Wednesday evening saw the last Whose Opera is it Anyway? of the year in the new digs at Bad Dog Comedy Club. Last month’s line up of singers; Rachel Krehm, Michael York, Gillian Grossman and Amanda Kogan, were joined by Adanya Dunn and an elf. Natasha Fransblow was at the keyboard again. Greg Finney; the thinking man’s Don Cherry, MC’d. The format was as ever; a line up of improv games with audience input. Highlights included the Three Minute Messiah, Adanya giving her mum a dildo and the deep, dark depths of Keith Lam’s Instagram account. And beer. And Greg’s suit.
The news is that LooseTEA now has a regular slot for WOIIA. In the new year you will be able to catch them at Bad Dog on the third Sunday of the month at 9.30pm. It’s a better venue than the old place and it’s a fun way to spend an hour and a half or so.
Gounod’s Faust is very French, stuffed with a specifically Catholic religiosity and has all the elements, welcome or not, of 19th century French opera; it’s long, it has ballet, there are interpolated drinking songs etc. Alaina Viau and Markus Kopp’s adaptation Dissociative Me, presented by LooseTEA Music Theatre, is none of these things (OK there’s an interpolated drinking song, Stan Rogers even, but at least it happens in a bar) and it’s all the better for that.
I met with Alaina Viau, Artistic Director of Loose TEA Theatre, earlier today to discuss her upcoming show Dissociative Me; a transladaptation™(*) of Gounod’s Faust. We started by exploring the reasons why one might choose transladaptation rather than either a “straight” production or simply a radical restaging à la Herheim or Tcherniakov. The starting point for Alaina, one that I completely share, is that certain works are so problematic that they can’t realistically be presented “straight” and still do the things that “art” is supposed to do; stimulate, challenge etc. If a work contains elements that have so radically changed meaning since the original composition that one must treat it as a museum piece or intellectually disengage to make a piece tolerable then, we both believe, something has to be done. I realise that there are those who can enjoy, for instance, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; a squalid tale of paedophilia and sex tourism, at a superficial level but count me out there.
I’ve always been a fan of those BBC Radio 4 programs where people have to do silly things so I was naturally drawn to LooseTEA’s fundraiser “Whose opera is it anyway?” in which a select band of singers (Greg Finney, Whitney Mather, Michael York, Charlotte Church, Fabian Arcineagas and Kijong Wi) got to do silly things bid on by the audience. Some of the silly things even involved members of the audience. Asa Iranmehr was on the keyboards and comedian Andrew Johnston, despite almost total ignorance of anything operatic, MC’d.
It was great fun and much funnier than the average bel canto “comedy”. Highlights included Sit, Stand Lie where Michael, Greg and Fabian had to perform La mia Dorabella with one of them in each position at any one time, Moving People where Greg and Whitney were “manipulated” by Aria Umezawa, Michael Mori, Katja “polkadots” Juliannova and Rachel Krehm while singing the Papageno/a duet. The best/weirdest singing was probably a couple of “in the style of”s. I was really impressed by Whitney’s Deh vieni non tardar in the style of Miranda Sings. It takes real talent to sing that badly! Greg’s Catalogue Aria in the style of (a very lugubrious) Vladimir Putin was a hoot too. My sunglasses came in handy in “Props”.
The snacks were decidedly better than they often are at these events too. Really good pizza! So, a good time was had by all. More people should come to these things. Have a few drinks, meet fun people, see just how multi-talented some of our singers are and have fun. Why not?
Sorry about the photo quality. Taken by me on my phone.
Hubert Parry’s 1888 work Judith got its North American premiere yesterday in a performance by Pax Christi Chorale at Koerner Hall. It’s a typical English high Victorian oratorio, commissioned by the Leeds Choral Society Birmingham Festival (Wikipedia strikes again). It’s got some very grand choruses and some tuneful solos (one was later used for the hymn tune Repton setting the words “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”). If one like’s that sort of thing, and Peter Simple’s Alderman Footbotham of the Bradford Tramways and Fine Arts Committee would certainly have approved, it’s very enjoyable. And if that’s not enough, there’s human sacrifice, seduction and murder to keep one’s interest.
I really don’t know how many operas there are more or less based on Tasso’s story of the Christian knight Rinaldo and the Muslim sorceress Armida. Certainly there are versions by Rossini and Lully which I’ve seen. Then there’s Handel’s Rinaldo which I watched in David Alden’s production for the Bayerischer Staatsoper in 2001. Alden at least manages to avoid obvious Monty Python and the Holy Grail references which is more than either the Metropolitan Opera and Opera Atelier managed with the Rossini and the Lully. In fact Alden manages to avoid all the usual cliches of both Handel in general and this piece in particular though at the expense of giving us a version that is quite hard to interpret. The action is moved to maybe the 1950s to judge by the costumes and the Christians are decidedly wimpy and ostentatiously pious (except for the Rinaldo of David Daniels). Crucifixes, surplices and bibles crop up at odd times and in the final scene the Christian army is a line of Jesus statuettes of the kind one can pick up at Honest Ed’s or one’s friendly neighbourhood Catholic tat store. The Muslims are much earthier and in Act 1 Argante (Egilis Silins) seems to terrify the Christian trio of Goffredo (David Walker), Almirena (Deborah York)and Eustazio (Axel Köhler). Also Noëmi Nadelmann’s very sexy Armida is much earthier than Deborah York’s rather etiolated persona. Note that by casting Goffredo as a countertenor we end up with four countertenors which is more than I’ve seen on stage at one time for sure.
Whatever the overall concept, Alden does pretty much what Handel did with the original production; give us a succession of arresting visual images and effects and some very funny moments. There’s probably more flesh on display too than Handel could have got away with in 1711. There is, as the cliche would have it, never a dull moment with giant dolls dropping their pants, an army of aliens, severed limbs and a David Lynch like giant face. It all puts considerable demands on the athletic and acting abilities of the cast and here Nadelmann has the toughest time and does really, really well. Her physical acting and timing are excellent and she’s not at all hard on the eye which helps. Everybody else is pretty good too. David Daniels face, as he gets felt up by both the girls, is a picture.
Musically, the stand out is David Daniels. No surprise really. Here he sings stylishly throughout and delivers a really lovely “cara sposa, amante cara”. Nadelmann gets full marks for being accurate and musical even while acting her head off. She sings “Furie terribili!” with Argante’s head clasped between her thighs! At least for “Lascia ch’io pianga” York is stationary though in quite an awkward pose. I think she sounds a bit over challenged by some of the high passage work in act 1 but she seems to improve as things progress. As the one low voice on show Silins is a good contrast. I’ve heard more agile bass-baritones in Handel but his fairly bluff reading is appropriate to the way the part is portrayed here. Harry Bicket directs the Bavarian State Orchestra and plays continuo. No worries there.
Brian Large directed for the small screen and does his usual thing of giving us lots of close ups which is a shame as there is lots going on that we miss and it’s obvious that Alden and his designer, Paul Steinberg, have put a lot of thought into the overall composition of scenes which is mostly lost on the DVD. The DVD itself is pretty basic. It’s on the Kultur label in North America though it originated as a Euroarts release in Europe. Kultur have stuck the original two DVDs onto a single disc and while they have included the useful documentary essay Handel, the Entertainer it means the only sound option is Dolby 2.0 and the only subtitles are English. The picture (16:9 anamorphic) and sound quality is perfectly OK but not stunning. The only documentation is a chapter listing.
Back in July I reviewed John Eliot Gardiner’s Paris recording of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice which I found musically fine, in good taste (too much so) and ultimately unengaging. Lydia pointed me to a Bayerischen Staatsoper version with Vesselina Kasarova in the title role. It’s the 1859 Berlioz version with a ballet tacked on at the end, more of which below. Musically it’s very good. Chorus and Orchestra under Ivor Bolton are excellent, Kasarova sings and acts very competently and manages an amazing cadenza in her big first act aria. Rosemary Joshua as Eurydice is perfectly adequate if a bit anonymous and Deborah York is an androgynous looking and sounding Amour which works fine for this production.