2 September 2012

A romantic double-bill at Grimeborn

When I first found out about Grimeborn via the Arcola Theatre's mailing list I was very interested in the programme but a little concerned about the venue. The Arcola Tent is a temporary venue being used this year while the main theatre is being renovated.

I need not have worried; too much. The Tent is very rough and ready in a nice way. The seats are wooden benches and the reception area is small but both are perfectly adequate.

My worries about committing to twelve hours of travel (four trips of an hour and a half each way) proved to be unfounded and the logistics are fine. The beer and coffee is decent too.

The second trip of this season was to see a double-bill that I knew nothing about beforehand, except for the names of one of the composers. They were brought together by David Eaton who translated both and provided the music on a piano.

Bastien and Bastienne was written by Mozart when he was just 12 years old.

It tells the story of a recently married couple. The husband is swayed by the attention he gets from mixing with important people and their attractive hangers-on and he comes home drunk in the early hours every morning.

The unhappy wife seeks guidance from a neighbouring doctor and a simple plan is hatched to make the husband realise what he has at home. It works.

Not much of a plot, even for a short opera, but that is hardly the point, what matters is the songs that they sing and the way that they sing them. This may be very early Mozart but there is nothing wrong with the music and the singing was sublime. The songs were slow and poetic. It was all very beautiful.

I have not idea what the point of the colourful paddling pool was though.

Susanna’s Secret was written by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and first performed in 1909.

It shared the theme of the first opera with a recently married couple going through some difficulties.

In this case the husband suspects the wife of entertaining other men while he is out at his club. The enduring smell of smoke is the clue.

We soon realise, but the husband does not, that the person smoking is his wife.

Returning early the husband finds signs of recent smoking and confronts his wife. She thinks that her smoking has been discovered and confesses, he thinks she is confessing to a lover. An amusing scene follows until the expected happy ending is arrived at.

Again the singing was exquisite. And this time there is some good acting too especially when the wife acts furtively to hide her smoking habit and is helped in this by their manservant, the doctor from the first opera this time playing a silent role as a straight actor.

Both operas were delightful and they worked very well together thanks to the common mood, common theme and common piano accompaniment. Another delightful evening at Grimeborn.

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