16 August 2013

Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2013 Day Five was extreme

My fifth visit to Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2013 was limited to two performances due to the timings of the shows. There were three operas that I fancied seeing but, luckily, one of them was moving on to Grimeborn (at the Arcola Theatre) and I bought tickets to see it there instead.

The two shows that I did see, Lament and Crocodile, were about as different as two operas could be, and I liked them both.

Lament tells you from its name that it is not going to be a bundle of laughs and so I went expecting slow mournful music, which is what I got.

What I was not expecting was the heavy use of electronics. The music was clearly a lament and there were the sounds of people chanting but the presentation was in the ambient/trance area and it had police sirens too.

Between them the two musicians had one sparsely used keyboard and three computer screens. I am used to this for bands like dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip (not my usual thing but I saw them supporting Sparks) but to see an opera delivered digitally was something of a surprise. A good surprise.

In addition to the two musicians there was one singer, Katie Slater, playing the role of Ariadne. She wore a microphone and for most of the time her voice was amplified and modified, e.g. with added echo.

There were a few light effects and Katie walked, sat and lay down but visually this was a minimalist performance performed by a minimal group. And I loved it.

My CD collection has things like Portishead, Sigur Ros and Michael Gordon so electronic music and classical music done electronically were not new to me. It was just that this was the first time I had seen it done as a live show billed as an opera.

Lament had the haunted sound that I expected and wanted, and the presentation built on that mood to produce something quite lovely.

The ending was nice too with the performers walking off in the dark while the computers finished doing their thing and then the lights came on and we all clapped an empty stage.

The Crocodile, based on Dostoyevsky short story of the same name, could not have been more different.

It was bright and bouncy, had a large cast supported by a large group of musicians, and it finished with a party that had balloons and silly-string.

The crux of the story was simple, some Russians had got hold of a crocodile that they thought will propel them up in the world of Russian High society, only for it to eat one of them.

Some deep ideas are then explored around what this means, and I should read the story to find out what direction that takes, but the mood of the opera is resolutely funny.

The band set the tone for this playing a series of light jazzy tunes.

There was a life-sized crocodile too, luckily it was a puppet and it was kept well under control by its handler. Clearly the crocodile was a metaphor for something else pertinent to Russian life in the last 19th Century but here it was mostly played for laughs.

The amusing side of the story was emphasised by the costumes with a stereotypical mad professor, a German with goggles, a woman with an electric blue wig and another woman wearing enough make-up to start a shop.

The whole thing was enjoyably silly and smile inducing, much a children's party. There were some laughs too but the Crocodile was not farcically funny in the way that The Secretary Turned CEO was, nor was it trying to be.

Of course there was also plenty of singing and most of the cast had a reasonable amount to do and they all did it reasonably well. There were only a couple of significant singing roles and these were nicely done.

The Crocodile was frivolous and fun and made a packed house very happy.

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