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Calming The Tempest is the second half of Songs of Solace and Spring, the newest season of Coffee Break Concerts from OperaUpClose. In an introductory statement, artistic director Robin Norton-Hale voices that this instalment should be viewed not so much as a concert, but rather a celebration of poetry and music together. This description feels appropriate, considering that two of the longest pieces are spoken rather than sung, though Norton-Hale also highlights the focus of finding music within poetry.
The structure of the concert has been cleverly considered and the order of the pieces deserves much credit. ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair‘, a piece of incidental music written and performed by Rosabella Gregory, provides the perfect opening, beginning the show with a stormy theme that builds anticipation. Later, the ‘Where should this music be?’ speech from The Tempest is slotted between two songs, which were themselves composed for a 1978 production of the same play. Positioning the pieces in this way allowed music to overlap the start and end of the text as referenced in the speech.
The only detour from the natural flow of the concert, is an appearance by Fiona Shaw, who introduces and gives context to the final pieces. The ‘finale’ of sorts is composed by Nicholas O’Neill, who was commissioned to use three Emily Dickinson poems as the basis for a new song cycle celebrating March, April and May in turn. This final piece is beautifully performed by Flora McIntosh, who is a fantastic storyteller and manages to end this production on a high note; an impressive feat after the slew of talent which came before her.
The only returning performer from Shakespeare Re-Shaped, the first half of the season, is Joseph Doody, who once again delivers a high-calibre of performance and perhaps demonstrates even more vocal range than previously seen. New to this season, and a standout performer, is Athena Stevens who radiates stage (or rather, screen) presence and is completely engaging to watch. Her primary contribution to the concert is The Bee Meeting by Sylvia Plath which she delivers with skill, immediately embodying the piece’s vulnerability and confusion from the outset.
No stranger to performing Shakespeare, Jade Anouka masterfully delivers a speech from The Tempest and debut’s her own poem ‘The Brave Vessel’, addressing our imminent departure from the isolation of the past year. Anouka has such a talent for both writing and performing language, conveying as much passion and power with her own words as those of Shakespeare. Positioning herself close to the camera, her piece feels intimate, hopeful, and inspiring as she declares “Never forget from what a torment we are freed, we were quiescent but now we can bleed power.”
Similar to the first instalment of Songs of Solace and Spring, this production was developed around the notion of a journey from fear and isolation towards regeneration and hope. This is certainly achieved throughout, whether it is Anouka’s words, or the song cycle of Dickinson’s poems which most speak to you. OperaUpClose have supplied another enjoyable bitesize show, sharing hope and creativity online as we inch towards the return of live theatre.
Calming The Tempest is playing online until 13 May 2021. For more information and tickets, see OperaUpClose online.