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Saturday 9 April 2011

Opera Shots

The Tell Tale Heart & The Doctor's Tale
Linbury Theatre

An interesting and thoroughly entertaining evening this. Nothing profound, but I was charmed by both operas. Stewart Copeland wrote both the music and libretto for The Tell Tale Heart, adapted of course from Poe's classic short story. Copeland's style is clearly very rooted in pop and jazz, and though this isn't at all a rock or pop score, rhythmically and harmonically and timbrally one can hear many commonalities with his more famous musical phase. The result, initially pleasantly piquant in its vitality and subtly pungeant harmony, doesn't quite have enough range to sustain purely musical interest, but luckily the piece is only 45 minutes so it never outstays its welcome.

"Edgar", the main protagonist, keeps the first person perspective of the short story and is in cahoots with the audience and is often joined by other singers (neighbours, cops, friends) singing exactly the same lines. This works very well, and the piece retains something of the psychological intensity of the original - the other characters seeming reported, rather than actual, as they are in the book. Richard Suart in the role of Edgar sings almost continuously throughout, or rather, and I hesitate to say it, raps his way through a lot of it. Hesitate because rapping in classical music is usually heinous. It isn't horrible I promise you - and actually seems completely right for the context somehow. Jonathan Moore's staging is simple but very effective I think - just a room, but the walls are made out of gauze so that the neighbours can sing and be seen through them. Edgar keeps stepping out of the "stage" of the room (complete with footlights) which works well as he narrates his own story. The use of projections is also used simply and effectively - the whole thing feels polished and unified, even if the denouement seemed too brief and sudden. I liked it quite a bit though.

It seems that the Monty Pythons are going mad for opera at the moment: Terry Gilliam doing Faust at the ENO, and the next opera of the night, another short one acter, written and directed by Terry Jones and composed by Anne Dudley. Are Cleese and Palin going to get in on the action? The basic premise is extremely simple. There's a well loved doctor who is a dog. A sort of vet in reverse. Cue hilarious consequences. The whole thing had a sort of surreal, mildly amused air, with good comic acting and singing from the ensemble cast. Some people around me found it absolutely hilarious whenever any characters said any words, which was a bit unsettling as the content was more titter worthy than belly-laughingly hilarious, though the final scenes which play perhaps a little too predictably with operatic convention and meta-theatre are quite funny. Anne Dudley's score is what you'd expect for anyone familiar with her work (apparently she has a penchent for comedy, composing as she did Bill Bailey's remarkable guide to the orchestra) - well orchestrated, plenty of tunes, lovely throughout. It's sort of a musical really - the singers clearly relishing their parts (all are very decent). The staging is very minimal, but provides all that is required, though scene changes are clumsily handled. Again, it worked well as a whole, and I actually found the moments of greatest parody quite touching - the scene with the angels and then the final scene where everyone inexplicably falls in love - actually transcend the satire and work to move despite it all - shades of Noel Coward: extraordinary how potent cheap music is...

Largely a successful evening then, entertaining, even if one doubts that either piece will last much longer than this run. It's not expensive and perhaps surprisingly hasn't been selling well so I recommend giving it a go.

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