29 August 2013

Strekoza i Muravej at Grimeborn

Having discovered Grimeborn in 2012 I was keen to feast on it heavily in 2013 but the nature of the programme changed from unusual to safe and so I eventually went only once.

And that was to see a production that I could not fit in to my schedule when it was on as part of the Tête à Tête Festival at the Riverside. There it was called The Ant and the Grasshopper but Arcola preferred the Russian title, it is based on a Russian fable apparently.

I have my routines for most theatres that I go to regularly and at the Arcola I always sit in the front row at the front of the stage. Except this time when somebody but a small orchestra in there. I went for a seat on the far side instead to get a good view of both stage and orchestra.

That revised plan fell apart slightly when the opera started and the middle of the stage was used to project the English text on to. This meant that I had to read it side-on, as most people did, and the action was limited to the back of the stage which was one reason why the performance was physically static.

Strekoza i Muravej was only on for one night and it looked as though not enough thought had gone in to how it should be presented in the Arcola's unusual space.

That is enough of the gripes, time for the good news.

The music was lovely and very approachable, clever without being difficult.

The singing was very good too, especially the two leads the Ant and the Dragonfly (I have no idea what happened to the Grasshopper). Their voices were clean and strong, unusually so for fringe opera.

This was one time when I did not have to sit in the front row to hear clearly, though what I heard clearly this time was in Russian so it made very little sense. My flimsy knowledge of Czech got me the odd "Good evening" but that was about it.

I do not know the original fable but it had clearly been updated and whatever jeopardy the original grasshopper/dragonfly faced had been replace with a topic debt problem; she lived well beyond her means with a flamboyant party lifestyle.

Meanwhile the Ant slaved as a junior architect, working hard while the woman he secretly loved lived the life of Reilly.

In the middle was the (female) banker who took great delight in calling in the debt and forcing the dragonfly to give up her nice flat and her lifestyle. Her friends left of their own accord.

Meanwhile the Ant's hard work gets him promoted and he moves up in the world.But this is opera and things do not end well.

The staging was problematic and made the story hard to follow so the evening never quite reached the potential inherent in the music and singers. Which is a shame as there was clearly a lot of potential in that music and those singers.

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