4 September 2012

Handel Furioso and The Emperor of Atlantis at Grimeborn

My second visit to Grimeborn in a week and the third this season was to see an unusual double bill, an opera manufactured out of songs from other operas and an opera written in a concentration camp.

Handel Furioso is a piece of music‐theatre using arias and duets from other Handel operas.

It was sung in Italian with no surtitles (it was in a tent). A translation was provided but that would have been distracting, and the other people's rustling was slightly annoying, so I let the opera tell the story.

Which it did easily.

It was a gentle story of two people meeting, falling in love, getting married and living through life's ups and downs as they grew old together.

We only met the two people, both played by women, which made it another intense personal opera, like so many in this Grimeborn season.

The singing was beautiful. I know I keep saying that but I keep saying that because it is true. This was probably the best yet with a nice subtle contrast between the two female voices.

The love songs where all slow and tender, this was Minnie Ripperton not Donna Summer, and they were all very lovely.

Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis was written in the Terezin concentration camp before the composer’s deportation to Auschwitz.

That alone tells you that the second half of the evening was very different from the first.

This had a large cast, some odd music, a plot, a narrator and even fewer props on stage.

It's an opera about death.

The Emperor is responsible for so many deaths that Death goes on strike and it all becomes very Torchwood Miracle Day, including the scene with the condemned man who cannot be killed.

For such a dark subject, written in such a dark place, there is a surprising amount of good humour and the cast are all rather bright and jolly as they prance about the stage.

There was a lot going on and I am not sure that I caught all of it, again there was a synopsis and again I refused to read it beforehand preferring to let the opera surprise me, and that plan worked for me. It was sung in English and most of the cast were crystal clear, there was only one woman who I had to strain a little to understand due to the amount of vibrato she used.

Because of the complexity and the subject matter this was the hardest opera to get in to in this season, and that is not a bad thing - a diet of fluffy love operas would be dull. But get in to it I did.

It is precisely to see unusual operas like this pair that I trek across London for Grimeborn.

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