Brittle Bright Young Things

Last night we fought freezing temperatures, planned engineering works closing off three possible routes, and failed signals on the DLR to get to the wonderfully named St-Sepulchre-without-Newgate, for an evening of Ivor Novello songs with the Oxbridge Opera Company.

I wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by Simon Dyer (Bass-Baritone), who isn’t generally associated with rubbish in my experience, and nor was he this time. Like (I suspect) many people, my knowledge of Ivor Novello starts with Keep the Home Fires Burning and ends with We’ll Gather Lilacs. I had him in the same bracket as Noel Coward, as frivolous, lightweight and sentimental, and not particularly complex musically.

Well, yes and no.  Noel Coward is acres better, his lyrics have some thought behind them. Melodically I kept hearing echoes of other songs, but too distant to be sure which came first. Predictability in melody line and rhyme (he really is the original moon-and-june-er) could have made for a tedious evening, particularly since the acoustic was hard work, setting up an echo that swallowed the less emphatic voices and all but did for the ensemble pieces.  It was not a venue to encourage vibrato or rolled ‘r’s. I felt I was having to work unreasonably hard to catch the words, and that the effort was not repaid by the weakness of the songs.

However, not to carp on too long, what did work was when the women sang together, or the men sang together.  And in terms of harmony there was some quite interesting things going on, ably supported by some very good piano playing from (I assume) Chris Milton (as no-one introduced themselves, and not everyone mentions which voice type they are in the write-up, and they don’t say who sings which song, I can’t credit those I felt did a particularly good job.)

Oxbridge Opera Company had wisely decided to give a dramatised storyline to the proceedings, and a series of brittle bright-young-things wisted and yearned and had their hearts broken like a silent screen version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while mother played poker in a corner.  The youngest, not too used to alcohol got the worse for wear and made a spectacle of herself (an execrable song Prim-rose) much to the discomfort of her mother’s guests, one of whom  had her fur tippet on and was heading out the door before being persuaded to stay.  This gave focus and spurious poignancy to the really very hackneyed sentiment of the songs, and I was grateful for it.

High spots were the mash-up of a solo Soldier Lad and male chorus of Keep the Home Fires Burning; and another solo And Her Mother Came Too, a witty ditty of frustrated passion well executed.

St Sepulchre is a bit of a mash-up too, allegedly a musician’s church (presumably there are things that the acoustic is kinder to) it is gothic without and classical within, so panelling and doric columns, but not to classical proportions: too narrow and tall.  There are a few good monuments, in particular a Jacobean one.  So it was sufficiently interesting to walk round in the interval and have to rush back to our seats; and warm, which is a triumph – I could  list churches I have frozen in during concerts, but why?

So if we could have got home without what ended up being three changes and a long walk on the way back, it would have been a more enjoyable evening, however I shall restrain myself from a rant about planned engineering works and the other sort!

© Cherry Potts 2012

Fast and Furious Figaro

The Boss stitching Figaro up copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Puzzle Piece Opera’s Figaro in 50 minutes, is the latest in a series of 50 minute operas they have performed and my second Figaro in a week, but  it was worth the journey, and what a journey! Figaro transported to the office at top speed.

Figaro sulking copyright Cherry Potts 2011

How do you get through the Marriage of Figaro in fifty minutes?  Lose the choruses, take out the recitative, truncate some of the arias and dispense with some minor characters: Barbarina does not feature nor does the Gardener. Although the singing is in Italian, the action is held together by a narrative in rhyming couplets in English written by Lucy Drever who also directs and page turns for a nimble fingered Gaspar Hunt on piano; and performed by Figaro himself, (Simon Dyer) doing cheeky chappie by turns plotting and sulking; and taking the narration a tad too fast, although his singing was excellent.  In fact everyone was in good voice, it would be unfair to single anyone out (although I will).

Mrs Boss masquerades as Susanna copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Regent Hall is an obscure performing space, right on Oxford Street but almost invisible.  It is a massive echoing space, and the singers had a lot of stage room to fill too: much effective use is made of a  coat stand centre stage, hiding in turn: Cherubino, Figaro, the Boss and Mrs Boss; this last played by Emily Garland typically mopey, and rather static, but her voice is amazing: vibrant, clear and delectable, her duets with Susanna (Emma-Claire Crook) were particularly fine.

The Boss (Casey-Joe Rumens) was played with conviction as feeling absolutely entitled to grope Susanna, stitch Figaro up and sack Cherubino on a whim, and thoroughly undeserving of his wife’s forgiveness.

Susannah's 'faint' copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Basilio (Matthew Straw) was a very effective toadying second in command, conniving at the Boss’ attempts to seduce Susannah whilst secretly yearning after the boss himself.  Susanna herself flirts and bats her eyelashes and fakes a faint to protect Cherubino from discovery.

Marcellina restrained copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I particularly enjoyed Clara Lisle playing  Marcellina as a bit of a would-be vamp (wearing enormous gold platform shoes reminiscent of Vivienne Westwood). She thoroughly enjoyed twisting Figaro’s tail and was anxiously checking her makeup (or possibly her crows’ feet), in between cat fights with Susanna, and had to be physically restrained by Basilio and Steven East’s Bartolo, a loyal supporter of Marcellina who seems a bit surprised to find himself named as the father of her child.

Cherubino makes for the window copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Cherubino’s escapade with the window is managed wittily, and cheeky use is made of coffee jugs.  Georgina Mottram playing him staggeringly young I felt, possibly on work experience!

All is resolved as the office workers bury their differences, grab coats and scarves, and head for the pub.

Puzzle Piece are performing 50 minute Figaro again, 28th October 1pm at Charlton House, and next month at Blackheath Halls, go and be entertained.

Get your coat... copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011