikes the balance well between eccentricity and reality is Mrs Sedley, played by Felicity Palmer. Her performance is a wonderful, charming combination of frail and cantankerous, and a source of much-needed humour.

As for the music, it seems a world away from the beautiful, cohesive and satisfying music of many classical continental composers, its complexity acting as a spur for the intricacy evident in the rest of the production. It is multi-layered and mercurial, often congruent with the bleakness of the action, but often also being the only suggestion of lightness and hope in an exceedingly dark three hours. Peter Grimes is in many ways a truly tragic figure, with no hope of redemption, and this is at times challenging to watch. Characters – particularly Grimes – are almost wholly unlikeable, and often act irrationally in a way that is either refreshing or infuriating. Whichever way you look at it, this production is uncompromising, powerful and engaging.

Peter Grimes is playing at the London Coliseum until 27 February. For more information and tickets, see the English National Opera website.

Image by Robert Workman.

Simon Holton

Simon Holton

Since returning to the UK after sojourns in the German-speaking world, Simon has plunged himself headfirst into the world of theatre, as both a creator and consumer. Actor-in-training and self-confessed Germanophile, Simon is pursuing diverse interests in experimental and fringe theatre.

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Feature: Pop-Up Opera – bringing opera back to the people

Posted on 22 July 2013 by Sarah Sharp

As Pop Up Opera takes its work into schools for the first time, founder Clem Lovell talks to Sarah Sharp

pop 1

Ah, opera – the everyman theatre. Of all the performative arts, opera, surely is the one guaranteed to cut across all classes and join the people in awareness of their common humanity. No? No. Opera, of course, is the marmite of the stage. The naysayers revile it as elite tosh; the advocates tend to wrinkle their nose and wonder aloud how the riffraff got in. Wasn’t there a time when you had to produce genealogy charts for three generations just to get into the stalls?

It is just this sort of polarised attitude that Pop Up Opera is on a mission to overturn. Performing across the land in all manner of venues unlikely and absurd, from pubs and barges to tunnels and caves, this intrepid band of pop-up performers present opera as you’ve never seen it before. For a start, the fourth wall is no barrier for them; gone is the illusion of the grand opera hall stage, the magnificent sets and the orchestra pit – the singers and crew see the venue a matter of hours before the nominal curtain up. They make props of what materials they find there, incorporate the set into their surroundings, and mingle with their audience in the middle of an aria. Bringing opera back to the people is what Pop Up Opera is all about.

When I speak to the the company’s founder, Clem Lovell, she’s riding high after yet another day of success. It’s a phone call, of course – the company’s on tour most of the time, and while it does perform in London, it’s rarely in the same place for more than a day or two. It sounds like an exhausting but exhilarating experience. Long hours and nomadic lifestyle notwithstanding, she’s bright and chatty and bubbling with enthusiasm: even across miles of wires, her passion for this idea is infectious. Since starting up in 2011, reviews have been immensely positive, and critics on the whole seem to have embraced this fresh approach to the art form of the elite.

Today’s victory, however, was in the hands of an audience far more scathing than any art critic: children. Today marked the company’s first foray into its educational programme, which aims to go into schools and bring the glory of the operatic aria to the world’s most notoriously fidgety spectators. Fortunately, it worked a treat. “The teacher told us it was the worst class in the school”, says Lovell, and as if that wasn’t enough, “Ofsted were in”. But when the tenor opened his mouth and began singing, “jaws dropped. They loved it.”

It’s perhaps the most gratifying triumph – to win over an audience which nobody would expect to enjoy it in the first place. It’s an invigorating testament to the ideal the company has been doggedly pursuing since it started – and, as Clem tells me it’s not actually that far off from their first beginnings. She recalls that at the very first performance (in a cider house, if you’re wondering) there were children as young as five sat right at the front. At the end of it, the parents came up to tell them how much the kids had enjoyed it. And it’s this commitment to the audience of all ages and backgrounds, this connection with anyone and everyone, that marks the spirit of Pop Up Opera and, it seems, really makes it all worthwhile. “It’s a real joy,” says Lovell later on with real delight, “to see such a mix in the audience and everyone’s different and all enjoying it… I think a lot of people enjoy opera more than they think they will.”

pop 2

Certainly you couldn’t accuse the team of either elitism or pandering to the masses. Operas are sung in the original language. There are many companies – most notably English National Opera – that seek to make the most elusive of song forms more accessible by delivering it in English; as Clem sees it, it’s not the words but the way you tell them. Audience interaction and a sense of finding the intimate for each individual are what give Pop Up Opera its drive. Great care is taken over when to remove the audience from the action and when to draw them in – and it must be immensely satisfying to those watching who’ve never seen opera in any form and don’t know what to expect alongside the hardcore Glyndebournians. We discuss the essential emotiveness that the stories behind the libretti can have for each person, an idea abut which Lovell and her company are passionate: “Opera is so expressive… It’s about things we all experience: love, loss, anger. There’s something for everyone.”

There are surtitles of course, but these are done in a manner more reminiscent of silent movie cards, and often with a nod to the particular venue in which they perform – which in itself is an endearingly idiosyncratic touch. And venues that warrant unique reference have not been wanting: since its inception, Pop Up Opera has performed in places of all shapes, sizes and scenarios. A particularly memorable one, Lovell recalls, was in Shoreham: an old boat crafted entirely of scrap metal, the performance space made up of a double decker bus with a fighter plane welded into the roof. Royal Opera House, eat your heart out.

Obstacles are not something they shy from. Acoustics can be difficult to manage, especially with such limited get-in times – but these are professional singers and this is a serous business. The word “challenges” comes up a lot – there are, says Lovell, “a lot of challenges and lots of fun – but no disasters.” She is very proud – and rightly so – that her vision is offering a platform to young professional singers taking their first steps in the industry. Certainly Pop Up Opera seems to present a challenge quite different to the concert halls and grand stages that mark the more traditional singer’s foray into a professional opera career. Smaller venues do not mean compromising on quality. These are full operas, sung to professional standard in the original language – and while some limitations must be acknowledged as a matter of pure logistics (Lovell concedes that perhaps Wagner will be off the menu), standard is not one of them.

The current production is an ambitious mix of two Italian operas: Donzinetti’s Rita and Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona. This dual dovetail format is of course another example of how the easy road is just not their style. The upcoming season marks a wholly new challenge – a move away from the comedies they have dealt with so far, and a departure from the Italian aria. Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel: dark, subversive and definitely not a comedy will provide new meat to sink their teeth into, and presumably, a new type of audience mentality to win over. Charming your audience with devilish little arias is one thing, but submersing them in sombre Teutonic fairy tales…  well, if anyone’s up to the task of turning a crowd in the face of adversity, it’s the Pop Up team.

It’s been an uplifting conversation, to hear how the company went from idealistic concept to critically-acclaimed reality. It began as profit share and now it pays its way with professional performers. Without knowing too much about what alternative funding might have been sought, it does seem indicative of our current social clime that such an innovative company, so dedicated to diversifying its audience and bringing an esoteric art form back to life, should be working completely off its own back and without any kind of centralised support. But then, if this is the spirit of the lost generation, it looks good. A small team, doubling – tripling – on roles, both in production and performance, wedded to an idea, pushing forwards to make it happen. As Lovell says, “I feel very proud to prove that it can be done – we are actually going out and doing it”. And there’s a sentiment, no matter what the language, that we can all relate to.

Pop Up Opera is currently on tour with Rita and La Serva Padrona. For more details, visit Pop Up Opera’s website.

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A Younger Theatre and English National Opera present A Night at the Opera

Posted on 29 May 2013 by A Younger Theatre

My Perfect American

A Younger Theatre has partnered with English National Opera to offer six young people the chance to see their first opera as part of ENO Opera Undressed on Thursday 13th June 2013.

Following on from the first A Night at the Opera where A Younger Theatre took a group of young people to see The Passenger,  the second A Night at the Opera joins with Opera Undressed for The Perfect American to experience opera for the first time in a relaxed and friendly environment with other first time opera-goers.

What You Get

- A free ticket to English National Opera’s The Perfect American on their Opera Undressed night.
- A pre-performance chat about the production.
- Attend post-show drinks with cast and company members.
- Meet other young engaged theatre attendees.
- The chance to be filmed for the evening and featured in a video on the ENO website.
- The chance to write about your experience on A Younger Theatre.

This opportunity is aimed at 18-26 year olds who have never experienced opera before. Attending on the ENO Opera Undressed evening alongside other young people as part of this opportunity will give you an insight into opera in a relaxed and friendly environment. This opportunity includes everything available to those attending The Perfect American as part of ENO Undressed, including the pre-performance chat, and post-show drinks.

Apply?

Want to be part of this opportunity to attend your first opera with A Younger Theatre and English National Opera? Simply download and fill out the below application form and send to us. Deadline for applications is 9th June at 4pm.

Download the Application Form
(Right-click and Save to your computer)

Questions? Tweet us, or email jake[at]ayoungertheatre.com

The Perfect American

The Perfect American

ENO presents the UK premiere of acclaimed composer Philip Glass’s most recent opera, The Perfect American. Already a huge hit in Madrid, this spectacular new staging is set to be one of the summer’s hottest tickets.

The Perfect American visualises the final years of Walt Disney’s life, including mythical imaginings of Abraham Lincoln and Andy Warhol. Director Phelim McDermott (Improbable), 2000 Olympic Games designer Dan Potra and Leo Warner of 59 Productions unite to bring to life this remarkable story using their own unique visual language and characters.

More information about The Perfect American can be found on the ENO website.

 

Watch a Rehearsal Video

Here is a video showing some of the rehearsals of The Perfect American:

 

Opera Undressed

Too pricey? Too pompous? Too posh? ENO is inviting you to put your preconceptions aside and join us for one of our special Undressed nights at the opera.

Want to find out more? Sign up for Opera Undressed updates and news on all the latest events at www.eno.org/undress

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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