Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Opera Shots, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

Here's the Royal Opera's trailer:

This evening's double-feature in the Royal Opera's Opera Shots series was a Stewart Copeland adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale-Heart followed by A Doctor's Tale, composed by Anne Dudley to a text by Terry Jones, also directing.

The cramped musical hall-style set and lighting design (including projections) for Tell-Tale-Heart really intensifies the gothic melodrama. Copeland has a postmodern eye on the staging though and often has the narrator, Edgar, stepping out past the footlights of a fourth wall, using doors in the wings or sitting behind the pit. Jonathan Moore's action is very prescriptive with a fair bit of choreography, which makes the jokes funnier and the silent movie jerkiness all the more apparent.

Copeland's music is rather more four-square than a silent movie score, playing with the rhythms of his own adaptation but largely sticking to a tessellation of regular phrases. Syncopation abounds in the second section as a crime is investigated. This was the most successful stretch for me, everything working nicely in synch, although I struggled to pick out all the text here, as elsewhere. There's a fair bit of physical theatre involved, the characters constantly on the move, which may have contributed to this. Richard Suart plays Edgar, the only character and voice of note.

The Jones/Dudley A Doctor's Tale is a more relaxed piece in as much as the music follows the text (rather than the characters trying to cram it into predetermined parameters). Dudley's scoring is more adventurous than Copeland's, doubling the personnel of the excellent Chroma Ensemble and with a large percussion unit. The sung phrases (if not the harmony) reminded me of music by Jonathan Dove, expansive and expressive where necessary without getting sidetracked with melismatic wandering.

The production, on a (pragmatically) simpler stage involves a great deal of scene and costume changing, with each scene pertaining to the length of a comedy sketch. The story is totally cogent though and the production serves rather than chops up the wit. Darren Abrahams' Dr Scout is a terrific piece of casting, the Doctor needing to be charismatic, upbeat and with a Janacek-high tessitura. The music theatre-rounded corners to some of Abrahams' inflexion were entirely in keeping with the sentiment of the work; the sound was invariably open and the text always clear. This was the case for much of the cast as well, particularly the excellent Peter Willcock (last seen by this blog doing something far more esoteric, but no less demanding) and the charmingly optimistic Carolyn Dobbin. No mistaking the sung text of these artists.

As I've already suggested, I really enjoyed the playing of the visiting Chroma Ensemble and I should go further in mentioning the strings, particularly of Copeland's work, whose intonation was impeccable. In that piece, Robert Ziegler's conducting dealt with rubato spoken stretches without fuss; Tim Murray's stewardship of Anne Dudley's score was equally secure, delivered with an almost permanent grin, as well it might. A nice night out.

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