10 August 2013

Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2013 Day Four sparkled

Riverside Studios in Hammersmith is about an hour away by bus (65 and 33/419) which makes it quite convenient to go there but it is not close enough to pop-in for just one of the short shows in Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2013 so I am only going when there is a full programme to attract me. This means going six times in three weeks to see sixteen shows, and that means missing quite a few more.

What enticed me to the Riverside on this Saturday evening was the varied bill and that was firmly and brilliantly delivered.

The Secretary Turned CEO was, to be honest, added to the schedule to make a full evening of it but it turned out to be one of the very best shows in the festival. A genuine hit.

It claimed to be based on "La serva padrona, Pergolesi’s seminal comic intermezzo of 1733" but it must have gone through some serious reworking to be set in current times in a toilet paper manufacturer's office.

The classic feel was there though in both the form of the opera and the sound of the music. It had many comic elements, verging on farce at times, as well as a simple girl-gets-boy plot.

I loved Alberto Prandini as the Italian intern, and Johnny Depp lookalike, far more interested in playing with his iPhone than actually working. What made that even better was discovering afterwards that he really was taking photos during the performance and was tweeting them. Genius.

The comedy carried the show but the main plot and the singing were good too with sterling performances from both the bumbling CEO (Dionysios Kyropoulos) and his calculating secretary (Charlie Drummond).

MICROmegas was my main reason for going to the festival that evening. Again the claim in the promotion, "Think Hitchhiker’s Guide meets Doctor Who meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern…" was enough to convince me. It helped that it was based on Voltaire's short story of the same name.

What we saw was the first part of what may become a full opera. That means that we did not get the full story but I don't think that mattered very much as the story was a "banquet of the bizarre" and probably would not have made much more sense if there had been more of it.

Luckily we had an introduction from word-smith David Spittle who explained the three scenes we were to be presented with. Essentially they were all introductions; first we met the giant Micromegas from a planet circulating Sirius, then a group of Artic explorers and finally a dwarf (as far as Micromegas is concerned, he's still a giant compared to humans) from Saturn. Only at the end of the opera do the giant and the dwarf meet and agree to go on an adventure together.

Devoid of a meaningful plot we were left with the characters and their songs. And that was plenty enough. The music and singing were good enough without being spectacular (i.e. strange) and there were lots of little things to pay attention to, like the dwarf's fixation with ties.

It was also good to hear so many musicians, there were about a dozen of them on stage, including a harp, and that helped to produce a rich and full sound.

It did not feel like a work in progress, or even that much like a partial piece, and I can only believe that it will be even better when it is completed.

Guilt caught my eye because it was about Hildegard of Bingen and used some of her words to tell her story.

My expectations were of something medieval  and what I got was something sharply modern. So modern that I had a looked at the music score afterwards to see just how they managed to write down the instructions to, for example, bow at different parts of the strings and at different angles.

The music, from two violinists standing in opposite corners of the stage, was immensely strange and compelling because of that.

What happened on stage was not much less strange either. The cast was just two, who I presumed to be Hildegard and her Mother Superior. The action started with Mother Superior flogging Hildegard and ended with Mother Superior flogging herself. I am not quite sure what happened in the middle.

Guilt was a tableaux rather than an opera (that is just a description, not a criticism) and its triumph was its shocking strangeness. I like being shocked by strange things.

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