25 August 2014

Madame X at the Arcola Theatre


August was Opera Month. Not only was it the annual Tête-à-Tête Opera Festival but two of my four visits to Glyndebourne fell in to that month. On top of that, I booked to see some other operas to fill in the gaps.

And that is how when I went to see Madame X at the Arcola Theatre it was my third opera in five days. Madame X was part of the Arcola's Grimeborn season of new opera. Grimeborn sat somewhere between, say, Tête-à-Tête (new operas) and Glyndebourne (traditional operas) in that it had new operas in a traditional mould.

Madame X fitted that bill neatly being a new opera with a traditional plot and music. It also felt as though it was set in a historical period and it was only things like the use of iPhones that revealed that it was set in the present day. If the aim was to make something timeless then that worked.

This was only my second visit to the Arcola since they brought in allocated seating and being reasonably late to book meant that I could still get a front-row seat but only one at the side towards the back (A3). For that I paid a measly £15.

I could see why the seats in the centre had gone when I entered the theatre as that area had been cleared to make way for the orchestra. And that made my possibly dubious seat into an ideal one.

Madame X told the story of an artist struggling to make his way despite the popularity of the work. The opening scene, a private viewing, introduced us to the main characters and the relationships between them that shaped the story. The artist had a fiancee who loved him devoutly, an agent who did well at the artist's expense, a wealthy art collector with designs on the artist as well as his art, and another wealthy art collector who was only interested in the artist's fiancee. This was familiar operatic territory and it led to a familiar operatic ending.

The characters were all very distinctive, well acted and beautifully sung. I hated the agent for the way that he behaved but loved him for singing an endless stream of proverbs, things like "a stitch in time saves nine". This added an element of humour to the story (there were others) and was built on when one of the art collectors mocked him with mimicry.

There was a fair amount of spoken dialogue to move the story along and most of the songs were dialogues and most of these dialogues were either arguments or difficult conversations. This was a love story without many love songs.

The music was Handlean with contemporary twists. It was very easy on the ear and suited the drama perfectly.

Madame X was a fabulous opera and I loved every minute and every aspect of it.

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