Handel Furioso / The Emperor of Atlantis - Arcola Tent, 29 August 2012
Glyndebourne's new production of Le nozze di Figaro received some ecstatic reviews when it opened at home base a couple of months ago. In front of a capacity audience, the transfer to a Proms semi-staging didn't fare so well.
As in the same opera in Salzburg last year, the pairing of Robin Ticciati and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment sounded underpowered. And this time, tired too. So did the singers, a competent enough bunch tricked out in the '70s costumes of the original production (the sets didn't make it to London). On a plinth behind the orchestra, they were distanced in every sense from the audience. I can't recall the last time I heard such lacklustre Mozart. I escaped at half time.
You can watch the staged version on the Guardian website until 2 September.
The following evening I visited the punloving Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Tent in Dalston to see a young cast and crew in a pair of one-acters, staged in the round and under canvas. The bijou venue accomodates just 150 or so well-raked bench seats, all of which were filled.
Handel Furioso was a pasticcio of popular Handel arias and duets, ideally calibrated for the performance space. In paint-spattered costumes, soprano Robyn Allegra Parton and mezzo Anna Starushkevych spun a simple story of a boy and girl meeting, marrying, and growing old together. A small ensemble of piano, violin, cello and oboe enhanced the intimate atmosphere. I don't think I've ever heard Caro sposa sung more touchingly than by Anna Starushkevych, whose dusky yet precise mezzo is perfect for Handel's trouser roles.
The very different Emperor of Atlantis occupied the second half. Viktor Ullmann's political satire, written in the Terezin concentration camp, is no musical masterpiece, but its historical resonance makes it an important work, gaining an increasing foothold in the repertoire.
Max Hoehn's production, aired also at last year's Grimeborn, is all jumble sale costumes and minimal props. It looks almost like something Ullmann himself might have pulled together had he not been carted off to Auschwitz after the first rehearsal.
The cast's uniformly smudgy diction rather negated the virtues of singing in English, but performances were otherwise creditable and whole-hearted.
The 14-piece orchestra squeezed into the back corner smoothly negotiated the stylistic swings from jazz to Bach to a satirical take on the German national anthem. With sharper characterisation they could have been even better, but this performance still packed a punch.