Category Archives: theatre

Eternal Light

Tonight was our last evening singing for the Rambert Dance Company. It’s been a lot of fun, but also a lot of hard work, particularly in the rehearsal on Monday, when the musical director gave us a gruelling but instructive hard time.

I’ve enjoyed singing Goodall’s music. Alas, from down in the pit we see nothing of the ballet above, and comments from the audience suggest it was worth going to. But on the first night (Wednesday), we got complimentary tickets for the other two pieces on the programme. Their rendition of Saint-Seans’s Carnival of the Animals didn’t do very much for me, though I guess that’s my ignorance of ballet showing through. The final piece was an electronic score with the merest hint of Stockhausen but also of his more easy-going followers from the pop world.  If you strip away the fact that it’s built from electronic noises, musically it was a very gradual atomic transformation that could be traced back a lot further: the way Bruckner slowly builds a symphony from tiny fragments springs to mind. It had no musicians, only a tape, and a disturbing somewhat nightmare-ish theme. I did find that fascinating, and enjoyed the work.

Yesterday night we got the additional highlight of an after-show meal at the Positano restaurant. It firmly reconfirms my view of Positanos as one of Plymouth’s best restaurants. The other evenings we’ve had just a drink or a basic meal afterwards.

I got plenty of music

That is to say, this afternoon.

On arriving in Amsterdam, I discovered from a leaflet at the hotel that a production Porgy and Bess is in town.  It’s on all week, but I have more time today than I will have later, so I went today.  For the matinee, ‘cos even if the performers are up to it, an auditorium is quite likely to be stuffy for its second audience in a day.

This was a full production as befits a world-class centre of culture.  An impressive cast and a full orchestra were complemented by a big stage (of which they made full use in a very lively production) and a big and attractive theatre (half-empty).  The price tag was also big: though there were cheaper prices up in the gods, almost all the seats were 76 Euro.

In general, the show was excellent: the production, the singing, the conviction, etc.  Trivial blemishes one can easily overlook: the chorus stumbling briefly near the start of Leavin’ for the Promise’ Lan’, or Porgy using his legs too obviously to help with crawling around.

But there was one major fault I can’t overlook, and which means, alas, I can’t recommend the show to others who haven’t seen it.  They miked and amplified it!  Right from the start, the sound quality of the orchestra was not good, and coming largely from the wrong place.  The singers were often seriously out of balance and way too loud.  Porgy and Bess is far too good a piece to drag down to the level of a Broadway musical, but someone damn well tried!  It’s not as if they had a bunch of non-singers who needed the electronic crutch to make themselves heard.

If I want to hear Porgy and Bess coming through a sound system, I can buy a record or a video a whole lot cheaper, and the chances are the sound engineer did a better job.  Bah, Humbug.

Where political correctness cannot go

Just watched Wozzeck. Alas, only on DVD, but IMHO a very fine performance, from the Wiener Staatsoper. It’s the first time I’ve seen Wozzeck, and it reaffirms my view of Berg as the outstanding avant-garde composer of the inter-war years.

I couldn’t help wondering how, in our times, anyone gets this work past the PC brigade. The story of bullying, adultery/prostitution, and ultimately murder and madness, is clearly adult. Or at least something that would get an intermediate classification if it were a film. Yet the young child is indispensible, and must be a real child: you might substitute a doll in the early scenes, but not playing in the street at the end when they report the discovery of his mother’s body.

Perhaps the fact that the Nazis banned it as degenerate makes it immune from criticism by the Politically Correct?

Elevated Fiddling

I’ve just been to see Fiddler on the Roof at our local venue, The Wharf. It’s a local amateur production by the Tavistock Musical Theatre Company. And I’m much impressed: in fact I think it’s probably the best show I’ve ever seen at the Wharf (a typical “little theatre” that shows more films than anything else, but occasionally gets a real production).

The company was clearly stronger in theatre than in music: the acting impressed me pretty much throughout, and the production was excellent (apart from the view sometimes being problematic from the lower part of the auditorium). But few of the performers had singing voices that could compete with the (tiny) orchestra, and a few were sadly weak. Having said that, the MD and his musicians were not bad!

Visually it ranged from good to fantastic. Costumes, lighting and staging all worked well, and some of the scenes were particularly memorable. The lighting in the wedding scene. The nightmare scene – perhaps the #1 highlight of the production, with a real tour de force from the ghost!

In parts it was also startling and thought- provoking: a production for our times. The violence of Perchik and Hodel’s first dance made up for both of their singing voices being largely inaudible, and the point in the wedding scene where Perchik gets beaten up by the Russians was truly brutal. Motel’s cowering wimp was utterly credible, and impressively terrified as he put the question to Tevye.

Of course, the anchor for the whole show is Tevye. After a slightly suspect start, he got into his stride, and was well on top of the part – one of the most demanding and rewarding anywhere in the “light opera” repertoire! His relationships with his family (including his real-life wife, another nice performance) and his god all came across very well, drawing the story along.

Now, that leaves one question. Why wasn’t I in it? I’ve taken part in two productions of this show, but this is the first time I’ve seen it from an audience seat. I clearly haven’t been getting out enough. I blame the fact that my musical life was already centred in Plymouth before I moved in to Tavistock last year, but that’s no excuse. I must follow this up by making contact with the group!

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