In a previous post I mentioned that I thought I might be missing out in not having seen a variety of operas. I’ve started making up for it.
The advantage of doing a community opera of the calibre of Blackheath’s is that you get to meet people who know a thing or two, and this helps you to decide to take risks. So when Lewis Reynolds (Assistant Director on last year’s Elixir of Love) sent us a Facebook invitation to his latest production, The Telephone and The Medium at The Kings Head in Islington, I said yes without any hesitation.
I had already experienced and enjoyed Open Door Opera’s Iphigenia at the Scoop earlier this year, and wanted to support Lewis. I even offered to take pictures (which I did, at a rather chaotic dress rehearsal). I can’t listen when I’m taking photographs, so we came to the performance too.
The King’s Head is TINY. I’m used to the Warehouse in Croydon, but this is even smaller, and an interesting way of experiencing opera – the front row are practically in the cast’s laps.
The operas on offer are both by Gian Carlo Menotti, who’s centenary falls this year. And they could not have a greater contrast in content.
The Telephone is a two-hander: Ben, off on a long voyage has something important to impart to Lucy who is obsessed with her new telephone. The work was originally produced in the 50s, but just as relevant today, how many times have you had a meaningful conversation interrupted by someone’s b#@@*y blackberry? The joke is updated rather neatly, to incorporate new technology. It’s a slight piece but amusing, and if you can see the punchline coming from three seconds in, it hardly spoils the enjoyment.
Rebecca Dale as Lucy is excellent, especially when explaining to the friend she has phoned having got caught out in spreading malicious gossip (Well of course, I HAD to lie…!). I have to say her coquettish bottom waving whilst dialling added nothing, and looked very silly, but she was awfully close…
Barnaby Beer as Ben was less impressive and sounded like he was nursing a cold, his voice died on him a bit, but he rallied and I very much liked the end when Lucy is giving him the number he has just called and he is repeating it number for number, I’ve never heard numbers turned into a love duet before.
The Medium is a very different kettle of porcupines, although it has its witty moments, it is far more serious, even sinister. I was vaguely familiar with the story, which was apparently filmed at some point.
Madame Flora (known to her family as Baba – I’d like to think this is short for Baba Yaga) is a long time scammer, making money off the misery of bereaved parents for whom she stages séances. Unfortunately it seems some of the ghosts she conjures up are more real than she would like, with devastating consequences for her family.
Baba is played with conviction and viciousness by Catherine Carter, striking in a mixture of chavesque sports pants and hoodie and ‘gypsy seer’ turban and shawl. She can belt and she can wist, and most importantly, especially this close up, she can act.
Her daughter Monica is sung by Alexandra Stevenson. She has a strong vivid voice, and the haunting creepy song she sing to comfort Baba really stayed with me, (as did the Mother, Mother are you there? riff sung variously as a ghost voice by whichever of the women wasn’t on stage at the time.)
There are some delicate cameos from the two grieving mothers, Cecilia Jane as Mrs. Nolan is the more expressive in terms of acting, but it is Michelle Cressida as Mrs. Gobineau who brought me almost to tears telling of the death of her toddler,
I didn’t hear a sound,
I didn’t hear…
the restraint of the librettist in leaving out the obvious rhyme echoed by the restraint with which she sing it.
Barnaby Beer reappears as Mr Gobineau in a part which really doesn’t give him a lot to do.
This is a two act opera, and I felt that act I was much stronger than act II. The story builds to its climax of the cold hand at the throat, and then it peters out a bit. It was a bit as though Menotti lacked the courage of his convictions. I wanted more ghosts and less psychology. I wanted to know whose daughter it was singing Mother, Mother are you there… and to some extent Catherine Carter had made Baba so dislikeable that I didn’t care about her as she was being driven mad, although her breakdown was very convincing. It’s altogether a bit Macbeth, your sympathy lies with those around the character who is falling apart, not with them.
Daniel Ash got the rather strange role (especially for an opera) of Toby, a mute, and the butt of Baba’s anger. This part didn’t quite convince me; and I felt that the end of the opera was unsatisfactory, but that’s an issue with the writing as much as the acting, though A was more accommodating in her analysis!
Special mention for the piano playing of James Batty (the Medium) and Sarah Latto (the Telephone) for keeping the whole thing together .
An enjoyable evening out.
Oh, and Gay Times used one of my photos!
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011