21 August 2012

An operatic evening in three parts

The hardest thing about the Tete a Tete Opera Festival 2012 was deciding which operas to see. Each of the operas is on only once or twice and there are two operas on at the same time (in studios 2 and 3 at the Riverside) which means that to see everything then you have to go every night.

The operas are only £6 each (i.e. it's £18 a night) so money is not a problem but time is. Especially when you are working in another country (Wales) during the week. That is why this year I was only able to get there on four evenings to see a total of eleven operas.

The third night was the best so far.

The Shadow of the Wave was a well crafted one-act opera.

Two sisters and their two husbands meet up in a country retreat, the wrong sister goes after the wrong husband, madness and deaths ensue.

Musically it was lyrical and well sung. The acting made the opera and while it is easy to highlight the mad bad people all four characters played their parts.

The wicked sister, in an appropriate bright red dress, is scheming and feisty, the other sister is a quiet contented wife, the contested husband is a troubled artist and the husband nobody wants seethes in his frustration.

This is all very traditional opera condensed in to a manageable portion and served with menace. A wonderful start to the evening.

A Voice of One Delight changed the tone completely.

The performance was delivered by a lone singer, Clare McCaldin,accompanied by a pianist who surprised me by turning pages of music when it seemed unlikely that the random twinkles had been composed.

The vocals were pretty strange too mixing speech and song with the occasional use of a microphone.

The set was as simple as you would expect for a modern opera but there were some nice touches such as the projection of words on to the cardboard boxes and the use of a blue tablecloth to represent the sea.

There was not a story as such, or if there was I missed it. Percy Bysshe Shelley had died (one of the many drownings in the festival) and been cremated on an Italian beach. We then witness the aftermath of this as his works and life are reassessed and represented.

If that all sounds a little weird that is because it was. But I like weird and this was the sort of weird that I like. It was undoubtedly "challenging" and that was welcome but it did mean that A Voice of One Delight was hard to digest on a single sitting and I would like to see it again.

All to Play For closed the evening and was the surprise hit of the day.

To be honest, an opera about football seemed rather trivial and I only went to it as I was there anyway for the other two operas.

We entered the studio to see a man stalking the stage while restlessly watching a football game. A late goal clinches it for his team.

The team enter in celebration and we learn that he is the manager. They have won the semi-final of the Champions League and are now one game away from glory.

The team swig champagne as they sing their joy but elsewhere things are less happy. The manager complains that when the team wins the players get the credit but when they lose he gets the blame, and he is under pressure to win the final. His assistant feels overlooked and underused and has a secret offer from somebody else. One of the WAGS delights in the extra publicity for her that the victory will bring while another wife regrets the same.

There is a lot going on in the story and that is reflected in the music. We have the manager's solo, the team's chorus and the WAGS duet.

The opera ends brilliantly with all the story loose ends clearly exposed and none of them resolved. There was a suggestion in the feedback form that the opera might be finished which I think would be a mistake as the non-end works just fine as an ending.

These were three very different pieces and each was very good in their own way. And that made it an ideal evening of opera that entertained, challenged and surprised.

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