12 August 2012

Two operatic views of Miss Havisham

I missed most of the Tete a Tete Opera Festival late last year due to holidays so I am trying to make the most of it this year. When the programme was first announced I booked eight operas on three evenings. Not bad.

Then I found that I had a Sunday free that I was not expecting and a quick look at the schedule revealed two more operas that looked worth a try. As with everything at Tete a Tete it is all freakishly new so there is no pedigree to work with and every booking is a game of chance.

One of the appeal of these operas was that they both included Miss Havisham, famously jilted at the altar in Great Expectations.

The Lady of Satis House told Miss Havisham's story from her perspective.

We find her in her wedding dress at a table still set for a wedding that was meant to happen years ago. The mice have been busy with the cake and the spiders have laid their webs everywhere.

Miss Havisham tells us how she feels, and she is not happy. In fact she is bitter and plans to get her revenge by passing her pain on to Pip.

The rest of the story we know and we follow it all the way through to its fiery end.

Miss Havisham is the only character in the opera, we see Pip and Estella as dolls only, so a lot is down to the soloist musically and dramatically. And she was very good. Able support came from the string quartet.

The music was modern without being acerbically so and in many ways this was a normal short-form opera. I love string quartet music and I loved this. High marks all round.

Jilted was quite different.

Here we saw an imaginary meeting between the jilted Miss Havisham and the abandoned first Mrs Dickens.

Despite the double woe, the story is told with humour and wit. Miss Havisham is sparkly and mischievous while Mrs Dickens is homely and resigned. They made an unusual Laurel and Hardy.

They complain to each other about they have been treated, and they have some justification in this, but they are more concerned to out-score the other in the sympathy stakes than to heap anger on the men responsible for their plight.

At one point their contest becomes physical and they play a sort of top-trumps card game. At one point Mrs Dickens plays the "ten children" card only to have it trumped by Miss Havisham's "no children".

They sing without any instruments to guide them or to detract from them and that gives a simplicity and purity of sound that is just right for the story that they are telling us.

I enjoyed both operas immensely and they were made a little better by being offered together on the same day. I expect the Riverside to provide interesting theatre like this and they are to be congratulated for teaming up with Tete a Tete to extend their franchise in to opera.

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