20 May 2016

Blown away by Tête à Tête's Crime and Punishment at the Royal College of Music


Tête à Tête is a company committed to exploring the future of opera. I came across them at a festival of new operas that they ran at the Riverside in Hammersmith in 2011 and I have been back to their festivals every year since in which time I have seen a lot of operas, and other musical works. covering a myriad of themes in a myriad of styles and I have become a firm fan.

That alone would have made it an easy decision to see a series of six short operas inspired by Dostoevsky's classic book (which I had read and vaguely remembered). Taking the decision from easy to no-brainer was the location as the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music (RCM) is a little gem of an opera house, small on scale but large on atmosphere.

Finally the tickets were a derisory £8 (Dress Circle seat A28). I presume that was because the operas were created by RCM composers and performed by RCM singers and so the costs were somewhat less than for most commercial operas. Even so, on reflection the price was at least £10 below where it should have been.

My loose connection to Tête à Tête gained by writing nice things about them (fully deserved) and talking to them at events got me invited to their pre-concert drinks and nibbles, which was nice.

But first I had to get there which was less nice as my new workplace is in Teddington which has two slow trains an hour to Richmond and two slow trains an hour the other way to Kingston. It took me about an hour and a quarter to get from Teddington to South Kensington and that was with nothing going wrong. I'm going to have to work on my travel options for other events.

There were six operas each of fifteen minutes with a break for more drinks and more talking in the middle.

Stream of Consciousness, Sea of Blood by Benjamien Lycke (music) and Mien Bogaert (words) took us into the world of politics as a President looks to Dostoevsky for inspiration as he makes the most difficult decision of his life. I liked the tension in this as he wrestled with the possibility of being responsible for the deaths of many of his citizens.

76 Days by Kenichi Ikuno Sekiguchi (music and words) told the gripping story of a real-life kidnapping. This was dark and I like dark. I liked the way that we could see the wife at home and her captured husband with his captors at the same time. The lounged menacingly while she was struggling with her first whisky of the day. The husband's brother took a more pragmatic view.

Bel and the Dragon by Alex Paxton (music and words) was a retelling of a story from the Apocrypha. That story must also be elsewhere as it was one that I knew, in it a statue of the cow god Bel was though to come to life to eat the food each night but Daniel, he who liked lions, proved that it was the priests stealing it. Despite the seriousness of the accusations and of the penalties inflicted this was a humorous piece that ended the first half on a light note.

At the interval it felt like a typical evening at a Tête à Tête festival with three very different pieces each with their separate merits. I grabbed a beer from the bar and then found some Tête à Tête people to have that conversation with. It was a short interval and I took the rest of my beer in with me when the bell rang for the second half.

The Two Sisters by Algirdas Kraunaitis (music) and Grace Lee-Khoo (words) gave us more darkness and some humour in a quirkily gruesome Scottish folk-tale retold. One of the two sisters killed the other but said that she had gone away with a boy. Sometime later a stranger visits the house and produces a device which sounds like the dead sister which brings things to a head. I loved the story and the way that it was told.

Der Eisenhut by Amy Bryce (music) and Roland Bryce (words) was a tale of revenge in post-war Germany and was another successful dark tale, though this time with no magic, just ordinary mushrooms. Another simple tale well told and, in my opinion, the best singing of the evening from the two female leads.

The evening ended with Killer Graphics by Sam Hall (music) and Darren Rapier (words) was typical Tête à Tête fare with reality blurred between video games (GTA) and real life. This was an interesting story with lots of fun violence and a little bit of fun sex delivered by a large cast. It was a wonderful end to the evening.

At half-time I was happy and at the end I was ecstatic. I loved the second half operas even more that I had those in the first half and that made it an astonishingly good evening overall. It was a fantastic advertisement for modern opera, the students, teaching and facilities of the RCM and the format devised by Tête à Tête.

Crime and Punishment was a ridiculously good evening and I was delighted that Tête à Tête were being even more innovative and were live streaming it the following night (Saturday) so that I could watch it all again.

The video of the evening is now online on YouTube so you can see for yourself just how good it was. I'll be watching it again too.

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