Tête à Tête is stretching its wings this year in its mission to promote new opera with other projects alongside its main festival. I went to the first of these additional events, Hogarth's Stages, a set of five short operas inspired by Hogarth’s life and works.
The venue was new to me, the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music, hidden just behind the Royal Albert Hall. This is traditional opera house in shape and design but reduced in space to fit within the larger building of the Royal College that houses it. It is also buried quite low in the ground and is reached by several flights of stairs down from the street.
There was a little bar there too and having arrived there straight from another event I had my familiar evening meal of a packet of peanuts washed down with a bottle of beer, Peroni in this case.
The on-line booking system had lied to me slightly and my seat Stalls Circle A14 was not as close to the middle as I expected (the couple next to me were confused too) but it was still very good. And it only cost me £8.
On False Perspective was the first piece. This hovered between magic and quantum mechanics as people slid between worlds and used mathematics to attract women. It was clever and engaging.
The Bet was next. In this one man bet another that he could prove how poor human character is by starting a dispute between strangers. He won the bet by offering to give away money and people fought each other for the right to get it.
It was all good natured though and for wining the bet the man took his friend out to lunch. The story was neat and self-contained and the man making the bet impressed with his clear and strong singing.
Now closed the first half. Set in a strife-torn area, possible a refugee camp, five people sing of their hopes before joining together to sing the simple chorus "Now". The harsh subject matter deftly contrasted with the simple beauty of the chorus to make something both eerie and approachable.
Hogarth’s Bastards was set back stage at a rehearsal of Don Giovanni where the cast squabbled and belittled each other. It helped to know the opera but I am sure that everybody there did. The range of voices was the highlight of this piece and the one that grabbed me the most was the bass of Il Commendatore.
Serpentine closed this show. This was may favourite piece because it was so weird. It was set in a nightclub, Serpentine, which was packed with dancers. There was some of the other-worldliness of the first piece with an Architect and his assistant responsible for the realm. The assistant tried to make friends with a young woman and as they sang we learnt something of their artificial world. She stepped outside at one point but was enticed back in.
There was a lot going on but it was all a little weird (that's a compliment) and I was not taking notes so most of it has slipped away from me. I'd like to see it again both to fill in the gaps but also because it was great.
Overall it was a very impressive show. It is hard, and unfair, to compare such different pieces but none of them disappointed, I would happily see any of them again, and a couple I would like to see developed further.
If this is the sort of thing that Tête à Tête has lined up for the festival then I am in for a good time.