21 May 2018

Madama Butterfly at Glyndebourne (2018)

I did well in the Festival Ballot for 2018 and got decent seats for all the operas that I was interested in, and that was all of them. These included Madama Butterfly which was being staged at Glyndebourne for the first time. They must have their reasons. It was the third time that I had seen it in two years but it is such a great opera that repetition was never going to be a problem.

I was keen enough to see this production, and so was the rest of the group, that we went for the £160 seats in our usual area. This time we were sat in Blue Upper Circle E18 to E21.

Glyndebourne had a few surprises for us before the opera. There were no significant changes to the gardens, that I noticed, but the White Cube gallery had gone and been replaced with a River Cottage kiosk. Nearby there was a new, bookable, marquee nearby that nobody knew about and so nobody had booked. People were allowed in anyway and so we gave it a go. It will be £10 a seat once it is established but I think we'll be sticking to the original marquee.

In some ways Madama Butterfly is the perfect opera, which is why it gets performed so often. The story is simple and powerful, the tension is maintained brilliantly as the cruel ending gradually emerges and while all the music is good there is one stand-out aria, the prophetic One Fine Day.

This was a simple, almost modest production with the set consisting of little more that some furniture, a couple of walls with sliding doors, and some cherry trees outside. Those trees gave the set all the character that it needed, a simple touch brilliantly done. In contrast, the ENO production had been a lot more colourful and flamboyant, especially in the costumes.

The music was simple too and Madama Butterfly relied almost entirely on its soloists there was no Anvil Chorus or March of the Hebrew Slaves here. Glyndebourne always builds its opera around the singing and this was no exception with all of the main roles being sung and acted beautifully. As always, the American Consul was a key role for me with his baritone voice adding just the right amount of gravitas.

Of course Madama Butterfly is the main player with her handmaid Suzuki a not too distant second. The heart of the opera is the contrast between the two with Madama Butterfly looking towards the USA with hope and Suzuki relying on Japanese traditions and fearful for the future. The heart beat strongly and both singers were excellent.

I really enjoyed this production of Madama Butterfly for all the right reasons, the music and the singing.

17 May 2018

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain at Rose Theatre

Often the programming at Rose Theatre confuses me and this was a case in point. As an almost templated touring theatre production I would have expected to see it at Richmond Theatre but it popped up at Rose Theatre which does not really do that sort of thing.

One problem with it being at Rose was the ticket price. My usual seat Stalls A41 cost £35, somewhat less than most Rose productions these days, whereas I usually get a discount at Richmond, due to my ATG Theatre Card, which usually takes the price down below £30. The view is much better at Richmond too as the seats are adjacent to the stage whereas at the Rose they are placed some distance from it.

I went with few expectations other than to enjoy more fine performances by Robert Powell and Liza Goddard, which was good enough reason to venture out for the evening.

Sherlock Holmes is a difficult character to do well partially because of the expectations set by the recent TV series and partially because of all the other adaptations that had gone before. I felt this production struggled against those expectations a little, particularly in the short first-half, where not that much happened of a Sherlock nature other than his analysis of a corpse in the opening scene.

The second half was much better and I really got into both the main story (the ghostly appearance of Watson's dead son) and also Sherlock's musing on his age and life. Moriarty and Mycroft were in there too.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain was never going to set the world on fire, nor did it expect to, and it was perfectly content being a solid piece of theatre that entertained. Average may be, but a high average.

8 May 2018

The Winslow Boy at Richmond Theatre

I could not remember having seen The Winslow Boy before but I was pretty sure that I had seen some version of it some where at some time. More importantly I knew of it and of Terence Rattigan and that was enough to convince me to go and see it at Richmond Theatre.

I went for a seat in my usual area Dress Circle Row A Seat 19 which was a shockingly low £24 thanks to my ATG Theatre Card.

One of the things that Richmond Theatre does is act like a regional theatre, it is just about far enough from the West End to do that, showing touring productions. These are almost without exception good, because the people who tour productions know what they are doing. The plays are solid, the actors first rate and the production (set, lighting, music, etc.) professional and slick. I went to see The Winslow Boy with just those expectations.

I expected good but got better.

It was better for all the reasons that I expected it to be good. The play engaged on several levels, the production was spot on and the acting was exceptional.

Aden Gillett and Tessa Peake-Jones got the main billing because of their relative fame and they were good but the two that stood out for me were Timothy Watson and the barrister Sir Robert Morton and Dorothea Myer-Bennett as the campaigning Catherine Winslow.

I was doubly impressed by Timothy Watson as I had hated him for several years in his most famous character Rob Titchener in The Archers.

I had forgotten the story, if I ever knew it, so that was a surprise. What was more surprising were all the other things going on some of which directly resulted from the case, such as the brother having to go out to work and earn money, and others which had nothing to do with it, such as the sister's campaigning work for women's rights. At the centre of all this was Mr Winslow who made all the decision with careful and purposeful deliberation and his wife who supported him all the way. This was a family living through a crisis but not being bowed by it.

The Winslow Boy was a perfect example of decent theatre done very well to make something a little special.