25 July 2014

Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival 2014 Day One was a flying start

The Tête-à-Tête Festival moved in 2014 from the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith to Central Saint Martins and Kings Place just north of Kings Cross. That was something of a mixed blessing for me, Hammersmith is close to where I live but Kings Place is one of the offices that I work in.

The nice thing about Central Saint Martins is that it had a separate theatre complex (admittedly hidden at the back of the site) with its own spacious bar and outside seating area.

The format was much the same as in previous years with one programme on Thursday./Friday and another on Saturday/Sunday over three weekends. With two operas on at the same time sometimes which meant that you had to go every night to see everything. My plan was somewhat less ambitious and I might go six times, as I did last year, provided I can find enough to tempt me in each two-day slot. That has not been a problem so far.

My first visit was on a Friday evening after work. I had chosen to be in Kings Place specifically that day so that I could get across there early to get some food and drink.

That also meant that I was there in time to catch Whisper Down the Lane, a short piece presented in the bar. This was a musical variation of Chinese Whispers that worked well in the space and I found very pleasing both in concept and also musically.

April in the Amazon opened the paid part of the evening.

This was in the main Platform Theatre. I had been there previously for a comics event so I knew that it was a large and impressive venue.

I sat in the first raised row of the stalls, deliberately avoiding the cabaret style seating at the very front.

April told us the story of her love life in song. Her boyfriends led her on adventures across the globe before the relationships fell apart.

The orchestra added to the drama by moving about. They started in a normal arrangement (pictured) then gathered tightly around the desk for the second part of the story before spreading themselves around the edges of the stage for the final part. Then the capabilities of the theatre were used to drop black curtains to make the orchestra disappear one at a time.

It was a light entertaining cabaret piece that entertained without demanding any effort from the listener.

I was attracted to East O' The Sun, West O' The Moon because it was based on a Norwegian folk tale, and folk tales are a rich source for musical dramas.

A bear called on a poor family and asked for their daughter to go with him in return for a small fortune. They agreed.After living with the bear for a while she learned that he was, in fact, a man who had been cursed by a troll. She tried to free him, messed things up but they worked out in the end.

The story was good enough and they had put a lot of effort in to the production, from the bear's costume, to the wooden gates that were moved to create all of the locations. There was a good size cast and they all sing well. The mother was my favourite and I was pleased to grab a few words with her in the bar afterwards.

There was a good sized orchestra too, some of whom are just visible on the left.The performance was given in the smaller (but not that small) Studio with the seating arranged in three rows along the two long sides and the performance given in the middle.

This was a lovely complete piece and I really loved it.

The Fisherman's Brides sort of a Scottish Under Milk Wood but without much of the humour.

We met several of the inhabitants of the small fishing village and each had their own story to tell.

The one that defined the mood was of a woman asking lamentingly when her husband would come home. I suspect that she had been asking that for some years.

There was a touch of the Polly Garter about another of the songs, the one that opened and closed the piece, with a young woman singing about all the boys she had loved.

The quick succession of short songs allowed the mood and the tempo to change and easily kept me interested and engaged.

The quality and variety of the performances reminded me why I like the Tête-à-Tête Opera Festivals so much and the new venue offered better performance spaces. This was an auspicious start.

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