@nguyenuk11
Mary Grace Nguyen
Trendfem.com
Bully: Etcetera Theatre (2018)[fourstar] Hands up if you were ever bullied at school? Most adults would own up to it, but how many would admit to being bullied at their current job? Previously shown at Etcetera Theatre, writer and director of Bully, Luke Harding grapples with childhood bullying and how it can reemerge and build up into a nasty state of affairs later on in life. How often do we find ourselves in a situation where our former bully enters our adult workplace, though? I’d say that many would rather flee from a good job opportunity to secure their own safety and sanity than stick around, just in the same way a former bully would try to befriend us on Facebook - we end up pressing the ‘ignore’ button. Harding plays Jack, the newly-made headmaster of the school where he once was the victim. In this fictional space, Jack lands the job easy. Yet, as soon as he walks into the staff room he sees the boy who used to give him childhood nightmares, Sam, except he’s all grown up. And he's also teaching. It’s an awkward encounter between two big kids at the school. [caption id=attachment_12983 align=aligncenter width=800] Luke Harding and Emily Sesto as Jack and Rosie in Bully (2018)[/caption] Bully is an example that could happen to anyone in any situation, no matter how old or young you are. Over 75 minutes, the production sees the journey of Jack, happily married to Rosie (confident and assuring played by Emily Sesto), exceedingly successful to stressed out, insecure and unwilling to speak openly about his anxieties about the bully to anyone. Not even the person who could stop the situation such as his boss Helen, played by Sue Williamson who gives a meticulous performance as the calm and professional headmistress. At some points throughout the show, the audience play the role of the schoolchildren. On the night I attended, we, the audience, were part of Sam’s class and Jack was watching him. As we called out guesses of the name of Shakespeare's first play, Jack interjected and corrected Sam in front of everyone. The audience felt the shudder. In another scene, the audience play the schoolchildren in an assembly hall. This time, Jack seizes the opportunity to get back at Sam, which sees the shift in power go from the bully to the former victim. Nathan Hughes’s bullish Sam is pumped up and violent. Throughout the show, Hughes’s performance is effectively frightening. His vicious misconduct mirrors the behaviour of someone with a past and, eventually, we see the deeper repercussions of Sam’s own messed-up and abusive upbringing. Thomas Mitchells as Jack's light-hearted friend Leon performs an important role, too, as the much-needed joker in this serious production. Small, funny facial expressions and laughs bring as back to earth when it feels like we’ve walked into the pit of hell with Sam's vicious attacks on Jack. Harding's play is a thrilling emotional roller coaster with an honest and deliberate message. It's applicable to not only bullying but, also, how to find a solution to a terrifying situation about power play. We need more writing like Bully for audiences to remember the lesson and to do their homework: to talk about personal and dangerous problems as soon, and as much, as possible before it’s too late. Bully was shown at Etcetera Theatre on 18-23 September. For more information about Etcetera Theatre, click here.  Follow Luke Harding on Twitter here. I was offered a press ticket to review this show. Header Photo: Nathan Hughes and Luke Harding in Bully (2018) [related_posts_by_tax]
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Stagecake Podcast 3: Lilac Yosiphon, Jericho’s Rose (2018)Meet writer and creator Lilac Yosiphon From 16 October to 3 November, Althea Theatre return to London, following their US tour, with Jericho’s Rose at The Hope Theatre. Lilac Yosiphon shares her thoughts on Jericho's Rose and its themes on identity, displacement, Alzheimer, music, and, even, Brexit in this exploratory interview podcast. Press 'play' and hear more about the Jericho's Rose and the Hope Theatre in my interview with Lilac. [playlist artists=false tracklist=false ids=12994] Exploring the experience of displacement from the dual perspective of a grandfather struggling with Alzheimer’s and an artist struggling to stay in the UK, Jericho’s Rose is about searching for a home that can’t be found. The show takes the audience on a breath-taking journey across continents to ask - what happens when you can’t remember where you belong? The production weaves new writing and projections, movement, live music and loop-pedalled sound to create a unique tapestry of fragmented memories: the remembered, the forgotten and the rediscovered. The Hope Theatre, 207 Upper Street, London, N1 1RL Tuesday 16 October – Saturday 3 November 2018 Click here to book tickets and for more information. Date of interview: 7 October 2018, 1 pm. Interviewee: Lilac Yosiphon. Interviewer: Mary Nguyen. Music by Norman Cheung. In next week's podcast (episode 4), I'll be speaking to MKEC productions' producers of Baby. More information here. [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A with Satriya Krisna – Opera SingerPop-Up Opera is currently showing the stripped back incarnation of Peter Brook and Marius Constant's reimagining of Bizet's La Tragédie de Carmen on a UK tour. Satriya Krisna is singing the role of Don Jose and he shares with us what it's like to work with Pop-Up Opera, where his love for opera stemmed from and whether opera and classical music can change the world. Tell me about your passion for opera: where did it come from? At the beginning of my singing education in 2012, I had no passion for opera because in Indonesia there is less of an influence of opera and I wanted to be a lieder singer. But my teacher in Utrecht, Henny Diemer, encouraged me very much and brought out my voice through opera. She gave me a lot of opera repertoire to sing and the opportunity to see rehearsals at the Dutch National Opera from 2013 till 2017. With her courage, I now begin my career as an opera singer, even though I still attend many lieder recitals. The craft of human sound projection, language, acting, and great musicianship within the process of an opera production are the great things that have always amazed me. The production is sung in French, so many languages can you sing? Up until now, I have sung in seven languages such as English, French, Italian, German, Russian, Latin, and Indonesian. What do you find fascinating the most about the character you are performing in this production? Don Jose is a complicated young man. He had a life-changing event (probably killed or severely injured someone) which pushed him to join in the army and leave his family at a young age. With this trauma, he hid from the past and lived under great pressure. His mother wanted him to marry Micaela, but when he meets Carmen in Seville, he gets caught by her charm of liberty, beauty, and sexuality. This role is known as one of the heaviest roles because it demands a great technique to bring the heaviness from the middle to the highest notes. The biggest challenge for me is how to make the physical emotions not disturb my singing technique while performing on stage. [caption id=attachment_12965 align=aligncenter width=800] Pop-Up Opera's La Tragédie de Carmen, Chloe Latchmore and Satriya Krisna (photo by Ugo Soffientini)[/caption] Why do you think so many opera fans love Bizet's opera? Carmen is indeed one of the most successful operas from the whole operatic repertoire. As an opera singer, I found that Bizet was a great music motive maker. Each character has a very beautiful motive and these motives are scattered throughout the whole opera. For example, Carmen has the naughty habanera, Escamillo has the brave marching melody, and Don Jose has the slow melodramatic melody. Even an audience who is not too familiar with opera could easily remember the melodious motives from Carmen. What is it like working with a young and independent opera company, Pop-Up Opera? This young company has a great purpose to bring the opera in a simple way to a new audience. At the beginning of my career, it is a great opportunity to work with fresh ideas and new concepts. It gives me freedom and possibility to grow while developing myself as an artist. How do you think opera and classical music can change the world? In my opinion, opera as the oldest theatre form has already moved the human heart. Opera can bring the value of humanity through different languages, music, genres, and culture. At the same time, it offers not only one art form but it involves many, obviously music and literature, architecture, all kinds of visual art, dance, the art of management, etc. Opera is part of the culture, it represents the human heart and when it has moved the audience's heart, it has already changed the world. [caption id=attachment_12938 align=aligncenter width=800] Pop-Up Opera's La Tragédie de Carmen, Alice Privett and Satriya Krisna (photo by Ugo Soffientini)[/caption] La Tragédie de Carmen by Pop-Up Opera has been showing since September 20th. Last showing is November 23. For more information on their tour dates and book tickets, please click here. Thurs 11 Oct NSPCC at Hope Church Islington, London, 7.30pm Sat 13 Oct Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire, 7pm Sun 14 Oct Farrington Hall, Port Regis School, Dorset, 6pm (TBC) Thurs 18 Oct Bath Assembly Rooms, 7.30pm Sat 20 Oct Black Mountains Barns, Herefordshire, 7.30pm Sun 21 Oct Breast Cancer Haven at Lyde Court, Herefordshire, 7.30pm Weds 24 Oct Masonic Temple, Andaz Hotel, London, 7.30pm Thurs 25 Oct South Downs Centre Memorial Hall, West Sussex, 7.30pm Sat 27 Oct Anne of Cleves Barn, Essex, 8pm Fri 2 Nov The Lantern Arts Centre Studio Theatre, London, 8pm Sat 4 Nov Court Gardens Farm, East Sussex, 7.30pm Fri 9 Nov The Milton Rooms, North Yorkshire, 7.30pm Sat 10 Nov Lancaster Brewery, 7.30pm Tues 13 – Weds 14th Nov The Vaults, London, 7.30pm Fri 16 Nov Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, 7.30pm Sat 17tNov Lourdes Hall, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, 7.30pm Tues 20 Nov Water & Steam, Kew, 7.30pm Fri 23 Nov Grittleton Village Hall, Wiltshire, 8pm [related_posts_by_tax]
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ENO: Porgy and Bess (2018)[fivestar] (I'd give it 10-star if I could!) Gershwin's twentieth-century American opera, Porgy and Bess isn't performed often enough in the UK. Luckily, last night marked the opening of one of the hottest shows to see in London, right now, at the English National Opera (ENO). The production is a collaboration with Dutch National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. This ravishing opera is directed by James Robinson, with designers Michael Yeargan, Donald Holder, Catherine Zuber and choreographer Dianne McIntyre. It's a mighty collaboration full of glorious voices, jazz, gospel and symphonic music. Conductor John Wilson and the orchestra embodied the sublime score of Gershwin. Their virtuosic playing of the music was simply heavenly. [caption id=attachment_12942 align=aligncenter width=800] A scene from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin @ London Coliseum. An English National Opera Production. (Opening 11-10-18) ©Tristram Kenton 10-18[/caption] Set in Catfish Row, South Carolina, Porgy and Bess explore the ties in a close-knit African American community, battling with race, everyday subjugation and sexism in the 1920s era. The rotating stage sees the people of Catfish Row surviving and struggling in their poor-ridden homes, standing lifeless without walls. Yet it is the community that fills each others' lives with hope and joy. The opera has an all-black cast which has over 40 singers, some from the UK with others flown in from New Zealand, US, Germany and South Africa. They all performed wonderfully as part of the cast and ensemble and none of them sang a note off-key. Baltimore-born baritone Eric Greene performs the lead role of Porgy, our crippled beggar, but in this production, he is our hero. Greene has an overwhelming presence on stage, embodying a physically weak yet mentally strong Porgy. His voice is so potently rich that it can grab the attention of hundreds and make them stop whatever they are doing and listen. His performance of ‘ I got plenty o’ nuttin’ brought the house down on the opening night, and it is hard to hold back the tears in his exquisite rendition of 'Bess, you is my woman now'. Bess, although seen to be the opera's heroine, is a troubled woman of colour living in a society run by men, denying woman rights or any form of female agency. Soprano Nicole Cabell encapsulates Bess’s vulnerability, being pushed and pulled by various forces: love, sex, violence and drug abuse. Cabell also presented Bess’s weaknesses through her gorgeous and beautifully-rounded voice, full of sentiment and emotion. [caption id=attachment_12943 align=aligncenter width=779] A scene from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin @ London Coliseum. An English National Opera Production. (Opening 11-10-18) ©Tristram Kenton 10-18[/caption] Latonia Moore’s Serena gives a touching performance too. She provides some of the most heart-wrenching songs including ‘My man’s gone now’ and the hopeful prayer to ‘O Doctor Jesus.’ Bess’s violent lover, Crown sees Nmon Ford take to the role effortlessly. Sitting in the audience, one could feel how mentally unstable and frightening Crown's character can be, yet, on the other hand, Ford manages to show a charming, macho and 'bad boy' side to Crown, giving some visibility to the reasons why Bess has a soft spot for him. And Ford's voice is astonishing. From the outset, Nadine Benjamin gives a marvellous rendition of ‘Summer Time’. Her voice is a perfect opening for the opera! Often ‘Summer Time’ is performed by sopranos as a standalone song at various concerts, yet here was one of the rare occasions to experience ‘Summer Time’ as part of the opera and Benjamin made it completely worthwhile. Frederick Ballentine provides an electrifying and memorable performance of ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ as the drug dealer, Sportin’ Life. It’s a light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek song that gets the cast and ensemble moving and dancing on the stage. Ultimately, there are plenty of talented singers and performers on the ENO stage. (Simply too many names to mention here.) But I reiterate - this is the hottest show to see in London right now. Catch it before it becomes a sold-out production. [caption id=attachment_12945 align=aligncenter width=800] A scene from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin @ London Coliseum. An English National Opera Production. (Opening 11-10-18) ©Tristram Kenton 10-18[/caption] Porgy and Bess is showing at the ENO now until November 14.  Please head to the ENO website and get your ticket now. #ENOPorgy  I was offered a press ticket to review this show. Amended: 12 October 12.00 pm. Porgy and Bess has been performed in the UK during and since the 1980s. [related_posts_by_tax]
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Old Red Lion Theatre: The Agency (2018)[fourstar] I shall never forget the time I had jury service at the Old Bailey. I remember how intense the courtroom was and how stressed out my fellow jurors gradually became, especially when it came down to deliberating and agreeing to a final verdict in a small, private room. During those two weeks, it took us more than three days to make a final decision. Once we delivered our verdict to the judge, our civic duty had been done; we had washed our hands clean from looking at all of the evidence and thinking over the moral implications, time and time again, of the case at hand. In these circumstances, the jury was given enough time to make the right decision. But imagine a world where there’s limited or barely any evidence  - more like anecdotes, and roughly 30 seconds to make a decision on the fate of the accused? It would be unethical, right? If you’ve ever wanted to get a feel for being on the jury panel, then welcome to PonyDog Productions’ new show, The Agency. Now showing at The Old Red Lion Theatre, as part of the London Horror Festival, the audience fasts forward to the year 2029. The justice system has become a privately owned organisation called The Agency and whoever walks through the Old Red Lion Theatre are provided with an information envelope, Wi-Fi passwords and procedural permission to keep their mobile phone on for the entire show. (Yippee!) Writer and director of the show, Davey Seagle, who also performs the role of the omniscient and chauvinist lighting guy, has executed an engaging script, which brings together curiosity, innovation and excitement. The show encourages the audience to think and discuss with one another, yes, complete strangers(!) – each different case. Representatives of The Agency, Cherry (co-producer Niamh Blackman) and Chuck (Chris Elms) facilitate all of the jury sessions and keep them in check in case any of them decide to go rogue and oppose The Agency’s code of conduct – cause anarchy and social chaos. Another refreshing part of the show is the use of mobile phones. To present the jury's verdict, multiple choices pop up on their phones and they can pick and choose their final decision in real time. It almost feels like you’re part of a TV game show, except at The Agency you’re dealing with real lives. Your moral compass goes haywire as you look at a projector screen with pie charts, percentages and limited sentencing options. The Agency offers the jury prices and so-called statistics. Yet, torture, execution, fines and freedom is on the cards for the accused that sit tied up and are vulnerable to painful zaps in the neck whenever the jury votes for it. Murderer and terrorist, Bunny (Georgie Oulton) heightens the show by adding an element of thrill in an interrogation stroke semi-torture scene, bringing the audience closer to hearing and seeing what the accused has to say to save them from death or imprisonment. This is a thrilling and digitally interactive show, which, like a courtroom situation, requires the eyes and ears of its audience. Full participation and critical thinking mode needs to be switched on. Yet, putting the serious and chilling atmosphere aside, Seagle, Oulton, Elms and Blackman give impressive performances. They add a few comedy lines to lighten the moral load. Often I forgot I was in a pub theatre and felt I had been dragged into a real dystopian world. Execution is worth £200 to The Agency, yet life imprisonment can be over a £1 million, which is the same price as many cancer treatments for children. The choice is yours. The Agency is showing on Tuesday 9, Wednesday 11 and Thursday 11. Please head to the Old Red Lion Theatre website.  [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A : Anna Reid – Costume and Set DesignerFollowing award-winning, sell-out runs at Edinburgh Fringe 2017 and Soho Theatre, Dust is now showing at Trafalgar Studios. Its costume and set designer Anna Reid discusses how she approaches each set design for different productions and how she came up with the stage design for Dust, given the sensitive nature of the show that touches on mental health and death. She also shares her methods of collaboration with the creative team including Dust's director Sara Joyce and more. Tell me what was the inspiration behind the set designs for Dust at Trafalgar Studios? Milly (Thomas), Sara (Joyce) and I had a very close collaborative relationship working towards the set for Dust and one of our jumping off points was how bodily the script is. There's a lot of descriptions of bodily functions, pissing, shitting and f**king which act as this almost elegiac remembering of her body which she has lost and which she yearns for. We knew we wanted something onstage which symbolised her body and her emotional, and eventual physical, separation from it. That's where the morgue table came from. We also spoke about how the character of Alice is deeply self-involved and seems perpetually trapped between this intelligent, brutal self-reflection and a selfish absorption in herself, driving those closest to her away which is where the idea of her being trapped by mirrors and different edges and refractions of herself grew from. There is rarely one single reason why someone decides to take their own life and part of the problem is that people don't feel they can talk openly about the mental and emotional space they're in because of the social stigma which persists around mental health. We wanted to tell the story that the people in Alice's life only saw a fraction, or a side of her, and that her inability to fully express herself is one of the things that led to her taking her own life. What kind of things do you have to gather and study in order to create a fresh new set design for a play with a sensitive nature like Dust? There's a lot of reading and talking to do, to friends and family who have personal experience, online blogs, and a continual process of checking in with each other on the team that we all felt comfortable that what we were saying aesthetically stayed true to the nature of the play: not pulling any punches but remaining sensitive and aware of the subject material. We looked at visual art, film, photography, a lot of it told and seen through a distinctly female lens. How do you want the audience to feel when they see your set designs in Dust? Hopefully, their experience of the design will change as the lighting by Jack Weir and sound design by Max Perryment guide us through the journey of the show. Sometimes they should be struck cold: we're in a morgue, everything is polished hard edges; sometimes they should forget the table is metal and see Alice in her bed at home; sometimes the space should simply dissolve away and just foreground Alice telling her story. My hope is that despite the set being visually very stark and distinct, the sound, the lights and the way Sara and Milly use the space animate it in different ways and infuse it with different energies. You’ve worked on many productions in a variety of venues over the course of your career, like the Bunker Theatre, Southwark Playhouse and the Old Red Lion. How important is the size of the venue when you’re designing a set? Not important. It's about the team and the material. If you have the right team and the right material, you can make a great design in a room the size of your kitchen. If you have a team who don't talk and material you're not sure about, even if you have all the resources in the world it can be hard to produce a design you feel proud of. I've been very lucky that the huge majority of the projects I've worked on over the last few years have been the former. I love the intimacy and exposure of a small space. When did you realise costume and set design was your calling? In the final year of my BA in English literature! I suddenly realised I wasn't applying for masters and academic opportunities which I had always expected I'd go into like all my friends were, and instead, I was spending more and more time at my university theatre. I realised that what really made me happy was telling stories and working with my hands and collaborating with other creative people. Do you have a preference for the types of theatre you create staging for? E.g. Scripted plays, musicals, etc. I love working with new writing, it's always incredibly exciting but I've done a bit of everything and would like to keep it that way. I'd love to have a go at an opera. What’s the most challenging, yet gratifying set design you’ve made? Dust has to rank pretty highly here. It's very rare at this level to be able to go back and refine a design three times over! I feel like myself, Sara, Milly, Jack and Max have been able to come back to the show and finesse it til it's not perfect (nothing ever is) but as close as it possibly could be to the essence of what we're trying to communicate with the show as a whole. I also designed a show called Rattle Snake for an amazing company called Open Clasp which has had several lives touring theatres and community spaces. It's a verbatim piece about the impact of coercive control. Similarly to Dust, Rattle Snake uses a very simple construct (a metal box lit with floodlights, containing a naturalistic dining table) to tell a complicated story. I feel it supports the performers in doing their job really well which is always what I want my work to do. Where will we see your work next? Any current or future projects in the pipeline? I have a few shows opening at Southwark Playhouse, The Sweet Science of Bruising directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward and Twelfth Night directed by Anna Girvan. I've also got a show at Hampstead coming up called The Hoes directed by Lakesha Arie-Angelo which I'm really looking forward to. What advice would you give to an aspiring set designer? Don't look sideways: there is always going to be someone doing better than you. Focus on your own work and on creating meaningful creative relationships which inspire you. There are sometimes tough decisions to be made between standing your ground and knowing when to compromise and sometimes you get it wrong. Always ask for more money. The worst anyone can do is say no. Dust by Milly Thomas is showing at Trafalgar Studios 2 now until Saturday 13th October 2018. Book tickets here. [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A: Andy Smith – Theatre MakerExploring the notions of language, communication and equality, theatre maker Andy Smith talks about his latest collaboration show SUMMIT with Fuel. It shall be showing at the Shoreditch Town Hall from Tuesday 9 until 19 October. Here Andy discusses about the nature of the work, the inspiration behind it and theatre in crisis. The show explores ideas of diversity, inclusion and agency. What inspired you to work on this project? I think the world is asking us to, in a way. The global capitalist systems we have created suggests to us that we have agency, but it often feels like we don’t. It often feels like we are doing more and more to effect inclusion and embrace diversity, but it sometimes feels like we aren’t. We have to work on these things and keep working. There is no solution or answer, just a continued consciousness and hard work. I hope the play suggests this. Was the show influenced by something happening in our current political climate? (E.g. Brexit, Trump.) If not, what was it? No. And yes. I’ve been thinking about and working on this show for three years, so it has come out of that context. It’s not directly connected to any of the things that are happening in our current socio-political climate, but I hope it makes a space in which we (performers and audience) might think a bit together about them. That’s an aim, anyway. Is the UK (or the world) going through a crisis in your opinion? Yes. And no! There are loads of crisis about. Perhaps it was ever thus. These things will become more of a problem, or a crisis if we don’t do anything about them. Or if we feel that we are not able to do anything about them. We need to keep active and find ways to keep being active. Why is the Shoreditch Town Hall is the ideal venue for presenting the show? Because it used to be a town hall, and now it is a theatre. This is a play is about people attending a meeting. A political meeting. We are performing it — and all meeting — in a room that used to be a council chamber. That feels very appropriate to me. How do you want the audience to react when they see the show? I can’t control the audiences' reactions. I don’t want to. I hope that they will laugh, think, be and hope. I hope that they will feel uncertain, feel confused, feel optimistic, feel joyful and many other things besides. I hope that they will have a mix of these things, some of these things, or even something else. You have a breadth of theatre experience. When you're creating theatre, what important things do you think when putting on a show? I try to think and not think. I try to follow my instincts rather than consider what I think I should be saying or doing before I do it. It’s hard, but I try to trust my instincts. Have I got a breadth of experience? It’s true to say that I have been doing this a while, but I am fond of saying that at this time I have reached more confusion as well as more clarity. The things to think about and questions to ask are the same, though. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? What is it exactly? Is the theatre the right place to be doing it? I like asking simple questions because if you dig deep enough I think they reveal a wealth of responses. When did you realise directing was your calling? I don’t know that I believe in the idea of ‘calling’. It’s an interesting word. I like writing and I like directing. I’m lucky and/or stubborn enough to be still doing it. There are a million or more ways to direct something. For a long time, I didn’t think I was a director because lots of people told me that what I was doing was not directing. It took a while for me to realise that what they meant was that it was not their way of directing, or what they thought was directing. What about the theatre world, do you feel that it still has a problem with diversity and inclusion? Yes! And the main reason is one of economics. How do you want to describe our world? Capitalist? Post-capitalist? The socio-economic structures that we live in deprive many people in many ways from accessing and being involved in cultural practice, because we see it as a luxury rather than a necessity. Also, wider culture often marginalises and separates rather than unites and embraces difference. That’s why we have problems with diversity and inclusion. What advice would you give to someone thinking about devoting their career into theatre? Be brave. Trust your instincts. Hold your nerve. Listen to others. Listen to yourself. Know that it is ok to disagree. Know that you can make something even if it feels you have nothing. There are times where it will feel like you have nothing. That’s never true. This is not an easy thing to do. It doesn’t pay much and you never, ever stop having days where you feel vulnerable. But some days you feel invincible at the same time, and that’s great. SUMMIT by Andy Smith and Fuel (Co-directed by Andy Smith and Claire Lamont) is showing at Shoreditch Town Hall from 9 October 2018. Book tickets here. [related_posts_by_tax]
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42nd Street: Theatre Royal Drury Lane (2018)[fivestar] Sometimes I am reminded of how fortunate and spoilt Londoners are given the choice of musicals on offer. It goes without saying that the West End is 'thee' hub of spectacular musicals from the contemporary (Kinky Boots, Jamie: The Musical) to classical productions (Les Misérable sand The King and I). However, fringe theatre and off-West End venues are making a killing with their own productions such as Eugenius! at the Other Palace Theatre and Southwark Playhouse's recent performance of Bring It On. I’m here to write about 42nd Street now showing at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and how unprepared I was for its immensity of sequin shakers and glittering tap dancers. [caption id=attachment_12772 align=aligncenter width=800] Cast of 42nd Street, West End 2018 (Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)[/caption] From the moment the show began, the grand music, show business, glitz and glamour and catchy numbers wowed and grabbed the attention of all eyeballs at the auditorium. Welcome yourself into the 1930s and see 40 dancers tap away to the beat. Director Mark Bramble has devised an awe-inspiring and spine-tingling production that will encourage audiences to appreciate tap dancing, all over again. Bamble and co-writer Michael Stewart took the Warner Bros. 1933 classic, introduced songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, and gave it a major makeover in the 1980s. Producer David Merrick opened the show in Drury Lane in 1984, exclaiming how he wanted the show to be the ‘biggest musical since the Second World War’, and this is more than what the West End had bargained for - it’s simply monumental. [caption id=attachment_12774 align=aligncenter width=684] Cast of 42nd Street, West End 2018 (Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)[/caption] 42nd Street’s lead character, Peggy Sawyer is from out of town, but she is determined to get a role in Broadway (Pretty Lady), but tough competition, first-time stage nerves and a slave-driver of a director, Julian Marsh, get in the way of her journey to success. That is until she is finally given the opportunity to be the lead. Yes, the story of rags to riches is predictable, but the staging, set design, choreography and quality of dance performances are far from foreseeable. It is this element of the production, which I found most astonishing. The decadent and sophisticated costumes, the mirror reflective set designs, and collection of on-stage props are just out of this world, and they kept on coming - one can tell this production had a steep budget. The bright neon lights, the golden chandeliers, synchronisation of long legs belonging to gorgeous dancers and finale scene - with all performers moving fast, energetically and perfectly on cue - are just a sample of the many wonders of this tap dancing extravaganza. [caption id=attachment_12771 align=aligncenter width=800] Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, West End 2018 (Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)[/caption] Credit is due to all principal dancers who are triumphantly radiant on stage. Clare Halse is unstoppable as Peggy and truly impresses with her rapid, elegant dance moves and unconditional smile. Bonnie Langford’s vocal performance has the many versatile attributes of 1930’s New York nostalgia, which makes her performance thrilling and loveable. An American classic and musical dream served on a gold, tap dancing platter. [caption id=attachment_12775 align=aligncenter width=456] Bonnie Langford as Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street, West End 2018 (Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)[/caption] 42nd Street is showing now at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until 5 January 2019. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to London Box Office's website here.  Photo credit: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg. The show was reviewed with a complimentary press ticket. First working day of September and my workload has increased. Thankfully I have @42ndStreetLDN to look forward to! 🎶👐🎷🎺⭐👯‍♂️💃👯🕺 pic.twitter.com/cA8IWjYkLh — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) September 3, 2018 #IntervalTweet I adore the costumes and large ensemble's tap dance choreography. Those flashy frills, feathers & shimmer. Simply divine! Bonnie Langford as Dorothy Brock is a perfect match for the role, too. Love her voice,evoking NY in the 1920-30s. @42ndStreetLDN is spectacular — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) September 3, 2018 So dreamy! I can imagine all of the performers being so pleased to be in such a special production. If I looked, sang, acted and danced the way the cast of @42ndStreetLDN do, I know I would. Thank you for making my Monday something other than dull. 🌟😊👯💃👯‍♂️🎷🎶⭐👐 — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) September 3, 2018 [related_posts_by_tax]
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Handel; Theodora: BBC Proms (2018)Review Written by Tony Watts [fourstar] Although today Theodora, Handel's penultimate oratorio, is recognised as containing some of his most inspired, deeply-felt music it was not much admired at the time of its first performance at Covent Garden in 1750. Working with one of his favourite librettists, Thomas Morell, Handel's only English language oratorio on a Christian subject elicited a deep response from the composer. The story of the persecution and subsequent martyrdom of a saint may not have appealed to the public at its earliest performances, but it inspired Handel to great heights and its themes of religious freedom have rather more resonance for contemporary audiences. It is a wonderfully rich score with the composer at his most inspiredly human. He was in his sixty-fifth year and still in full possession of his powers while using all the experience he had gained during a long, productive career. He considered it among the very finest of all his works and hearing it can be a profoundly moving experience as this admirable performance showed, although it could be argued that the Royal Albert Hall with its capricious acoustic is simply too big for what is, after all, apart from its large-scale choruses, a fairly-intimate work. Initial portents for Theodora were not good. Only a week before the first performance London suffered an unprecedented earthquake. People fled the capital in large numbers and many were still absent on the night of the premiere which partially explained the poor houses at the only three performances that took place. The first cast of Theodora included the castrato Gaetano Guadagni for whom Handel wrote the role of Didymus. It was unusual for him to include this voice type in his English Oratorios, but Guadagni had already appeared with success in performances of Messiah and Samson in specially adapted versions of the roles. He went on to create the title role in Gluck's' Orfeo. [caption id=attachment_12763 align=aligncenter width=800] Louise Alder in the title role. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou/BBC[/caption] In recent years Theodora has been rehabilitated and found a ready audience in the UK through the memorable, if controversial, Peter Sellars production at Glyndebourne with the transcendent performance of the late Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson as Irene at its centre. Sellars later commented that 'visionary works such as this wait for another era in which they are allowed to speak in their own language and not have to ventriloquise the conventional wisdom of the day'. As soon as this year's Prom programme was announced it was clear that this concert performance would be one of the summer's highlights. So it proved! The driving force behind the performance's success was the orchestra and chorus of Arcangelo a fairly new (formed in 2010), expert, stylish period music group under its founder and conductor Jonathan Cohen. The chorus shone particularly in the lengthy 'He saw the lovely youth', Handel's favourite of all the choruses he wrote. Its clean articulation throughout was a model of its kind. The orchestra boasted ideal string tone, beautifully - played woodwind and a duo of superbly pungent horns. It is hard to imagine a finer cast being assembled today for a performance of Theodora than that heard at this Prom. Louise Alder's gleaming lyric soprano was the ideal instrument for the heroine's music, particularly impressive in her sensitive 'Angels ever bright and fair' and in a touching reading of 'When sunk in anguish and despair'. It is a most lovely voice and she was in top form here. Her final duet with Iestyn Davies's near-ideal Didymus brought out all the emotion of the tragic situation so perfectly expressed in Handel's sublime music. Davies was a joy throughout, projecting his voice into the hall's vast spaces to great effect. Benjamin Hulett was a fine, upstanding Septimius, his clear, supple tone making the most of his fairly-limited opportunities to shine. Sadly the composer cut some of the tenor's music when putting together the final version of the score. Bass-baritone Tareq Nazmi gave a vivid character study of the vicious Valens, but sadly his dark tone was somewhat wooly. [caption id=attachment_12764 align=aligncenter width=800] (Not in order of appearance.) Louise Alder, Iestyn Davies, Benjamin Hulett. Ann Hallenberg, Tareq Nazmi, Arcangelo Chorus, Arcangelo Orchestra and Jonathan Cohen. Photography by BBC Chris Chistodoulou.[/caption] It was a pleasure to hear Ann Hallenberg's portrayal of the sympathetic Irene. As beautifully sung as one would expect from this artist, the part is a Handelian gift to any mezzo and she lavished every facet of her superior artistry on it with a most dulcet 'As with rosy steps the morn' and a heartfelt 'Lord, to thee' just two of many highlights, even if there were moments when she seemed a tad too reticent. All in all a most memorable concert and I gather, one of a series of Handel operas and oratorios scheduled to be heard at the Proms in future years. This was one of those evenings which was so involving that the noise and bustle of the outside world afterwards seemed even more intrusive than usual. Handel's Theodora was shown on the BBC Proms on Friday 7 September. If you want to listen to a recording of the performance broadcasted live at BBC Radio 3, please click here. For more information on the BBC Proms 2018 season, go here.  Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.) Tony Watts is a keen opera, concert, theatre and ballet-goer. He has spent most of his working life in the music industry, including a 16-year spell at Decca Records. He has compiled and produced over 1,000 re-issues on CD, LP and digital formats, and written notes for several hundred more. In addition to writing for a wide variety of musical books and publications, Tony has worked as a music consultant on films and on exhibitions for the V&A.  Follow Tony now on Twitter: @Tonywauk [related_posts_by_tax]
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Grimeborn: Elephant Steps (2018)[fourstar] The Arcola Theatre’s exciting Grimeborn festival has enriched their 2018 programme with Stanley Silverman and Richard Foreman’s revolutionary 60s masterwork: Elephant Steps for three exclusive performances only. The 50th anniversary of Elephant Steps’ and its European premiere also coincide with the composer’s 80th birthday. (Each performance includes a post-show Q & A with Silverman.) At the Arcola's Studio 1, the 60s looks and sounds groovy, 'baby'. Patrick Kennedy directs this exciting historical work utilising the medium-sized stage and filling it up with flip doors, incense, cucumbers, elephant masks, fake guns and all-round 60s paraphernalia. Even a white board sort of keeps you posted on what the heck is going on, but fails deliberately. [caption id=attachment_12714 align=aligncenter width=800] (Photo by Alessia Chinazzo)[/caption] Some may call the work experimental; others, bizarre, but one cannot deny how avant-garde and edgy Silverman’s craftsmanship stood, then, as a piece written and composed in 1968. It was considered one of the most tempestuous years of the 20th century: America’s military involvement in Vietnam, the growth of Anti-war sentiment, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the violent riots in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, then the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. And let's not forget The Beatles hottest single ‘Hey Jude.’ Without hesitation, Elephant Steps can be labelled as an aggressive and angry piece. [caption id=attachment_12719 align=aligncenter width=800] (Photo by Alessia Chinazzo)[/caption] In no more than 60 minutes, musical genres harmonise, run wild, move and shape shift into otherworldly dimensions. We’re talking operetta, jazz, rock n roll, chamber music, vaudeville and more. In the Arcola space, there’s constant movement: erratic noise in one scene, pleasurable madrigal music and operatic voices in another. Yet this is an occult, surrealist opera, so anything is possible - expect the offering of fresh cucumbers, for instance. Our lead character Hartman (Jake Stevenson) is suffering from a spiritual illness and only the mysterious Reinhardt can free him. But that’s not the plot. In fact, I’d go as far to say there isn’t one. The piece speaks for its abstract self and it is strung together by a group of vigourous and talented artists. They perform a variety of characters, but it’s hard to pinpoint where everyone is placed in a specific plot. So, don’t look for one! [caption id=attachment_12718 align=aligncenter width=800] (Photo by Alessia Chinazzo)[/caption] Stevenson is dark and alert as Hartman, honing in a rich operatic tone. Hannah is strange. But, Kate Baxter makes Hannah's character vocally strong. Scrubwoman and ragtime lady are outlandish, yet Elissa Churchill portrays them as sparkly and radiant in voice. Jessica Foden and Anna Hallas Smith are animated, hilarious and freakish as the elephant angels. And Otto, depicted by Joshua Lewindon, is wacky, enthusiastic and vocally exuberant. Tom Taplin is weird and wonderful as Doctor Worms, which leaves Blair Robertson as the fun, amusing, yet super serious Max. [caption id=attachment_12716 align=aligncenter width=800] (Photo by Alessia Chinazzo)[/caption] Ten triumphant and savvy musicians, including music director Nathan Jarvis, bring Silverman’s 60s sentiment to life. The ensemble includes John Reddel, Tom Knowles, Elaine Booth, Hannah Fry, Nadine Nagen, Ucheena Cohen-Shah, Artur King, Daniele Borgato and Ian Tripp. Their scope of musical expertise spans keys, wind instruments, violin, trumpet, double bass, guitar and drums. [caption id=attachment_12717 align=alignnone width=800] (Photo by Alessia Chinazzo)[/caption] In hindsight, the music, choreography and 60s flair may not be life-changing, now, as it was at its premiere in Tanglewood. At the time, a New York Magazine critic dubbed Elephant Steps as, 'the best piece of new music I've heard in concert all year.' 50 years have passed and the world has changed dramatically, but if someone wants a peek of the 60s through a pair of John Lennon's hippie sunglasses, look no further. Elephant Steps is showing at the Arcola Theatre on 20, 21 & 22 August 7. 30 pm. For more information on the Grimeborn Festival and get tickets, click here.  I was provided a press ticket to review the show [related_posts_by_tax]
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Grimeborn: Greek (2018)[fourstar] Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek was the first cockney opera to premiere at Germany (Munich) in 1988. In fact, it was the English composer’s brilliantly timed and socially relevant opera that shot him to fame. Thirty years forward, and many productions later, Thatcher has gone as well as the English riots and miners’ strike. Britain’s new social malaise is more of a technological vermin. At Grimeborn, director Jonathan Moore, who adapted Greek with Turnage from Steven Berkoff’s effing and blinding stage play, instils the same potency and urgency as if it were being staged for the first time, again. [caption id=attachment_12687 align=alignnone width=682] Edmund Danon and Laura Woods in GREEK at Arcola Theatre. (Photo: Lidia-Crisafulli)[/caption] Set in East London, coincidently where the Arcola Theatre resides, Eddy takes ‘no’ for an answer as he forces himself into the Dalston theatre. Edmund Danon plays our lad, geezer… lout! Loud and brash, he takes to the stage as a modern-day bloke from the pub but in Turnage’s eyes he is Sophocles' Greek protagonist Oedipus. Eddy shouts, spits and spills the beans on the country’s bitter disappointments with rage; one side of the stage is a graffiti wall with the capital letters ‘hipsters out’ written on it. Above, there’s video recordings of the 80’s police riots – England has turned into a bloody ‘state of the plague'. [caption id=attachment_12683 align=aligncenter width=684] Richard Morrison, Laura Woods and Edmund Danon in GREEK at Arcola Theatre. (Photo: Lidia-Crisafulli)[/caption] Before the performance begins, Baśka Wesołowska’s set design is taped up – no one can enter the slick, pitch black stage. Yet, once all four performers step onto it they becomes sacred and holy like an artefact of historical significance – Greek sculptures on a plinth. Matt Leventhall’s red and yellow LED lights, which outline the stage, tell the audience to stay out and to keep their eyes on what’s in front of them. [caption id=attachment_12684 align=aligncenter width=684] Edmund Danon, Laura Woods, Philippa-Boyle, and Richard Morrison in GREEK at Arcola Theatre. (Photo: Lidia-Crisafulli)[/caption] Turnage’s electrifying music is brutal, full of attitude and verve, which is eagerly illustrated by the 12-musicians of the Kantanti Ensemble and conductor Tim Anderson, and they deliver on thrill and excitement. There are peculiar notes and intriguing sounds from feet-stomping, the brass and percussion instruments, horns, piano and harp. Yet, lyricism also exists in Turnage's score that the Gooners’ chants seem melodic and sweet-sounding. [caption id=attachment_12689 align=aligncenter width=682] Philippa Boyle and Richard Morrison in GREEK at Arcola Theatre. (Photo: Lidia-Crisafulli)[/caption] Moore has four soloists (playing all eleven characters) perform a montage of theatrical styles: opera, spoken word, vaudeville, comedy and Greek theatre, and they are alert and mighty impressive. It is simply brilliant! Greek is cleverly and dynamically choreographed too. Eddy fights the manager of a cafe (Oedipus's biological father) and the scene is rather memorable. Richard Morrison, also performing the role of Eddy’s non-biological and chavy, skinhead father, punches it out with Eddy from a distance. As they take air swings at each other, their mouths burst with swear words as if they were drawn in a comic book, ‘Kapow!’, ‘Wham!’... 'Testicles!' [caption id=attachment_12690 align=aligncenter width=303] Edmund Danon in GREEK at Arcola Theatre. (Photo: Lidia-Crisafulli)[/caption] Danon is a tour de force as the edgy and restless Eddy. Although Greek is a mix between spoken word and song Danon executes adeptly on all accounts. He demonstrates the facets of his voice and stage abilities: richly seductive vocals with Eddy’s mother and wife, and dramatically violent as Oedipus plucking out his eyes. Laura Woods provides remarkable impressions of several roles: Eddy's sister, the fortune teller at South End, Eddy's wife and, as we discover, his real-life mum too. She is vocally stronger as Oedipus’s mother where Turnage wrote the most eloquent and gut-wrenching bars, especially when she mourns the death of her murdered husband - the dead manager of the cafe. Philippa Boyle’s hilarious waitress and powerful sphinx-like expressions deserve credit too as she transforms into Eddy’s dim-witted mum, always seen in an apron. Boyle’s enthusiasm for performance is evident and her lyric soprano voice alone is outstanding. And Morrison’s unflagging ability to evoke Eddy’s narrow-minded and basic father is constantly animated, evocative, and, in many cases, funny. Greek is a 75-minute mash-up of rough, violent energy and impressively bold performances that merge the old with the new. The work stands as a remarkable piece of operatic history. Hold tight, you’re in for a rude ride. [caption id=attachment_12686 align=aligncenter width=684] Richard Morrison in GREEK at Arcola Theatre. (Photo: Lidia-Crisafulli)[/caption] Greek is showing at the Arcola Theatre on 15, 17 & 18 August 7. 30 pm. For more information on the Grimeborn Festival and get tickets, click here.  I was provided a press ticket to review the show [related_posts_by_tax]
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Grimeborn: Onegin and Tatiana (2018)[fourstar] The annual Grimeborn opera festival has returned. Keen opera and fringe fans can see and hear new works at the Arcola Theatre. This week – for a two-day showing only – is a new production, Onegin and Tatiana, inspired by the Tchaikovsky’s masterwork opera Eugene Onegin. Its director Guido Martin-Brandis demonstrates the personal and significant influence the composer’s life had on the opera by wrapping the tragic tale in the philosophical and literary movement of the 19th-century. But, Martin-Brandis’s production takes it a step further and unifies the tragic tale of unrequited love with music composed by Mahler, Debussy, Strauss and Rachmaninov. [caption id=attachment_12661 align=alignnone width=800] Baritone Nicolas Dwyer as Onegin (2018)[/caption] In less than two hours – without an interval – the Arcola studio becomes an intimate space that transforms into an open book filled with heart-rending emotions: romance, anguish, rejection and purity of sound. Richard Hall’s superb piano performance sets the delicate and melancholic tone of the work, which includes German operatic song (lieder) and segments from Russian arias and poems. Those in the audience are not left astray, though. Martin-Brandis utilises projectors as theatrical devices to project English words, surtitles, picture frames and scenic images to allow our heroine’s dream world to flourish. Throughout the performance Joan Plunkett illuminates the love tale by articulately narrating each scene as they begins, which is palatable for newbies of the opera. Her storytelling is comforting and reminiscent of a being read children’s novels to at a very young age. Her description of the lethargic and lifeless Onegin is particularly evocative, too. [caption id=attachment_12664 align=aligncenter width=683] Isolde Roxby as Tatiana (2018)[/caption] Originally based off the 19th-century Russian author Alexander Pushkin’s novel, Tchaikovsky fashioned his opera on aspects of memory and nostalgia, and the use of projectors explicitly enhances that. It represents the abstract and mental projections Tatiana and Onegin have of Russian society as well as themselves. There’s a mildly slow and graceful pace to the production to reiterate the tender mood of the score. Lighting designer Edmund Sutton restricts the brightness of the studio for a subtle blend of ambient lighting, mostly limited to a glowing book Tatiana often reads and Martin-Brandis’s fixed projectors. Alexander McPherson colours the stage with autumn hues, adding a vintage table and large carpet to signify notes of Russian high society. Yet McPherson’s custom-made 1800’s costumes for Plunkett’s storyteller, Tatiana and Onegin are delightfully handsome, realistic and precise. The production removes some sections from Pushkin’s original tale. Instead of a grand introduction with a larger cast to present neighbours and Tatiana's family, we immediately meet Tatiana as the hopeful girl in love with the heroes of her favourite books. She meets the attractive Onegin and already knows she has fallen for him and, almost, instantly begins to write her love letter to him. Yet, his rejection of Tatiana's love is heartbreaking. [caption id=attachment_12662 align=aligncenter width=683] Baritone Nicolas Dwyer as Onegin (2018)[/caption] Isolde Roxby has an absolutely stunning voice and gives a wonderful performance encapsulating every part of Tatiana’s innocence and delicate suffering. In the Letter Scene, her performance is filled with sorrow and fragility. This contrasts with the final scenes where Roxby’s Tatiana is married to another, grown-up, composed and unshakeable. Her voice soars as she tells Onegin to leave her alone; it’s too late to ask for her forgiveness, let alone her hand in marriage. Baritone Nicolas Dwyer vocally propels the emotionally detached Onegin, unmoved by anything - not even a six-month vacation away - in the beginning scenes. Yet, he reveals the reflective and regretful Onegin in the final act with a heavy heart, giving an unrestrained and virtuosic performance – vocally unleashing bursts of pain, which deeply affect the audience. (Seriously, you can feel it in the studio!) There were a couple of minor issues with the projector slides, but that didn't detract the audience from the wider flow of the performance. With only four members in the cast, they managed to encapsulate the feelings, characters, and musical splendour all at once. The complexity of Tchaikovsky's past domestic situation manifests itself in his music. It's been a while since I've seen a finer production that manages to seize woeful and despairing music without making others feel the need to leave the room. One walks away with a pleasure-pain relationship with the production, yet the musical pleasure wins the most. [caption id=attachment_12663 align=aligncenter width=800] Isolde Roxby as Tatiana (2018)[/caption] Onegin and Tatiana is showing at the Arcola Theatre today Wednesday 14 August. For more information on the Grimeborn Festival, go here.    I was provided a press ticket to review the show [related_posts_by_tax]
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BBC Prom 37: Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia & Sir Antonio Pappano (2018)Written by Sebastian Petit [fourstar] Making only it’s sixth appearance at the Proms, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, under the conductor largely responsible for its current, much-garlanded reputation, presented a cannily linked repertoire of programmatic works. As part of the Bernstein Centenary celebrations the works were fascinating as much for their history of critical appreciation as the contrasts and connections. Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 'Jeremiah' was critically hailed at the 1942 premiere in Pittsburgh and reached the dizzy heights of New York only two months later. Contrast that with the near disastrous premiere of Mahler’s first Symphony when the audience reacted with mystification and downright hostility. Yet spool forward nearly eighty years and the position is completely reversed – Mahler’s symphony is staple repertoire while 'Jeremiah' is barely performed, at least in the UK. This was only the second Proms performance while Mahler’s has clocked up over 30 showings without even taking into consideration the performances with the 'Blumine' movement! Under Antonio Pappano the Santa Cecilia Orchestra’s international reputation has burgeoned as has their repertoire. But fortunately they have kept their sense of Italian fun and passion – this is an immensely watchable band. The theme of the programme ran from the Chaos of the opening of Haydn’s Creation through Bernstein’s portrayal of the Biblical catastrophe of the Fall of Jerusalem to the rebirth and cyclical redemption of Mahler. The six minutes of Haydn segued almost directly into the Prophesy opening of the Bernstein. Though clearly calculated, the crunching clash was still shocking – the echoes of Stravinsky and pre-echoes of West Side Story and, more surprisingly, Britten are immediately obvious and brought into relief by Pappano. Also immediately apparent was the quality of the woodwind and brass playing throughout the orchestra : exchanges within and between departments was one of the great joys of this concert. [caption id=attachment_12643 align=aligncenter width=800] All images by Chris Christodoulou/BBC[/caption] The second movement portrays the fall and profanation of the Great Temple in Jerusalem. While in no way wishing to trivialise this cataclysm, one found it hard not to remark on the very jaunty, almost jazzy arrival of the Babylonian hordes. The third Lamentation movement is on an entirely different emotional plane. Sumptuously performed by the wonderful Elizabeth DeShong, the vocal line ranges from breathtaking pianissimi to full out rage on the climactic 'They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not!' DeShong is fully equal to all the demands though the aforementioned section pushes her to the limit. It occurred to me how good DeShong would be as the soloist in Mahler’s 2nd Symphony but that would have made for a very long evening! So that massive work’s predecessor was a more than welcome alternative. Mahler changed his mind more than once regarding the programmatic nature of his first symphony as well as inserting and then removing the Blumine movement. Pappano, rightly in my view, stuck to the final edition. The daringly hushed opening was breathtaking (despite the best efforts of certain audience members. The evening was plagued by bronchial outbursts, loud noises off and a sustained phone interruption) almost requiring one to strain to catch the sustained A as it spread through the strings. The punchy outer section of the second movement contrast with the dappled sunlight of the central Trio though there is more irony to be found there than Pappano allowed. The Huntsman’s Funeral is famously based on Moritz von Schwind’s bizarre woodcut portraying woodland animals hypocritically shedding a tear at the passing of their nemesis. The repeated echoes of lines from the song Bruder Martin (the Germanic version of Frère Jaques) traversed from initial innocence to downright sinister and Pappano also brought out in full the klezmer influences inherent in this movement. The final movement of storm, love and, at last, a renewed hope brought out the best in conductor and orchestra with superbly competitive brass exchanges and luxuriant strings bringing the evening to a spine tingling close and a predictable ovation. Two encores followed, including a hair raisingly fast galop section from the Guillaume Tell overture, bringing a rewarding evening to a blistering close. Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia & Sir Antonio Pappano was shown at the BBC Proms on Friday 10 August. If you want to listen to a recording of the performance broadcasted live at BBC Radio 3, please click here. For more information on the BBC Proms 2018 season, go here.  Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou. Sebastian Petit works full time in technical theatre but his lifelong obsession is classical music especially grand opera. Follow him on now Twitter: @CURZONPRODUCT. [related_posts_by_tax]
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BBC Proms 33: Brahms’s A German Requiem (2018)Review Written by Tony Watts Given that the BBC Proms has always been considered a platform for promoting British artists and music, it is something of a surprise that it has taken Richard Farnes so long to make his debut in the series. After twelve highly successful years of Opera North, it might have been expected that he would have been long since have appeared. [caption id=attachment_12614 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)[/caption] In the event [Proms 33], the occasion gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his affinity with vocal music in one of the big choral works which suit the Royal Albert Hall’s notoriously capricious acoustic as well as anything. [caption id=attachment_12619 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)[/caption] The programme opened with a celebration of Thea Musgrave's ninetieth birthday in the shape of her 1997 single movement orchestral work ‘Phoenix Rising’, a title the composer insists was suggested to her by a sign picturing the legendary bird which she saw outside a coffee shop in Virginia! Dedicated to Sir Andrew Davis and commissioned by the BBC, it was first heard in February 1998 at the Royal Festival Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the dedicatee. [caption id=attachment_12618 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)[/caption] The opening section, vividly depicts a dystopian, violent world full of despair and emptiness, the sense of desolation intensified by a mournful cor anglais solo. This leads into a wild depiction of chaos, before a central section 'marked mysterious' changes the mood with a series of low chords, progressing to a luminous climax played as the Phoenix rises by pitched percussion with marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiel counterbalanced by harps placed on either side of the platform. The remainder of the work is romantic in tone before reaching a coda of serenity and great beauty. It is a most striking piece of music depicting hope and ultimate rebirth. The BBC Symphony Orchestra under Farnes relished the constantly shifting sonorities and moods of Musgrave’s score in what was a fitting tribute to one of British music’s most individual voices. The musical invention was unflagging, the use of the orchestra strikingly imaginative. There was even a touch of broad physical humour when the tympanist, struggling to make an effect against overwhelmingly heavy brass forces, simply gets up and storms off the platform in a fit of pique. Musgrave’s body of work, particularly her operas, is surely ripe for reappraisal. Happily the nonagenarian composer was present in the hall to receive the warm plaudits of an appreciative audience. [caption id=attachment_12616 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)[/caption] The single work in the second half of the concert was the Brahms's Deutsches Requiem. Not performed at the Proms until 1965 it is never the easiest piece to bring off in performance, it’s multifaceted nature sometimes proves elusive, not always making it clear why the composer suggested ‘A Human Requiem’ as an alternative title and signally lacking the sort of big dramatic moments that make Verdi’s Dies Irae such a powerful experience. Indeed Brahms was taken to task for the fact that nowhere in the text, based on the Lutheran Bible, do the words ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ' appear. It is a Requiem of an individual caste, inspired by the death of the composer’s mother and full of tenderness and feelings of consolation. In the words of the German philosopher Ernst Bloch the piece has ‘a precious depth that avoids apotheoses’, while the critic Hanslick observed that ‘the shadow of death and the seriousness of loss have scarcely been presented in music with such power.’ This particular Prom performance would not, in all probability, have quite converted George Bernard Shaw from his notorious Wagnerian derision of the work, even though it was not without its merits. At times the orchestra displayed a genuinely Brahmsian resonance, though at others the sound seemed lightweight and rather lacking in the sort of impact needed to fully bring out the music’s drama, a notable exception being the organ’s quite thrilling entrance in the sixth movement which had considerable impact. Similarly the serried ranks of the various BBC choruses alternated passages of well-blended tone with others lacking the requisite rhythmic precision. It was as if the performance rather lacked the ebb and flow needed to make the most of the Requiem’s disparate elements. Consistency was lacking in both conception and execution. Thankfully some incidental minor faults in ensemble proved short-lived. [caption id=attachment_12617 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.)[/caption] The soloists were excellently chosen. Johan Reuter’s warm bass-baritone was matched by pellucid diction together with a skilful use of tone colour which differentiated the contrasting texts of his two solos. Golda Schultz was glorious in ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ bringing out the full pathos of ‘wieder sehen’ while emphasising the wisdom of using a genuine jugendliche soprano in this music rather than a soubrette as one so often hears. Sadly, however a slightly disappointing reading of a work which ideally needs a more rather dynamic performance if it is to make its full impact. [threestar] Brahms's A German Requiem was shown on the BBC Proms on Tuesday 7 August. If you want to listen to a recording of the performance broadcasted live at BBC Radio 3, please click here. For more information on the BBC Proms 2018 season, go here.  Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.) Tony Watts is a keen opera, concert, theatre and ballet-goer. He has spent most of his working life in the music industry, including a 16-year spell at Decca Records. He has compiled and produced over 1,000 re-issues on CD, LP and digital formats, and written notes for several hundred more. In addition to writing for a wide variety of musical books and publications, Tony has worked as a music consultant on films and on exhibitions for the V&A.  Follow Tony now on Twitter: @Tonywauk   [related_posts_by_tax]
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BBC Proms 35: New York: Sound of a City (2018)Written by Thomas Joy [threestar] New York: Sound of a City is the latest in a line of ambitious late-night Proms overseen by the maverick Jules Buckley alongside the Heritage Orchestra, designed as a musical portrait of modern-day NYC featuring artists across the musical spectrum. [caption id=attachment_12632 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] Whilst the Proms is perhaps traditionally a bastion of middle-England, the first thing that you notice at this performance is the audience: an ethnically diverse, and noticeably young audience who were obviously here to have a good time, and they certainly weren’t disappointed. [caption id=attachment_12634 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] serpentwithfeet. kicked the evening off with effortlessly cool orchestral soul, blending his classically-trained vocal talents with the Heritage Orchestra into a style echoing Benjamin Clementine (though his voice is a lot lighter in tone). That said, one man’s effortlessly cool is another man’s flippancy; this is the Royal Albert Hall, you have a Proms crowd in the palm of your hand, nonchalance seems a bit out of place. Sharon Van Ettentreated us to some brilliantly intense numbers throughout the evening, and whilst I think she may have struggled with nerves in the opening couple of numbers (including an oddly placed 'The End of the World', a la Skeeter Davis / Julie London), as her confidence grew, so did her vocal power, delivering Florence Welch-esque vocals, which when paired with The Heritage Orchestra, soared. [caption id=attachment_12635 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] But, it took the concert a good six pieces to find a rhythm that resonated with the audience, with the gentleman next to me leaving within the first half hour. Whilst the orchestrations were truly accomplished, to kick off a concert where everybody is geared up to have a good time, with four or five slower, downbeat numbers seemed to take the momentum out of the evening. Nitty Scott, having told the audience: “come on London, I came all the way from New York for this!”, finally got things moving, her stage presence was electrifying, bringing fresh, modern, orchestral rap to the Albert Hall. The highlight of the evening was certainly Hercules & Love Affair, and a brilliant couple of numbers from backing vocalists Vula Malinga, Brendan Reilly, and Sam White had the audience on their feet, clapping along, dancing, and having the party I think everybody had been hoping for. [caption id=attachment_12630 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] For me, the biggest issue was that the concert totally lacked any continuity. When curating an event that covers such a wide variety of genres, a narrative is needed to help the evening flow. The artists rotated on and off stage with no introduction, and as an audience member, it felt a little stilted. A piece would end, there would be applause, then an awkward silence, then the next artist would walk on and just leap straight into the next song to a smattering of ‘oh, should we be applauding them walking on?’ confusion. In terms of ‘bringing Brooklyn to Britain’, the lack of continuity was jarring – if you’re going to present a tapestry that defies genres, then that tapestry needs to be woven. [caption id=attachment_12627 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] Writing for this evening’s programme, Hugh McIntryre comments: “the music they’re making might not lead them to success in conventional terms,” but “they want to experiment for the sake of experimenting.”. I think that’s accurate. When this prom succeeded, it was magnificent, with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra demonstrating versatility, innovation, and a sound that leaves you with shivers. Buckley’s orchestra, alongside the brilliant Hercules & Love Affair, crossed so many genres, and yet with each new piece and style, the ensemble delivered perfect, invigorating performances. In one 90-minute performance, we got soul, disco, rap, dance, funk, gospel, jazz, and I’m sure there were references to genres we didn’t even notice, and I liked the concert, I really did! [caption id=attachment_12629 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] New York: Sound of a City was shown as a late-night BBC Proms event on Wednesday 8 August. If you want to listen to a recording of the performance broadcasted live at BBC Radio 3, please click here. For more information on the BBC Proms 2018 season, go here.  Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou. Thomas Joy is a theatre-lover and musician. Follow him on now Twitter: @TWJ0y [related_posts_by_tax]
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Mary’s Hand: Tête à Tête (2018)[fourstar] Mary’s Hand is a new opera by writer Di Sherlock and composer Martin Bussey. As part of the Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, the work was presented at Holy Cross Church at Kings Cross with McCaldin Arts founder and astonishing mezzo-soprano, Clare McCaldin. The dramatic life and difficulties Queen Mary I faced are explored in this 80-minute piece through a one-woman performance with an exceptional trio, including trumpet player Heidi Bennett, cellist Gabriella Swallow, and oboe and cor anglais player Clare Hoskins. For McCaldin’s regal dress, Andie Scott and Sophie Meyer meticulously designed it. It is so life-like that it takes the performance back to the Tudor era, as if the Queen herself was standing right in front of us. Through the use of eleven playing cards, McCaldin revealed Mary I’s relationship and encounters with important people in her life, such as her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I and her father Henry VIII. Randomly, she walked over to members of the audience and asked them to pick a card, which created an episodic structure for the performance and made it feel fresh. [caption id=attachment_12034 align=aligncenter width=427] Clare McCaldin as Queen Mary I in Mary's Hand. Photo by Robert Workman.[/caption] McCaldin guided the audience into the world of ‘Bloody Mary’ and outlined a character we could empathise with, even if historical sources give a different account of the Catholic Queen. The outset was clearly defined. McCaldin appeared statuesque, majestic and Queen-like, yet the more she opened up about Mary’s dark, intimate past and the political battles she fought, McCaldin looked no different than any other woman who had suffered numerous tragedies. Each card permitted her to peel away another piece of clothing, leaving her vulnerable, feeble and entirely human. McCaldin told me in an interview about the level of research she did (here) and what she found most fascinating about Mary. 'Her transition from cosseted child to lonely adult was traumatic as a result of the events following Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon and pursuit of a son at any cost. The domestic and religious convulsions at court over the next twenty years affected Mary deeply. Her relationships with her father and half-siblings were characterised by an exhausting mixture of fear, rage, love, duty, pride and stubbornness. In spite of this, she achieved moments of greatness, but her biggest failures were also her most public and painful. It’s an extraordinary life.' McCaldin's body language on stage was deliberate, poised and enlightening. Her voice soared elegantly across the church and she engaged the audience’s attention with every breath. The songs and spoken text are impressively detailed and include many historical events, including Mary's betrothal to the Holy Roman Emperor at six years old, being forced to change religion and her inability to conceive a child. It seems that Di Sherlock has a wealth of knowledge on the Tudor family and managed to systematically integrate this gracefully into the music. The score and instrumentalists play a crucial part too. The composition sets the tone for each episode, card and person, encased with their own special motif. One can notice how the music for the child Mary never had is playful and light-hearted compared to how severe and dark the atmosphere changes when she talks about her sister, the Virgin Queen. Holy Cross Church is a wonderful venue to put on a performance of this religious nature given Mary's struggle in a world slowly turning towards Protestantism. However, acoustically, it wasn't always possible to hear what McCaldin was trying to say or sing, and there were no surtitles provided. Nonetheless, the audience got a sense of Mary's sentiment and emotional torment evoked fluently through McCaldin. Mary's Hand showings has ended. For more information about McCaldin Arts, click here. For more information on current productions at Tête à Tête: the Opera Festival, click here. I was offered a press ticket to review this show. [Header shot: Clare McCaldin as Queen Mary I in Mary's Hand. Photo by Robert Workman]   [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A with Kate Fabray, Director and Actor (2018)Kate Fabray is director and lead actor of her new show (No) Leaves On My Precious Self, showing at the Drayton Arms on 12 August. It takes the audience into the world of an emerging actor, sharing the challenges they face on their way to making their performing arts' passion into a career. Here Kate tells us about the motivations behind (No) Leaves On My Precious Self, her experience of the theatre industry so far, and how more people are slowly become fed up of maintaining an certain image on social media. When did you realise acting and directing was your calling? When I got a place at a stage school at age of 10. It was so much fun to be there, and brought me a lot of joy. I figured out I totally did not mind doing it for the rest of my life! Which one do you prefer? Directing or acting? Acting. Directing was never an ambition of mine, more of a skill (if you can call it a skill) I figured out was useful to learn and try. For this production, out of interest, did you have auditions for the lead act, or did you feel you might be the best person to encapsulate the narrative of (No) Leaves On My Precious Self? To be honest I started putting up this production because I was desperate to do some theatre, and was struggling to get cast. So I decided to take the matter into my own hands, and see what can come out of it. I was doing it for myself, so auditioning someone for the part never crossed my mind. That said, obviously I could have found someone who would do it better than me, it is very possible, but it has never been the aim. What was the inspiration behind (No) Leaves On My Precious Self? I just had to find a topic I was able to write a 45-minute long script about. Also, I thought this production was a good opportunity to show as much of myself as possible, and 'life of an actor' subject felt like a right direction. Close to home enough, and uncomplicated for a one-woman show. I also could see how I could incorporate all the singing and dancing into it, without overcomplicating the script, or making it too random. [caption id=attachment_12543 align=aligncenter width=768] Kate Fabray in her show, (No) Leaves On My Precious Self (2018).[/caption] How did you decide the name/title of the show from? I wanted something catchy and attention-grabbing, but if you watch the show, the title actually makes perfect sense. It sounds very weird without the context, but this is exactly what I talk about in the show - having or not having some leaves on one's self! Trust me it makes perfect sense once you watch it haha!  The show looks at the mind and life of an emerging actor. Do you feel that there isn't enough literature and information on the the day to day life of an actor, or the acting industry as a whole? There definitely is enough. But if you look at anything around you, arts or not arts related, so many things are in excess. Do we really need another coffee shop chain? Another beauty magazine, or a make-up brand? Another 'Charlie's Angels' or 'Tomb Rider' remake? Another spiritual leader telling us how to live? Do we even need another actor in me, when there are already so many? A 'yes' would be an unlikely answer. But I do not think it's how it should be looked at. Everyone has their own way of thinking, their own artistic vision, and their own take on a subject. Just because this subject is well-explored, does not mean that my take on it would not bring something fresh or new, or would not be looked at from a completely different angle. After all, my experience might differ dramatically from someone else's, therefore our shows might look/ feel completely different, even being on the same subject. Or let's think about the most trivial subject, love. No one thinks, oh there are enough songs about love, no need to write any more. There is enough books about it, and articles, and talks and everything, let's stop questioning anything about it anymore, there is enough material to refer to in a moment of doubt. That would sound blatantly absurd. So as much as I feel there is enough information on actors and acting industry in general, I don't think there is any harm in touching the subject. Do you think that the focus of looks, beauty and appearance has become more important because of social media? Yes, definitely. But I think it's starting to slowly decline, and is on its way down. From what I see around, it feels like people start getting fed up with this need to maintain certain something on social media, as well as with this massive gap between how people are on, let's say, Instagram, and in real life. We all know someone who looks nothing like on their Instagram in real life. I see more and more of my mates taking Instagram and social media in general breaks. So, again, I feel by now this issue has blown up to a completely absurd proportion, peaked some time ago, and now slowly reversing. Ironically, it feels like people start craving something real and something true for a change. Have you performed at the Drayton Arms theatre before? If so, which production? I have by now, as my first (No) Leaves On My Precious Self show was on July 1st. But not before that. However, I have been a big admirer of Drayton Arms for some time now, and it has always been my first choice for the venue. I was over the moon when they took my production! [caption id=attachment_12542 align=aligncenter width=768] Kate Fabray in her show, (No) Leaves On My Precious Self (2018).[/caption] How has the Drayton Arms' space helped in bringing your production to life? First of all, I can't thank Audrey Thayer, programming director of the theatre, enough. I am so grateful she booked my show in, gave me this chance, and has been absolutely wonderful all the way through. I have never produced a show before, and literally learnt as I went. She bared with me, explaining and helping with everything along the way. It was not the space itself that helped a lot, I intentionally created a very simple production that did not require any props or complicated technical arrangements, and could be easily performed in any space. It was all other factors put together, that let me be in a right head space that allowed working on the show. A great programming director, great atmosphere at the theatre and the fact that I booked my first choice theatre brought me a lot of comfort and made me feel much more confident than I was in the beginning - all that helped a lot in bringing production to life. Do you feel your play can relate to other industries outside of theatre? Definitely. After finishing the script, I purposely asked ten people not related to acting or any form of arts to read it. None of them had this issue. Whatever job you do, self-confidence and self-worth play a vital part. Being comfortable enough to stand your ground, or be okay not being liked by someone or not getting on with someone is something everyone faces at some point. And how you deal with it is only down to your relationship with yourself. So I really don't think you have to be a performer to be able to relate. How do you want the audience to feel when they see (No) Leaves On My Precious Self? That was my first question to myself when I started putting the script together. I know exactly how I want them to feel, I just don't really know how to put it into words! You know this feeling of lightness and calmness you sometimes get after finishing a good book or a good film, and you suddenly stop worrying and just want to get on with things! Like you suddenly think, 'I can do it, and everything will be okay, and I am okay and all is good, life is great!'. Don't know if I've explained it clear enough but basically that's the feeling! As a theatre-maker, what would you say is the most gratifying part of what you do? Breaking your own barriers and overcoming fears. It is very liberating thing that changes you a lot. And I've experienced it more than ever before with this production. Because I have written the whole thing myself, directed it too, and it's only me in the show, I am the only one responsible for every single aspect of it. I did not expect how different it would feel from being cast by someone else. I honestly have never been so scared or unsure before. And here is something almost anyone in arts can relate to - while writing and rehearsing the show, sometimes I really could not tell whether what I was doing was amazing, or simply a piece of sh*t. Concentrating on the process and filtering out all doubts and fears is a massive mental job. Because before anything else, first of all I have to relax both mentally and physically, and put myself into right head space. So at the end of the day, it's between you and you. Doing the first (No) Leaves On My Precious Self show was a very liberating experience in a sense that I had to overcome absolutely new type of nerves I never knew existed. It is a very, very amazing feeling of breaking down your own limits and barriers that exist nowhere but in your head. I don't even care anymore how others like my show - now that I majorly overcame fear and all insecurities, I am just so happy to be able to do the show that that is all that matters. And on a lighter and a slightly cheesy note, just doing what you love is very gratifying. So every aspect of theatre-making is! (No) Leaves On My Precious Self is showing at the Drayton Arms on Sunday 12 August, 5 pm. Go to the the Drayton Arms website to purchases tickets now here. [related_posts_by_tax]
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Ian McKellen’s King Lear: Duke of York’s Theatre (2018)[fivestar] It’s Gandalf the White, Gandalf the Grey… no, it’s Ian McKellen. That, in itself, is all the excuses you need to secure a ticket to see one of the greatest living actors of our time perform his biggest Shakespearean role. McKellen has already announced that Jonathan Munby’s production is his last time in a Shakespearean role. (And there goes another excuse.) Last year, many saw him first at Chichester Festival as the aging king - loved by many, hated by two. McKellen is more than familiar with the inner workings of Shakespeare’s play given the gravitas of his experience. Upholding a 60-year stage career, he has performed the roles of Edgar (1974), Kent (1990) and Lear (2007) in the past. This explains why his tremendous performance, now, at the Duke of York’s Theatre is executed with panache and flair. Watching from the grand circle of the intimate space, I noted how McKellen took small, minor liberties with the play by adding on his own words and stage directions, which didn’t muddle the craftsmanship of the Bard. You can see McKellen’s genuine wit in these precious moments. And for all of those big famous lines we know of King Lear McKellen would say them as if he were making a statement about the world. When he said the words ‘when we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools’ McKellen didn’t rush to say his next lines. Instead, he left those poignant words floating in the air just as Shakespeare would have wanted the audience to realise them. [caption id=attachment_12531 align=aligncenter width=683] Ian McKellen as King Lear. Credit: Johan Persson[/caption] Munby’s modern-day production begins with a sparse stage with Kent and Gloucester (Sinead Cusack and Danny Webb) having a private conversation. Suddenly, a majestic procession comes bursting onto the stage with people cheering into song, hailing the king. Then, a union jack unravels and a large oil portrait of McKellen as king takes centre. Everything appears civilised and neatly orchestrated, except for the king who pulls out a pair of scissors and cuts a map of his kingdom into three pieces. All hell breaks loose as he disowns his youngest daughter and strips away the titles of his second in command, Kent. Munby’s production carefully unwraps the weak from the strong in Lear's world. It successfully manages to reveal humanity and the deeper intricacies of Shakespeare’s symbolism. As much as the narrative is a great success on its own right, I found it easier to fall in love with its characters more. [caption id=attachment_12528 align=aligncenter width=800] Danny Webb as Gloucester and Kirsty Bushell as Regan. Credit: Johan Persson[/caption] Around the time the storm comes, we see McKellen and Lloyd Hutchinson, performing as the king’s fool, completely wet through and through. It’s quite a revelatory scene that says a lot about the stagecraft of the Duke of York’s theatre, which somehow manages to recreate a scene filled with real rain. Over the course of the three and a half hours, the audience sees a quick descent of the king’s lucid mind as he makes friends with loyal servants and estranged ‘Poor Tom’ (Luke Thompson) whilst seeing imaginary beasts that don't exist. His former kingdoms slowly disintegrate and more gore, disorder and murdering takes place. The body count goes up to 10 in King Lear, which makes it one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedies. [caption id=attachment_12527 align=aligncenter width=683] Danny Webb as Gloucester. Credit: Johan Persson[/caption] An astonishing cast supports McKellen. Kirsty Bushell and Claire Price are excellent as the villainous sisters. James Corrigan provides a brilliant portrayal of the scheming and ruthless son of Gloucester as Edmund. Anita-Joy Uwajeh is also a great match for her character title as the dutiful daughter, Cordelia, and Danny Webb’s honourable Gloucester gives a sympathetic and noteworthy performance too. That leaves Luke Thompson with the tough job of bringing the athletic and emotionally torn Edgar to life, and he does it so well. In short, with a winning combination including McKellen, Shakespeare and a first-class cast... what more could you want? [caption id=attachment_12529 align=aligncenter width=683] Ian McKellen as King Lear and Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Cordelia. Credit: Johan Persson[/caption] King Lear is showing at the Duke of York's Theatre now until 3 November, 2018. Go to the ATG website to purchases tickets as low as £25 here. I purchased tickets to review this show. [Header shot: Ian McKellen and Danny Webb. Credit: Johan Persson]   [related_posts_by_tax]
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Fun Home: Young Vic (2018)[fivestar] At work, I was asked what was the best show I’ve seen lately. Naturally, Hamilton came up, but so did Fun Home, which is now showing at the Young Vic theatre. Months ago, before the production had begun, I saw a huge poster of it at the theatre with the words ‘5 Tony Awards’ printed across it. For some reason, despite not knowing much about the show, it immediately piqued my interest. I felt compelled to tell my theatre friend we needed to book tickets before it became a sold out show. I had this gut wrenching feeling it was going to be a hit. A couple days after the official press night had passed and, lo and behold, my suspicions were confirmed; if you want to catch Fun Home, the only option left is to call up and hope the theatre has some return tickets. As promoted, the Broadway sensation took home five Tony Awards in 2015, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and the show owes its narrative to Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel. Lyricist, Lisa Kron and composer, Jeanine Tesori adapted Bechdel’s novel into a wonderfully delightful and heartbreaking stage show. Its musical universe is far from the world of jazz hands, glitter and glamour, yet its subject matter takes some dark turns which are masterfully conveyed by director, Sam Gold's production. Fun Home dissects the complexity of the novelist’s upbringing in a small town in Pennsylvania, growing up with her two young brothers, and being raised by her supportive mother and extremely demanding father. [caption id=attachment_12519 align=aligncenter width=645] Harriet Turnbull (young Alison), Eddie Martin and Archie Smith. (Production photos by Marc Brenner.)[/caption] The fun home, short for ‘Funeral Home’, is the major source of the Bechdel family’s income. While watching the performance at the spacious Young Vic theatre I felt the title of the show could have easily been replaced by another title - Bruce Bechdel: The Musical, and that’s mostly because of the intriguing and curious nature of Alison’s enigmatic and awfully neurotic father. From the opening scenes Bruce seems amusing, quirky and inspiring as an ex-schoolteacher; he is passionate about history, art and literature. Yet, within a few minutes in, the audience get to know Bruce for what he really is. He is proud, arrogant and overly critical of everyone else, including his children and wife. This is clearly marked in the way Bruce designed the family home. David Zinn’s set designs are quite the spectacle here - it is astonishing to see how the stage manages to conceal a grand living room, as majestic as this one, until the final scenes. [caption id=attachment_12517 align=aligncenter width=800] Eleanor Kane and Cherrelle Skeete. (Production photos by Marc Brenner.)[/caption] Zubin Varla perfectly outlines the character of Bruce. Having now seen Fun Home at the Young Vic, I cannot imagine a better actor to sing and perform as Bruce. Varla masterfully captures Bruce’s intellect as well as his internal violence and mental instability. Harriet Turnbull (young Alison), Eddie Martin and Archie Smith are exuberant and charming as Bruce’s children, singing and dancing away to their trio number Come to the Fun Home. Their jumping in and out of a coffin and impressive high notes were fantastic! Eleanor Kane portrays Alison in her college years: hopeful, optimistic and funny, in a cute way. Watching Kane is a reminder of how confusing and perplexing life can be during those early years. For Kane, it is Alison's most treasured moment identifying and embracing her sexuality with first-time girlfriend Joan, seamlessly performed by Cherrelle Skeete. Kaisa Hammarlund does a brilliant job as the older Alison. The successful graphic artist is constantly in the background, looking back into her past, rehearsing and revisiting her hard and soft engagements with her erratic father. Songs like ‘Telephone Wire’ and ‘It was great to have you home’ pull on your heartstrings, and it was my only regret I didn’t have enough tissues with me during these songs. [caption id=attachment_12518 align=aligncenter width=800] Jenna Russell. (Production photos by Marc Brenner.)[/caption] The same goes for Jenna Russell’s sympathetic and emotional performance, ‘Days and Days’. This is one of the many pivotal scenes where the musical is no longer just about Alison’s life, but the other forces affected by Bruce’s wants and desires. And I won't forget to mention the mesmerising music performed by a live band with music director, Chris Fenwick. Fun Home is a refreshing and crafty stage piece that everyone should go and see. It's incomparable to any other musical or stage show mainly because a work of this strength and theatrical nature has never been done before. Fun Home is showing at the Young Vic now until 1 September, 2018. Go to the Young Vic website to check for returns, go here.  I purchased tickets to review this show. [Header shot: Kaisa Hammarlund and Zubin Varla. Photos by Marc Brenner.]   [related_posts_by_tax]
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How to deal with trollsFor the past five years as a blogger and reviewer, I’ve received rude and nasty comments on social media. During that time I’ve had to endure unnecessary name-calling, negative remarks from anonymous angry people and messages from arrogant and condescending trolls. Yet, as the years have gone by, I’ve developed a thicker skin for these unexpected attacks. The first time it happened to me was three years ago, and it was completely unexpected. I received some troubling tweets from a particular user. They guessed my age, my profession, my personality type, and felt entitled enough to tell me that I was reviewing opera performances the wrong way. Had it been constructive criticism I would have listened, but their comments were out of the blue and seemed patronising. There wasn’t anything particularly topical or untoward in my Twitter feed that evening, either, only that I was enjoying an opera performance at the Royal Opera House (with 'Jonas Kaufmann' singing the lead role). So, their troll-like behaviour was quite unusual given the timing. The experience was unpleasant. I instantly replied back to the person, verified my age, blocked them immediately and that was that. Yet the main reason why I remember the situation so clearly is not so much about the words they used to offend or engage with me but, in fact, the profound effect it had on the Twitter community. A couple of writers wrote about what happened on their blogs, some of my followers discussed it separately on different Twitter threads while others decided to contact the offender directly and start a discussion about his comments, mostly supporting my position. I also recall receiving many private messages from my followers checking up on how I was. It was a complete eye-opener, to know who out of my social media networks were genuine followers, willing to call out this person's behaviour and stand by me. For me, it also demonstrated how vulnerable and exposed my position was as a reviewer. At the time, I didn’t realise the dramatic effect my reviews were having on people. Ever since then, I’ve been aware and on my guard. Based on this experience, and many other instances, I've learnt that social media has allowed strangers, who we normally wouldn't interact with on a day to day basis, to speak freely. Don't get me wrong, the internet has its pros and I’ve made some incredible long-term friendships from social media. But before the days of the internet, there were no such thing as blogs, comments’ sections or Twitter threads. Now anyone can say whatever they like to anyone who has a social media presence, including celebrities and politicians. They can offend, upset, encourage, thank and praise anyone, and they can do it as openly or anonymously as they please. Why do trolls do it? The answer a troll would give us is put simply: why not? People who have the time to criticise will seize an opportunity and take it. Yet, their motivations aren’t exactly clear-cut. Some people fixate on particular people who have a large, loyal following. The troll could be jealous of this person, or hold an entirely different view from them but have difficulty delivery their argument in a diplomatic manner. However, in most cases, they won’t consider the person’s feelings and use abusive language when it suits them. The alternative reason trolls exist is to impress other trolls. This is a strong motivator for many trolls, which is rarely discussed. This is why it is always best to not take trolls' comments personally, especially when it involves obnoxious and rude language. The result of them acting like a troll is to gain attention, and this attention might not be targeted at you; it could be for other trolls who agree with their viewpoint. Unfortunately, for anyone who has a social media presence on the internet, be it as an influencer or merely having a strong opinion, trolling is part and parcel of the territory. However, there are some guidelines on ways of dealing with trolls.   Dealing with trolls Report There should be an option to report the user on Twitter, Facebook and most social media platforms. They will ask you provide details on why you want to report a user, and if they consider it to be very serious (death threats, harassment, verbal abuse) they may close down their account and take the investigation further with the Police. It should be noted that any form of harassment on the internet, also known as cyberbullying, can and should be reported to the police. Make sure to record every incident and get a crime reference number from the police.  2. Block Some people feel that reporting a user can be too much hassle. Others may be unwilling to discuss the situation out of fear. By blocking the user, you are ensuring the user cannot contact you ever again on your social media account. However, trolls can be unpredictable. If they exhibit signs of obsessive behaviour, they may try to find another method of contacting you on another platform such as e-mail. Reporting them to the police and/or social media platform can save you and many others on the internet from their online abuse. 3. Talk to friends and family If you are suffering from abuse online, speak to someone you trust. They can advise and console you. 4. Confront I am not telling you what you should do here. I’m only providing suggestions on dealing with cyberbullying and troll-like behaviour. If you want to confront the user directly be aware of what you are getting yourself into.  In most cases, they will continue to attack, name-call and criticise you. Confronting them could make the situation worse, so be sure of the potential outcomes. That said, I have done this before and the troll(s) went completely ‘tumbleweed’ silent. It's your call. 5. Ignore. Don’t engage with them at all. The silence you give them proves how indifferent and meaningless their opinion matters to you. Even if they keep on contacting you, they will eventually stop, as you’re not engaging back. Out of all of the options I’ve provided this might be the most frustrating and hardest to do, but this is probably the best option. Let them say what they need to say and don’t show them any sign that you care. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Finally, don’t take it personally. The best way to deal with trolls is to not take it personally. You must remember that if you give them a moment of your time, it is a moment wasted which could have been used doing something more worthwhile. I appreciate, however, all cyberbullying situations are different, though. Some can be life-threatening and detrimental to your work and personal life, so if you need to make a lifestyle change (e.g. delete your Twitter account), then so be it. Your safety is far more important. The fact is, no one deserves to be treated poorly online, be it harassment or bullying. Just recognise that these people who choose to engage anonymously are cowards in disguise and those who choose to send you horrible remarks are trolling you because many respect you and what you do.   Some resources, organisations, charities and information websites on dealing with cyberbullying and trolling: https://www.bullying.co.uk https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/bullying-abuse-safety/types-bullying/online-bullying/ https://www.itv.com/thismorning/bullying-helplines https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/cyber-bullying.php https://www.webroot.com/gb/en/home/resources/tips/cyberbullying-online-predators/safety-how-do-i-report-cyberbullying-to-police-or-law-enforcement   [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A: Composer, Catherine KontzComposer, Catherine Kontz has introduced a brand new work, Fleet Footing (Sonic Walk), that combines interactive performance and urban exploration. As part of Tete-a-Tete 2018's opera festival, Fleet Footing enables participants to discover London's landscape, from Hampstead to Blackfriars, using binaural sound recordings, immersive performance and urban space. In this Q & A, Catherine shares with us the key inspiration behind Fleet Footing (Sonic Walk), what it is like to collaborate with various artists, soloists and sound designers to make it happen as well as her extensive experience as a regular theatre maker at Tete-a-Tete. When did you realise composing music was your calling? About 20 years ago I came to the UK to study music at Goldsmiths - I went in as a pianist and came out a composer. These were very formative years for me and the free-thinking spirit of Goldsmiths is hopefully still alive in me! Since when did you become interested in theatre, classical music and elements of visual dimension? As a performer and listener, classical music has been my world since I was very young, but it was very traditional and abstract at the outset. When I started composing however, I noticed quite quickly that when I think about creating music, I think about it in a three-dimensional space and I enjoy the theatre of it. More than just dots on a page, I want to create an event, a moment where all the elements fit together and join to furnish an experience for the audience. Through research for my PhD I got interested in total theatre, mime, physical theatre, Kabuki and opera at its most experimental. And still, with every piece I am striving to discover new grounds, tap into different fields, combine new media and challenge the way we think about performance, music and how we experience it. What was the inspiration behind Fleet Footing - Sonic Walk? About a year ago, Sarah Grange, the artist and writer I collaborate with on this project, came to me with the idea of writing a choral piece to be performed on the steps of the Old St Pancras Church, as apparently, if you listen very, very carefully (and there is no traffic) you can hear the River Fleet running beneath! This initial idea developed quite quickly into something much longer and larger once we started looking into the history of the Fleet, with all its legends and stories. It’s a deep well!! Fleet Footing - A Sonic Walk sounds pioneering. I’ve never come across a work that combines music with maps and expedition before. Is this a way to engage new audiences with theatre, opera and classical music? Fleet Footing can certainly be enjoyed by anyone, young and old! It will make you re-discover the boroughs of Camden, Islington and the City of London as the map follows the turns of the river, which has shaped the modern streets of London. When Sarah and I first set out to look for the Fleet, we got so excited every time we found a grating where we could hear it, see it, smell it. We absolutely wanted our audience to have that same “expedition fever” and experience, and it would have been a shame to make the work about it to be performed in more traditional setting. Instead, we liked the audience to be immersed in the sounds and smells of the city, and follow the trail of the Fleet from its source at Hampstead Heath to its mouth at Blackfriars Bridge. We soon identified 17 spots along the way that we ask you to pause and listen to one of the tracks of Fleet Footing, which we created in response to our historical and geographical findings. We also commissioned a hand-made map from artist Rowanne Anderson, which will save you from getting lost! The route is step-free and it takes about 4 hours (10 km) to complete the walk in its entirety. However, there are also buses on the way and a number of enticing pubs for anyone in need of a break! Join Sarah and myself on 28/29 July for one of our launch walks or download the tracks and set off on the walk any time you like. Fleet Footing will certainly be an unusual and fun day out in the company of family, friends, pets or on your own. To your knowledge has a work of this nature been made before? There are plenty of city walks and guided tours available, of course, and composers have always found inspiration in their surroundings. I don’t know of a work of exactly of this nature or a combination of elements. The musical material includes recordings of the Fleet, recorded binaurally, giving you a 360° experience through headphones and ranging from a light trickle to a flood-like current. We had some of Sarah’s words translated into Old English and I then set these for Soprano Juliet Fraser to sing. Tom Jackson recorded clarinet and bass clarinet for us and I also included a bass waterphone, reed organs and prepared piano in the instrumentation. The tracks come with a set of instructions for the audience to follow, so there is also a playful, interactive element to it. Is this the first time you’ve worked on a tech-savvy project of this scale? I roped in recording expert James Bull for this, and it was quite a surreal experience to take the binaural bionic microphone head by the name of Freida all the way up to Hampstead Heath and have it peep in on the sound of the bathers and crickets there. It’s been fascinating to work with this sort of surround sound and so we also made use of its spatial possibilities within the composing and recording processes. You will for instance hear (and feel) actress Sibylla Meyenberg pacing around your head as she lists facts about the Fleet while Tom Jackson’s clarinets play catch with Sibylla and adds to the whirlpool of sound. In another instance, Juliet, Sarah and I gathered around Freida and whispered words in her ears. As the listener, you will hear this exactly as Freida heard it - as if we were breathing right into your ears. How much research did you do to understand the Fleet of London? We researched the history of the Fleet quite extensively. We unearthed some fantastic old texts that describe how the water from the various wells that feed the Fleet was used as a remedy for certain ailments. The Fleet also gradually changed from a clean source that feeds the Hampstead ponds to the sewer that it became further down the track. On one occasion a farmer is described to have lost a pig in the Fleet only to find it again a week later, fattened up and worth a lot more money! For us, the trickiest part was to make sense of various maps and routes that showed the river before and after it was buried underground, and identify the best route for our walk. Are there any other parts of London that would be a great fit for music, maps and expedition, or, perhaps, abroad? If so, which place(s) and why? There are several other hidden rivers in London and also in other cities. We have fleetingly discussed the hidden rivers of Newcastle, Bristol and Manchester, and in a grander scheme of things, we have set our eyes on the underworld of Paris. Have you worked with Sarah Grange before or is this the first time you’ve worked with the multi-disciplinary artist and writer? This is the first time we have worked together on a project. We also have a couple of other ideas for opera collaborations, which will hopefully develop into something concrete in the future. We have known each other for a while however, and I have followed Sarah’s work with great interest over the last few years. She, on the other hand, has also been a keen performer in some of the “opera happenings” I have created over the years for the Tete-a-Tete opera festival, such as Twitching, Whisper Down the Lane and Bon Voyage. In fact, on 3rd August at 19.00 there will be another of these short flash-mob style events as part of the Fleet Footing launch at the Tete-a-Tete opera festival. Anyone can take part, and as a reward participants will get a free copy of Fleet Footing. Register your interest at catherinekontz @ gmail.com. How do you want participating audiences to feel when they see and experience Fleet Footing? I hope it is a very enjoyable experience, which leaves participants with a sense that they have been on a journey and have re-connected with the city and its past through words, sound and music. Are there any places you go to find inspiration? E.g. a favourite place in London, Tate Modern, vacation, etc…. When I need inspiration, I go to a busy street, sit in a cafe and watch people go by. I never tire of this. It’s the energy of the people in London that feeds me. Other than that, I find that there is no place like Japan to feed my soul. As a composer, what would you say is the most gratifying part of what you do? Imagining things and then seeing/hearing them come to life. The first time a new work is performed is always a bit of a moment. Suddenly it’s not only in my head and on paper, but other people can actually hear it too! Ouf! What advice would you give to an aspiring composer? To write exactly what you want without compromise and without worrying what anyone else might be thinking or not thinking. Be fearless! Fleet Footing - Sonic Walk 's meeting point is Vale of Health Pond, Hampstead at 2 pm on Saturday 28th July and Sunday 29th July. There is also 3 Friday July starting at 5 pm.   Fleet Footing - A Sonic Walk is part of Tête à Tête: the Opera Festival. Click here to book your tickets now.  For more information about Catherine Kontz, click here.   [related_posts_by_tax]
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BBC Prom 11: Mahler’s Symphony No. 8/ Symphony of a Thousand (2018)[fourstar] BBC Proms 11 was gigantic. Gustav Mahler wrote his Eighth Symphony (1906-07), often called his ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ for a massive orchestra. On Sunday night, the Royal Albert Hall encompassed an organ, sixty string players, a harmonium, five bassoons, a double-sized horn section, two harps, a piano, two mandolins, a double chorus, eight soloists, a boys’ choir and a girl's choir. (Phew!) In my experience, this was the first time I had ever seen a concert of this scale: roughly 600 to 700 musicians and singers performing together on one grand stage. For this Prom, it was the bravado of Thomas Søndergård who gave a controlled and impactful performance as he conducted the athletic and lively BBC National Orchestra of Wales. It is Søndergård’s last and, perhaps, most challenging performance as Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. If you ever wanted to test how resilient the BBC National Orchestra of Wales were, this was the ideal performance to see them flex their orchestral muscle. They were accompanied by the scintillating voices of the BBC National Chorus of Wales, the London Symphony Chorus, the BBC Symphony Chorus, and the Southend Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs. [caption id=attachment_12464 align=aligncenter width=800] The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the BBC National Chorus of Wales, the London Symphony Chorus, the BBC Symphony Chorus, and the Southend Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs at the Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2018. Photo credit: Mary Grace Nguyen.[/caption] It is often hard to describe Mahler’s Eighth Symphony in simple terms as it incorporates two separate parts with various distinct tones. His ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ was influenced by a range of musical, literary and philosophical traditions, from old-style polyphony, Goethe, Baroque-style, Latin hymn, and even Wagner. In Mahler's mind, the body of his monumental work must ‘encompass everything’ as he once wrote, ‘a symphony must be like the world.’ From the outset, his ‘Veni, creator spiritus’ sounds like a dramatic cantata or oratorio. One cannot deny how moving and symphonic Mahler’s music is here. The second part sets the scene of the final act of Goethe’s Faust. This is the movement where the orchestral score turns mystical - slightly more human, yet lusciously lyrical. Although the words are framed in a similar way as ‘Veni, creator spiritus’, the tone in the second part is much more feminine, or best described in German as Ewig-Weibliche (Eternal-Feminine.) [caption id=attachment_12463 align=aligncenter width=800] Thomas Søndergård with Simon O’Neill, Marianne Beate Kielland, Quinn Kelsey, Claudia Huckle, Tamara Wilson, Camilla Nylund and Morris Robinson at the Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2018. Photo credit: Mary Grace Nguyen.[/caption] At first I feared these 600 voices, combined, would clash, yet this didn’t seem to be a problem. Almost magically all singers, of the BBC National Chorus of Wales, the London Symphony Chorus, the BBC Symphony Chorus, the Southend Boys’ and Girls’ Choir and the eight soloists, managed to make it work. We have to thank Mahler for creating such a characteristically demanding symphony and give credit to conductors like Søndergård for rising to the challenge. There were radiant and graceful singing, all round, from the eight soloists as well. Together Simon O’Neill, Joélle Harvey, Marianne Beate Kielland, Quinn Kelsey, Claudia Huckle, Tamara Wilson, Camilla Nylund and Morris Robinson embraced hints of the sacred and divine. Mahler's symphonic score is continually fearless and bold - it persistently aims to make powerful statements, one after the after, and this is the main reason why Mahler’s Eighth is exceptional. The music certainly wowed and impressed many this evening, enough so that the acoustic walls of the Royal Albert Hall manged to withstand the vibrations. However, that said, not everything is perfect about Mahler's Eighth Symphony. [caption id=attachment_12461 align=aligncenter width=800] The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the BBC National Chorus of Wales, the London Symphony Chorus, the BBC Symphony Chorus, and the Southend Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs at the Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2018. Photo credit: Mary Grace Nguyen.[/caption] As a gargantuan work, it felt rather overwhelming at times. The pace was fast and the singers seemed to have a tough job of keeping up with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and vice versa. With so much going on vocally and musically, it’s hard to pick and choose who or what to focus on. Plus, there isn’t a particular section of the symphony or chorus singing, I found catchy and memorable. Yet, I do recall how the music made the audience, including myself, feel - mostly excited. One cannot question how much blood, sweat and tears were poured into creating this phenomenal performance. For me, there were moments of soothing musical therapy, even if the music was forceful in some parts. If you ever wanted to know how Mahler's music would have sounded as an opera, his Eighth Symphony would suggest how great it could have been. BBC Proms 11 was shown at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday 22 July, 7 pm. If you want to listen to a recording of the performance broadcasted live at BBC Radio 3, please click here. For more information on the BBC Proms 2018 season, go here.  Blood, sweat, music therapy, whatever you want to call it... that was just phenomenal!! 500-700 musicians, soloists, choir singers blew us away. @LSChorus, BBC National Orchestra + Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus, Southend Boys' + Girls' Choir @bbcproms #symphonyofathousand pic.twitter.com/tSRt5jirXy — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) July 22, 2018 #bbcproms 11. 4 x standing ovation. How many hundreds of performers at the Royal Albert Hall tonight? @bbc_proms @bbcradio3 #musictherapy #phenomenal #musicians #soloists #choirsingers #LSChorus #londonsymphonychorus #bbcnationalorchestraofwales #bbcnationalChorusofWales #BBCSymphonyChorus #SouthendBoysChoir #southendGirlsChoir #bbcprom #symphonyofathousand #classicalmusic #mahler #gustavmahler #tamarawilson #camillanylund #joelleharvey #claudiahuckle #simononeil #quinnkelsey #morrisrobinson #opera #operaphile #classicalmusiclovers #curtaincall @royalalberthall #mariannebeatekielland A post shared by Mary Grace Nguyen (@nguyenuk11) on Jul 22, 2018 at 1:01pm PDT (I was provided a press ticket to review the show.) [Header image: Thomas Søndergård with Simon O’Neill, Joélle Harvey, Marianne Beate Kielland, Quinn Kelsey, Claudia Huckle, Tamara Wilson, Camilla Nylund and Morris Robinson at the Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2018. Photo credit: Mary Grace Nguyen.]   [related_posts_by_tax]
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BBC PROMS 5: Pelléas et Mélisande (2018)[threestar] Debussy died almost one hundred years ago. During his career, he was inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play, Pelléas et Mélisande. He admired it so much that he felt compelled to compose his own re-imaginary through opera. As I discovered on Tuesday night at the BBC Proms, through Glyndebourne’s semi-staged production at the Royal Albert Hall, Debussy was an innovator; not afraid of experimenting with music and form. At the time, Debussy had no libretto to work on; instead, he utilised dialogue and speech to produce drawn-out vocal lines. This was heightened by the mysterious sound world he created: layered with hidden meanings and symbolic secrets. It is, perhaps, why so many opera aficionados appreciate Debussy’s single complete opera. [caption id=attachment_12271 align=aligncenter width=480] Christopher Purves (Golaud) Christina Gansch (Mélisande) and John Chest (Pelléas). Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] Conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) is Glyndebourne’s festival music director, Robin Ticciati. Being a first-timer to Pelléas et Mélisande I was won over by the score. It seemed that every note played an integral part in unveiling the intriguing narrative. On the face of it, the story can be described simply as follows: a man finds a girl in a forest and he marries her. Then, the brother of the man falls in love with the girl, so the man kills his brother and the woman dies. On the whole, the opera is far more complicated and profound than this, in a good way. Norwegian Stage director, Stefan Herheim, and Sinéad O’Neill who recreated the set for the Royal Albert Hall stage, offers up a production that allows the audience to fill in the rest of the gaps on how they see the opera develop further. That's through the delicate and careful performances from its strong cast of soloists and the pleasurable music playing from the LPO. The most transformative part of the opera is the music. Over the course of the evening, my eyes felt inclined to close themselves and hone in on the wonderful sounds, instruments and voices I was hearing. (CD recordings of Pelléas et Mélisande must make a killing on Amazon!) As I learnt from social media, BBC Radio 3 listeners - who have access to the BBC Proms every night of the season from 7. 30 pm - were utterly thrilled by the aesthetic beauty and purity of Debussy's musical genius. As far as the stage was concerned, there was no hint of a castle, sea, cliff or forest. There were no lighthouses, either, or any set pieces that would have been provided at Glyndebourne’s festival stage. The audience was left to the whim of the first-rate singers to evoke the drama, tension and tragic nature of the opera. Their singing was sensational and suitably aligned to the tone of the atmospheric score. Christopher Purves is a power source as Golaud. In many ways, the opera is more about Golaud's character than Pelléas or Mélisande. Despite the title's name, Purves’s emotional and torn depiction of a duped husband is convincing and raw. Vocally, Purves is on the mark alongside Christina Gansch and John Chest. Gansch’s Mélisande appeared saintly and angelic on the semi-stage, yet her character's persona is more enigmatic. Throughout the evening, Gansch developed Mélisande's image, from naive and vulnerable in the beginning to sensuous and confident towards the end. Her singing was an art itself. Chest also provided a kind of innocence in his evocation as Golaud's brother, Pelléas and his baritone was tender and sweet, which effortlessly suited Gansch’s stellar voice. [caption id=attachment_12270 align=aligncenter width=480] Christopher Purves (Golaud) and Chloé Briot (Yniold). Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.[/caption] Karen Cargill as Geneviève, Golaud and Pelléas’s mother, gave a charming stage performance. Although she is mostly present in the first act, her vocal abilities set the bar in terms of overall quality for the rest of the evening, and it succeeded. She too gave a poignant and heartrending performance. Brindley Sheratt as the King of Allemonde shouldn’t go unnoticed either for his excellent singing on the night. Overall the production at the BBC Proms was brilliant and a wonderful way to experience the 2018 season for the first time, yet there was one thing that stood out for me and seemed out of place. This might have been Herheim’s decision, but it is what seemed to be a sexual assault scene, which I couldn’t find any trace of in any synopsis of the opera. In act 3, scene 4, Golaud forces his son, from another woman, Yniold to spy on Pelléas or Mélisande from a window. In past productions, Yniold was performed by a tenor. Given my limited knowledge of Pelléas et Mélisande, I do not know whether a rape scene had been recreated in another production. Either way, I still didn't feel it was necessary. Sadly, mezzo-soprano Chloé Briot was the victim here. She shined vocally as the curious and well-behaved child of Golaud, yet this theatre direction has to be questioned. It almost tarnished the entire production for me. Again, somehow sexual violence is misplaced on stage, which ultimately ruins the experience. What's the point in adding it? To embellish? To cause controversy? Just stop it. Honestly, can we put a stop to this, please? [caption id=attachment_12278 align=aligncenter width=800] My review drawing of BBC PROMS 5: Pelléas et Mélisande inspired by Rosie Kelly via https://www.thecircusdiaries.com/tag/graph/[/caption] Pelléas et Mélisande was shown on the BBC Proms on Tuesday 17 July, 6. 30 pm. If you want to listen to a recording of the performance broadcasted live at BBC Radio 3, please click here. For more information on the BBC Proms 2018 season, go here.  (I was provided a press ticket to review the show.) [Header image: Karen Cargill (Geneviève), Brindley Sheratt (King of Allemonde) and John Chest (Pelléas) Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.) Right! @bbcproms + @glyndebourne + Pelléas et Mélisande was compelling tonight. It was my first time hearing & seeing it staged and it was better than I had expected. Simply gorgeous in every way.Every note played an intricate part of the mystery.And the voices...The voices! 😮 — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) July 17, 2018 Some photos from last night's @bbcproms at the very end. @glyndebourne's sem stage production of #PelléasetMélisande Just wow! What a great host of opera singers. pic.twitter.com/xneRPZwSqS — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) July 18, 2018 [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A: Derek Lawlor, Designer of ‘Wear’ (2018)Derek Lawlor is lead designer of Alastair White and Gemma A. Williams's new opera production, Wear, showing at this year's Tete-a-Tete Festival at King's Cross. Wear is an immersive sci-fi experience, which fuses together fashion, art, opera and contemporary music. Here, Derek discusses his passion for textiles and knit work, the inspiration behind his costumes designs for the opera production and his close collaboration with composer, Alastair White and concept director, Gemma A. Williams. When did you realise design was your calling? I’ve always been interested in design from a young age. My dad is a carpenter so I grew up helping him in his workshop, watching him make the most intricate furniture. At school I studied art and design and a lot of my influences came from architecture and furniture design which was definitely an influence from my dad. I went on to study art foundation in Brighton where I specailised in Fashion and textiles. It was at this stage that I knew I wanted to create my own fabrics. I went on to study my BA in Textile Design at Central Saint Martin’s where I specialised in knitted textiles. Upon finishing my BA I was fortunate to get on to MA Fashion at CSM being taught under the incredible Louise Wilson. Louise allowed me to realise my vision, my Masters allowed me 18 months to develop my cord work knitwear. Louise was very supportive and gave me the confidence to start my own brand. Where does your passion for textiles, fabrics and knitted material come from?  I’ve always been interested in Fashion and Textiles, buying fashion magazines from a young age I was always fascinated about the fabrics which the garments were made from. It was only whilst studying Textile Design I was able to explore weave, knit and printed textiles. I chose to specialise in knit as I really enjoyed the process from start to finish. I treat the fabric as my canvas which then I work in to. I can’t wait to take the fabric off the machine so I can push the fabrics further through manipulation and my cording techniques. Do you have a preference for working with a particular medium or all of the above? Being a knitwear designer, I get to create lots of different fabrics by experimenting with different yarns. The cord work technique is signature to my brand and recognised as a process I’ve used in each collection over the past several years. Textile Design is key to my design process. After creating my fabrics, I use draping to explore how the fabrics can be pushed in to garments. It's only once the cord-work is applied the fabrics come to life, sculptural forms are created. [caption id=attachment_12139 align=aligncenter width=800] Derek Lawson’s Designs for opera production, Wear.[/caption] Is this the first time you've showcased your work in an opera production or theatre production? I’ve been really fortunate to work with the Royal Ballet previously but this is the first opera production I’ve been involved in which I’m really excited about. What types of things would you say are significant for creating designs for an opera production that has a narrative and strong message? I think it’s really important that the garments translate well with the narrative in order to push a strong message. The expression and movement of different sounds will be really important in this performance and we have carefully chosen garments that through structure and form will express different emotion that the audience will experience. Wear is an opera about time travel and fashion. For Wear what was the inspiration behind your costume design in this production? The costumes used have been chosen from my archive collections and in particular my AW09 MA collection. The garments were the beginning of my journey as a fashion designer which felt very relevant for this production. Next year I will be celebrating 10 years of my label, each collection I produce is timeless. We’ve created new pieces to fit in to this collection which follow the narrative perfectly. In terms of the design, what types of information did you need to know and study in order to create the final costume?  I’ve worked closely with Composer Alistair White and Director Gemma Williams from the very beginning so I have been able to see the story evolve.  It was really important that the garments sat well with the narrative. Each garment has a particular statement. The collections are sculptures in there self, when worn the fabrics and embellishment in the garments come to life. The embellishment and cord work have movement which when worn by different characters in the opera will be dramatic. What has it been like working alongside and collaborated with director and concept, Gemma A. Williams and Alastair White? I’ve been fortunate to have my work in exhibitions which Gemma has curated previously. Gemma has worked on many successful projects and worked with incredible designers, I respect her expertise and knowledge. This is the first time I’ve worked with Alistair White. Since the beginning of this project we’ve had lots of exciting conversations, working with such a talented composer has been an incredible experience, the way we interpret both music and fashion together has been very organic. For both of us this has been an exciting new journey, there’s been lots of similarities in the way we can talk about fashion and opera, the process of making can be similar in an unusual way. [caption id=attachment_12138 align=aligncenter width=768] Design illustrations by Derek Lawson.[/caption] On a day to day basis, how does what we wear and what we consider to be ‘fashionable’ become an integral part of 'time' and human history? I think what we wear as individuals is very personal, we create our own style, wear what we feel confident in and dress for a purpose. Clothing is of era and we can associate certain memories, genres, movements from fabrics and style. I myself create garments that are timeless. I see my garments as pieces of art – once worn they can create confidence. The fabrics and garments that I make are not seasonal therefore allow them to be worn at any time and styled with other pieces. What do you want the audience to feel when they look at your design on stage? I want the audience to feel like they are in the studio, can feel the design and making of the garments. There will be knitting machines and fabrics being produced through the performance. The audience will be able to feel the emotion of creativity and through sound will be able to interpret the creative process. The audience will be able to interact and look at garments on display but also see the garments come to life once worn by the performers. As a designer, what is the most gratifying part of what you do? As a designer, I have been very fortunate to work on lots of different projects. From designing for the Royal Ballet to working with design houses such Marimekko, collaborating with talented designers such as Natalie Coleman, Margaret O’Connor and Jayne Pierson. I’ve exhibited my work internationally including Guangzhou Fashion Week in China and most recently showcasing my work at Jakarta Fashion Week representing the British Council. Most recently I’ve worked on the knitwear for two films, Murder on the Orient Express and Mary Queen of Scots. I continue to be a lecturer at Central Saint Martins which I love as this is where it all started. I suppose I’m a bit a jack of all jobs for the different projects I’ve worked on but this is what keeps in excited and motivated, I would be bored if I was just doing one thing! Do you hope to design for more opera and theatre productions in the future? I’d love to design for more opera and theatre productions in the future. I’m very excited to take part in this performance and see it come to life. Like any collection I create or project I take part in the story is never over, it will create new ideas which I hope can lead to new projects. Wear is showing at The Crossing, 1 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, N1C 4AA on 8.00 pm as part of Tête à Tête: the Opera Festival on Friday 3 August. Click here to book your tickets now.  For more information about Derek Lawlor, click here. [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A with Stephen Higgins – Music Director and ConductorThe Vaults theatre has unleashed a brand new theatrical experience of Disney's Fantasia, Sounds and Sorcery. Sound and Music Director, Stephen Higgins discusses the immersive production, the music inspired by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Beethoven (and more), and his 'nerve-wracking' experience working with a 96-piece orchestra. When and how did you realise that becoming a music director/ conductor was your calling? I started my career as a repetiteur or rehearsal pianist for opera houses including Glyndebourne, English National Opera, Royal Opera House etc., which was a fantastic way of getting to learn core repertoire and to observe different conductors at work. Many years of this provided me with a knowledge and understanding of what a makes a successful opera conductor and bit by bit I was invited to ‘step up’ and conduct rehearsals. This led to me taking more and more responsibility and is the reason that I am now doing this job. You’ve worked extensively in various opera houses, festivals and theatres including the Young Vic. Do you have a favourite venue or memories of an interesting place you’ve performed at? The great thing about a freelance career is that you never know where you will discover next. I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate - the memorable places I have found myself conducting include a Tuscan monastery, on a boat in the Norwegian Fjords and in an outdoor theatre on a Stellenbosch wine estate. I loved the sense of company that I found whilst working for ENO at the Coliseum - there is an amazing melting pot of incredibly talented people all working together for a shared goal which makes for a vibrant working environment. Your work spans a diverse range of composers and genres including Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, John Adams, Stephen Sondheim and more. Do you have a preference for particular classical composers or different genres? Good music is good music in my book. My favourite music tends to be the piece I am working on when the question is being asked! I think that having the opportunity to delve deeply into any piece of great music allows you to really get under the skin of the composer and gain a proper understanding of what he or she was intending. The great thing about opera rehearsals is that you can spend four or five weeks on the same piece and thoroughly explore it in great detail. [caption id=attachment_12180 align=aligncenter width=800] Sounds and Sorcery Celebrating Disney Fantasia. Show Artwork[/caption] The production, Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney FANTASIA, sounds fascinating. It’s an immersive experience, which uses binaural sound technology. What is it like as a musical director working with new, cutting edge technology? The original Fantasia was ground-breaking in its time due to the use of modern technology that was emerging in the 1940s. And we were keen to push the boundaries of what is possible in today’s tech world when creating Sounds and Sorcery. It has been a steep learning curve for me - finding out about 'zoning' and 'networks' and 'bit rates' and 'latency' - not words I have needed to know when working in a purely acoustic environment! But the possibilities of the way we have devised this show are so exciting - it’s like being in the middle of a symphony orchestra with the various instruments feeling like they are just to your left, or just behind you – an intense aural experience that not many people will have had the chance to hear before. How does the binaural sound technology and classical music interact and work with 3D projections and dazzling set designs? The music was the first thing to be ‘set’- each of the creative team has been working with the recordings from the beginning of the process. So, all of the visual ideas have been inspired by, and created precisely with the music. Lighting changes happen on accented beats, video moves and flows according to the tempi of the score. Everything in the show is designed to enhance the musical experience, rather than the music forming a backing track to the visual stimuli, which is exciting for me. Have you performed any of the music pieces from Fantasia, such as 'The Sorcerer’s Apprentice', 'The Rite of Spring', 'Night on Bald Mountain' and the 'Nutcracker Suite' before? I have conducted The Nutcracker a few times, but all the other pieces were my ‘debuts’! Do you have a favourite song or piece from Fantasia? If so, which one and why? It has to be the Stravinsky. It is incredible that a piece written over 100 years ago can still have such a visceral and dramatic effect on people. It still feels incredibly new. And it is the most thrilling piece to be able to conduct! I have fond memories of watching the original Disney film, Fantasia. Growing up as a child in the 80s, I’m sure this production will engage many audiences of my age group. How important do you think it is for classical music and opera to engage younger audiences?  If we don’t try to introduce this music to people at a young age it is a disaster. I do a lot of projects taking orchestras into primary schools and the reaction of these young people is overwhelming - they don’t yet have the sense that it is ‘difficult’ or ‘not for them’- these concepts seem to come later. It is important to give as many opportunities as possible for children to find a way of coming into contact with pieces like the Fantasia selections - and creating an adventure - as Sounds and Sorcery is trying to do - where the visual and physical stimuli are as exciting as the musical experience is a good way of achieving this. Even the walk through the graffiti alleys of Waterloo to get to the entrance of the show is exciting. [caption id=attachment_12179 align=aligncenter width=782] Artwork of Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey from Walt Disney’s Fantasia. © Disney[/caption] The re-recording of the music takes place with a 96-piece orchestra. Is working with such a large orchestra a walk in the park for you, or were there hoops to jump through first before the actual recording of Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney FANTASIA? I have to confess that the day of the Stravinsky recording was a little nerve-wracking. It is hard to describe the feeling one has when walking into a room where 96 people are looking at you as if to say ‘well- what are you going to bring to this session that is going to be interesting?’ That sensation of fear and apprehension never goes away! But once the music making starts it is incredible how a shared love of the music and respecting the composer’s wishes makes those nerves disappear. The key thing for a conductor in that situation is to know the score backwards and be ready to answer any tricky questions form the players. As with most things in life, thorough preparation is the key to success What has it been like working with director, Daisy Evans? A joy, as ever. Daisy and I have done many projects together - we share a passion for reimagining great works and presenting them in a way that is unexpected and surprising. This has been our biggest collaboration to date and it has been a totally enjoyable process Do you have any upcoming operas or productions after Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney FANTASIA? I have a recording of American Songbook repertoire with Sir Thomas Allen due for release shortly and am looking forward to working on Candide and Sweeney Todd in Bergen, Norway, where I spend a lot of my professional life at present. What advice would you give to an aspiring conductor? Watch as many concerts and operas and other performances as you can, learn your music thoroughly before stepping out in front of an orchestra and get to know how musicians and singers think and feel - imagine yourself doing their job and get to understand the pressures and emotions they are undergoing. Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney FANTASIA is showing at The Vaults theatre, (Leake Street, London SE1 7NN) now until 30 September 2018. Click here for more information and book tickets. Twitter: @thevaultsuk Facebook: @soundsandsorcery  Instagram: @soundsandsorcery  (Header image: copyright © Disney) [related_posts_by_tax]
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NEWS: SOMM Recordings – Never heard before recording of the music of Leonard Bernstein is available on newly mastered CD (2018)A remarkable 1993 live broadcast recording of Leonard Bernstein has been reproduced into a newly mastered CD by SOMM Recordings. The recording has never been issued before, which makes it even more exciting for devout Bernstein fans. It has been inspired by the celebrations of the centenary of the genius composer and conductor. The Hannover Philharmonie performs the recording with conductor Iain Sutherland. Leonard Bernstein: Broadway to Hollywood includes five of Bernstein’s most defining works ranging from his dramatic theatrical scores and touching symphonic pieces. From the overture to Bernstein’s 1956 reimagining of Voltaire’s Candide, his Symphonic Suite (pieced together by his score for Elia Kazan’s Oscar-laden 1954 film On the Waterfront), theatre music for Jerome Robbins’s ballet Fancy Free, his tribute piece to the city of New York, On the Town, and last, but not least, West Side Story. It is Berstein’s musical masterwork that transformed America's place in the musical theatre world, from 1957. Bernstein’s way with music, infusing genres: jazz, Latin music, concert and classic symphonic scores, are encapsulated in this fabulous recording. The CD also includes an insightful booklet on the composer and his wonderful works by the author of Broadway to Hollywood: the Musical and the Cinema, Robert Matthew-Walker. Here is a MP3 recording you can listen to online now: https://soundcloud.com/siva-oke/the-great-lover-on-the-town You can purchase the new CD Leonard Bernstein: Broadway to Hollywood on Amazon here. Official release is July 27 August  Leonard Bernstein: Broadway to Hollywood Hannover Philharmonie/Iain Sutherland, conductor ARIADNE 5002/ SOMM Recordings [related_posts_by_tax]
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Three things to know about Group Interviews from The Grönholm Method (2018)Once upon a time, I used to be a recruiter. I was exposed to some scary sales interviews and semi-interrogation techniques. Seeing a production of The Grönholm Method at Menier Chocolate Factory, which ended a few weeks ago, brought back some unforgettable memories. Jordi Galceran’s apprentice-style play has been seen in more than 60 countries. Director BT McNicholl has four lead candidates (three men and one woman) show aggression and confusion on a dog-eat-dog stage with some unpleasant and uncomfortable scenes. Watching them engage, interact and mock one another gives the audience a tiny glimpse of the nasty side of capitalism and corporate life. Excellent stage performers, Jonathan Cake, Laura Pitt-Pulford, John Gordon Sinclair and Greg McHugh, kept the audience on their toes with dark humour and unexpected (and shameless) commentary into the mindset of deadly ambitious sales professionals. From seeing The Grönholm Method, I was reminded of three things I picked up as a recruiter to be aware of in real group interviews. Don’t cry in front of your interviewers The workplace is your job: not your home. At a job interview, you are there to impress a potential employer, not show off your vulnerable side when there's a crisis in the office. However, if you really need to cry, leave those tears for outside of the interview room (e.g. bathroom) or try your best to hold back until you get home. That means, no matter what, don’t cry if someone calls you names or insults you with poisonous words. Perhaps, just smile back. (It's better than punching them in the face.) If you have to keep your phone on loud during an interview, you shouldn’t be there at all. Not only is it disrespectful and bad interview etiquette to have your phone on loud during an interview, it is also distracting to you. Just as you wouldn’t be interrupted if your phone was off, allow yourself the opportunity to focus for the entire duration of the interview. With saying that, however, there are far more important things in life, such as spending time with loved ones, than being in an interview room. Interview slots can be rescheduled. All you need to do is ask. So, if you know a close one is dying in a hospital, you really shouldn’t be having a job interview, should you? Keep your cards close to your chest and don’t trust anyone. All of the other candidates want the same job you’re going for. Like most work-related situations, one should aim to be professional and civilised yet mindful of what information is worth sharing. After all, no one comes to an interview to make friends with the other candidates in the room. Also, if either your interviewer or fellow candidate shares something personal to you, don’t believe everything they say. They could be using your information for their personal gain. The Grönholm Method was showing at Menier Chocolate Factory, London Bridge from 10 May - 7 July, 2018. More information about the show and Menier Chocolate Factory can be found here. (I purchased my own ticket to review this show.) [Header image: Actors: Greg McHugh, John Gordon Sinclair, Laura Pitt-Pulford and Jonathan Cake in photograph by Manuel Harlan.] [related_posts_by_tax]
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Birgit Nilsson – La Nilsson (2018)Review Written by Tony Watts [fourstar] A veritable Valhalla of vocalism Such was the glorious amplitude of Birgit Nilsson's shining, sword-like soprano that one of her colleagues was moved to remark that the further away you were from her on stage, the closer she sounded! How fitting it is that Decca Classics has chosen to commemorate this great singer's centenary with a boxed set of suitable size and splendour. An exceedingly grand total of no fewer than seventy-nine CDs and two DVDs encompasses the diva's complete recorded output for the DG, Decca and Phillips labels, with several items which originally appeared on EMI included for good measure. A veritable Valhalla of vocalism featuring twenty-seven complete operas and any number of recitals and discs of excerpts. There are the famous Ring Cycles and Tristans conducted by Böhm and Solti, plus a disc's worth of excerpts from the latter conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch. The finely-cast Leinsdorf Walküre is included, as is the late 'sixties Tannhauser conducted by Otto Gerdes in which Nilsson sings both Elisabeth and Venus, no mean feat even if it is in the recording studio rather than the opera house. Nilson's famous recordings of Richard Strauss's Salome and Elektra naturally take their place, as does a live Die Frau ohne Schatten under Böhm though her best days were slightly behind her in the latter. [caption id=attachment_12066 align=aligncenter width=634] Photo by Gino Begotti 2016 © Copyright Gino Begotti and Trustee Gino Begotti. Birgit Nilsson at La Scala Theater of Milan on December 7, 1958 performing Turandot.[/caption] Although Nilsson made her UK debut in Idomeneo at Glyndebourne in 1951, she was not a natural Mozartian as is evidenced by her Donna Anna in two recordings of Don Giovanni, the late 'sixties Böhm recording made in Prague and the earlier Leinsdorf set with a somewhat Met-centric cast. She is not at her most persuasive as Agathe in Weber's Der Freischutz which ideally requires a more lyrical soprano or even as Reiza in Oberon, opposite the young Domingo though that does have spectacular moments to commend it. Leonore in Fidelio is more fertile ground for Nilsson’s dramatic soprano and she is the outstanding performer in the neglected Maazel set from 1964. A variety of Italian operas form a major part of the set and while Minnie in La Fanciulla del West and Tosca suite Nilsson very well, there is no doubt that her finest Puccini role was the title role in Turandot, a part that might have been written for her. Her supremely thrilling assumption can be heard in two recordings, the earliest of which pairs her with Jussi Bjoerling and Renata Tebaldi, while in the later one her partners are Franco Corelli and Renata Scotto. Vocal riches indeed and a truly thrilling experience. We hear the diva's range as a Verdian in Macbeth (opposite Taddei), Aida and in the Solti recording of Un ballo in maschera which is further distinguished by a fine cast headed by Carlo Bergonzi's peerless Riccardo. [caption id=attachment_12067 align=aligncenter width=579] Birgit Nilsson (Photo source is from The Birgit Nilsson Museum via www.wqxr.org.)[/caption] This essential set is rounded out by solo operatic recitals, as well as the Scandinavian songs and hymns which formed such an attractive part of the Nilsson discography, not forgetting her solitary excursion to Broadway with that memorable excerpt from the Fledermaus gala 'I Could Have Danced All Night' (and woe betide the man who refuses her as a contemporary critic put it). A feisty individual with a strong sense of humour as well as one of the greatest singers of her time who, when asked her formula for a successful performance of the big Wagnerian roles her reply 'a pair of comfortable shoes', has passed into operatic folklore, as has her assertion that 'Isolde made me famous, while Turandot made me rich'. A unique singer and personality. I can pay 'La Nilsson' no greater compliment than to observe that it is fully worthy of its subject. La Nilsson: The Complete Recordings is available on Amazon.co.uk. Decca / 79 CD & 2 DVDs Release Date: 4 May, 2018 Tony Watts is a keen opera, concert, theatre and ballet-goer. He has spent most of his working life in the music industry, including a 16-year spell at Decca Records. He has compiled and produced over 1,000 re-issues on CD, LP and digital formats, and written notes for several hundred more. In addition to writing for a wide variety of musical books and publications, Tony has worked as a music consultant on films and on exhibitions for the V&A.  Follow Tony now on Twitter: @Tonywauk [related_posts_by_tax]
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Knights of the Rose: the Arts Centre (2018)[threestar] I’ll freely admit that there are parts of Knights of the Rose that I absolutely adore. Firstly, let me be clear: I am a big fan of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, works by Shakespeare, nay... I enjoy classical music (Henry Purcell, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi) and opera. So, for me, seeing productions with period costumes and dialogue equivalent to old English doesn’t offend me, at all. Despite what the majority of the critics have said about Knights of the Rose, I found myself thoroughly entertained throughout the official press night, and that was, perhaps, because I spent more time enjoying myself and seeing the craft in writer, Jennifer Marsden’s rock musical, as opposed to finding ways of picking holes in this new production. [caption id=attachment_12050 align=aligncenter width=800] Matt Thorpe, Ruben Van Keer, Adam Moss, Chris Cowley, Kelly Hampson and Bleu Woodwar. Photographer Mark Dawson.[/caption] Marsden has introduced an entirely brand new ‘jukebox’ musical that attempts to merge popular culture and rock music with Shakespeare and Chaucer, all at the same time, and that’s not an easy job. Director and choreographer, Racky Plews took Marsden’s writing and made a bold production out of her ideas, utilising puppetry and thrilling fight scenes. The creative team also poured their individual talents into this production, from set and costume designer Diego Pitarch, lighting designer Tim Deiling and Puppet Director Hal Chambers. Showing now at West End’s the Arts Centre, even for a medium-sized stage a lot happens and this is down to the sheer level of talent, quality and excellence on stage. [caption id=attachment_12046 align=aligncenter width=800] Rebekah Lowings. Photography Mark Dawson.[/caption] Knights of the Rose, as one would expect, is a tale about love, power, war, death and knights in shiny armour. The medieval knights: Sir Palamon (Chris Cowley), Hugo (Oliver Savile), Horatio (Matt Thorpe), Prince Gawain (Andy Moss) and John (Ruben Van keer) enter the stage in shining fashion with swords thrown in the air as they sing to Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’. Key performers of the evening go to the vocal talent, which were surprisingly excellent considering how tough it is to sing songs originally sung by Bon Jovi. The same is true for the princess, Queen and their fellow maidens. Rebecca Bainbridge (Queen Matilda), Bleu Woodward (Emily), Katie Birtill (Princess Hannah) and Rebekah Lowings (Lady Isabel) gave high-spirited singing and ravishing performances particularly for challenging songs including 'Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt and 'Holding out for a hero’ originally sung by Bonnie Tyler. This is steeped with music superbly executed by electric guitars, drums and bass by the band, on stage, including Mark Crossland, Nick Kent, Chris George and Josh Carpenter. These vital players shouldn’t go unnoticed and deserve as much recognition. The rest of the cast including Tom Bales and Ian Gareth-Jones play significant parts too. And Adam Pearce, with his rendition of 'What power art thou’ from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur, gives an evocative and touching performance as King Aethelstan. [caption id=attachment_12047 align=aligncenter width=800] Chris Cowley. Photographer Mark Dawson.[/caption] Now, referring back to my interests in the many genres Marsden has combined here, I have to applaud Marsden for attempting to do something entirely unique and challenging as this. (It took her eight years! as she told me in an interview.) That said, people in the audience will know of the song list (Bon Jovi, Enrique Iglesias, Adam Langston, etc,), which, as I saw on the press night, caused some to laugh while others to sing along. I was part of the latter group, simply because I love these songs - I was raised in the 80s. Therefore, watching Knights of the Rose is a bit of a game (or gamble) of seeing which rock song will come along and fit into these emotional and dramatic scenes. Yet, sadly some people felt the need to laugh at the stage, rather than show some respect. [caption id=attachment_12048 align=aligncenter width=800] Andy Moss. Photographer Mark Dawson.[/caption] I would say to the laughing audience: instead of attempting to fixate on what this musical is about, or what it stands for (or whether it “is this the most epic rock musical?”), just ask yourself if you enjoyed the talent on stage. For me, the songs stood out and I took the entire performance for what it was. I had a good night. Sorry to those who didn’t. However, the main problem I take issue with is that the show seems more of a rock music medley or gala event as oppose to a musical. Although there are many great intentions here, it may not work to call the production a musical as it uses rock music created by established artists. But imagine what Knights of the Rose would be like if it had its own songs and music? So, to those who are still unsure: listen to one, two-star reviews if you want, or try and see it for yourself. Perhaps forget the tag line 'epic rock musical’ and see what the show is about with your own eyes. Personally, I'd rather make the decision for myself, especially if I was a Bon Jovi fan (which I am). But that's just me and, as we know, everyone is different. [caption id=attachment_12045 align=aligncenter width=800] Rebekah Lowings and Matt Thorpe. Photographer Mark Dawson.[/caption] Knights of the Rose is now showing at the Arts centre until 26 August. Tickets available online here. (I was given a press ticket to review the show.) (Header image: Photographer Mark Dawson. Ian Gareth Jones, Chris Cowley, Andy Moss, Tom Bales, Matt Thorpe and Oliver Savile.) [related_posts_by_tax]
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Clare McCaldin – Opera Singer and founder of McCaldin ArtsClare McCaldin is a British mezzo-soprano noted for opera and song recital, and for producing striking lyric stage work with her own company, McCaldin Arts. She will be singing the role of Queen Mary I in a new music theatre work, about the life and reign of Mary Tudor in, Mary's Hand at the Opera festival Tête à Tête on August 1 & 2. Here, Clare expresses the inspiration behind her company, McCaldin Arts, her passion for opera, classical music and Haydn as well as the depth of research she conducted to fully understand Mary's character.  [caption id=attachment_12034 align=aligncenter width=427] Clare McCaldin as Queen Mary I in Mary's Hand. Photo by Robert Workman.[/caption] When did you realise becoming an opera singer was your calling? Crazily late in the day, given the 10,000 hours it allegedly takes to acquire mastery of any activity. I was in my late 20s when I decided to take singing seriously. But it was later when I had done some proper study and acquired the technique through which to express myself, that I realised I really have something to say. Tell me a bit more about McCaldin Arts: what inspired you to create McCaldin Arts in 2013? I had convened a small group of creatives in 2012 to make a stage show for myself out of an existing piece by Stephen McNeff. When Steve offered to write something new for me I saw that I needed an identity for the team on the new project, and so McCaldin Arts was born. It is essentially a pool of trusted colleagues on which I draw according to the needs of different projects. After trying to come up with wittier names for the group, I ended up with my own surname because I was the unifying factor. Where does your interest in Handel, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn and Mahler come from? I’m interested in any composer who writes well for the voice, as do all of the above composers in their different ways. I would say that the composer I have the most specific interest in is Haydn, about whom I have written an entertainment called Haydn’s London Ladies. There’s a great narrative about Haydn’s two visits to London during the 1790s that links together five women who were friends and fans of his, and around whose stories much of his best vocal music fits. I lead the audience through the stories, introducing the various Ladies, and sing the music associated with them. The project originated in a conversation with my father, a bona fide Haydn expert, who mentioned something about “Haydn’s girlfriends”. I was intrigued as I had the rather stereotyped view of him as a slightly formal old man, but it turns out he adored female company and was hugely in demand socially while he was here in England. Do you have a preference for singing music by particular composers or are you open to all forms of music, old and new? I am open to all kinds of music. I love inhabiting a dramatic character, regardless of who wrote the music and when. Whether it’s in an opera or a three-minute song, if the composer has created a world that I can find a way into, then I will enjoy it and hopefully so will the audience. I have done a lot of contemporary music and my choices in that area tend to favour works that have strong text and/or narrative rather than existing for the sake of the vocal sound alone. You’ve recorded two solo CDs for Champs Hill records. Do you have plans to record another album soon? I’m so lucky to have recorded commercially several of the works that I have commissioned myself or been associated with, for the Champs Hill and NMC labels. There are already so many fantastic recordings of established works that I feel best able to contribute when I can add a new piece to the recorded repertoire. We’re planning a recording of Mary’s Hand in due course, but that’s secondary to getting the show out on tour. [caption id=attachment_12035 align=aligncenter width=640] Clare McCaldin as Queen Mary I in Mary's Hand. Photo by Robert Workman.[/caption] Let’s talk about Mary’s Hand: how much historical research did you do and what kind of things did you study to understand Mary’s character? I did a lot of reading around the subject, on the Tudors generally and on Mary specifically. There have been a couple of excellent biographies of Mary in the last few years, which substantially rehabilitate her reputation. Our writer-director, Di Sherlock, and I made a couple of field trips, to Catherine of Aragon’s tomb in Peterborough Cathedral, and to the royal tombs in Westminster Abbey which feature in Mary’s Hand. I learnt more about the Reformation and the form it took in England, to get a sense of how the new religion and politics were so fatally entwined for Mary. Luckily 2017 was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so there was plenty of information around. What do you find most fascinating about performing the role of the Queen? Mary wanted to be a good daughter, queen and wife but she was totally uncompromising because of her innate sense of what was right. Her transition from cosseted child to lonely adult was traumatic as a result of the events following Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon and pursuit of a son at any cost. The domestic and religious convulsions at court over the next twenty years affected Mary deeply. Her relationships with her father and half-siblings were characterised by an exhausting mixture of fear, rage, love, duty, pride and stubbornness. In spite of this, she achieved moments of greatness, but her biggest failures were also her most public and painful. It’s an extraordinary life. Have you come across any challenges with performing the role from a music or acting standpoint? In acting terms, my journey from a young, light-hearted girl to an older, disappointed woman is not entirely chronological in Mary’s Hand (because of the nature of the piece, which is dictated by the audience’s choice of playing cards). However, for the audience’s sake, it still needs to be clear where I am on the continuum between those points at any particular moment. From a technical vocal point of view, it’s challenging to swap back and forth all the time between sung and spoken text - when we were developing the piece we had to be attentive to issues of balance and critical information needing space around it for the audience to catch the meaning. [caption id=attachment_12036 align=aligncenter width=640] Clare McCaldin as Queen Mary I in Mary's Hand. Photo by Robert Workman.[/caption] Di Sherlock wrote the words and Martin Bussey composed the music. Before and during rehearsals, have you had time to collaborate with the writer and composer? Martin Bussey approached me after hearing me sing to ask whether he could write something for me. I introduced him to Di Sherlock (with whom I had wanted to work for a while) knowing that she had previously written about the Tudors and knew the territory. From the outset, we worked as a three, with meetings and sing-throughs to discuss the material as it developed. What is it like working with them? It has been fantastic. This has been the closest collaboration I have had with a composer and librettist and I love being this deeply enmeshed in the process - it undoubtedly helps my performance to have been there on the whole journey. Of course, we wanted to make the best possible version of Mary’s Hand, which meant that we asked a lot of questions of each other and occasionally had to negotiate a compromise! We had a try-out back in April with an invited audience of colleagues whose feedback was invaluable in helping us to finesse the piece for public performance. How do you want the audience to feel when they've seen Mary’s Hand? I want the audience to feel moved by Mary’s human story and to reconsider what they may have taken for granted about her. Her story is full of resonances for our own lives and many of the issues she wrestled with as monarch are still being discussed today. Do you have any upcoming concerts or shows after Mary’s Hand? I’ve got a bit of a rest over the summer, then I am giving two performances of my previous solo show, Vivienne - one to open the Poetry Swindon Festival and the other at the Little Venice Music Festival, in a newly expanded orchestration by the composer. I’m also appearing at Oxford Lieder for the first time, which I am very excited about. What advice would you give to an aspiring opera singer? Identify what you can offer that is different from other people, whether vocally, musically or dramatically. And keep the faith. [caption id=attachment_12137 align=aligncenter width=800] https://www.tete-a-tete.org.uk[/caption] Mary's Hand is showing at Holy Cross Church on 8.30 pm as part of Tête à Tête: the Opera Festival on 1 August to2  August. Click here to book your tickets now.  For more information about McCaldin Arts, click here.   [related_posts_by_tax]
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National Theatre of Korea: Trojan Women (2018)Written by Thomas Joy [threestar] Troy may be defeated, but never forgotten – and its women endure as survivors amid the aftermath of a ten-year war with the Greeks. Ong Keng Sen’s epic paints the parallels between the trauma and wrath faced by the Trojan Women and the pain Korean women have lived through across decades of war and division. Through the waves of the pansori music, the women make this story their own, celebrating the importance of female solidarity in the face of adversity through music and movement. I find this is a tricky show to review. Since leaving the auditorium, I've been trying to reconcile myself with very polarising aspects of this production. [caption id=attachment_11815 align=aligncenter width=800] Photo courtesy of National Theatre of Korea[/caption] On the first hand, is the cast. The members of the company gave some of the most breathtaking live performances I've ever seen, the sheer power of their voices and raw emotion cast a spell over the audience that left us, I'm sure, totally transfixed. Kim Kum-mi in her performance as Hecuba was an absolute highlight of the performance, delivering the most intensely powerful vocals, layered with anguish, despair, and heartbreak, making her a truly world-class performer. This production is at its strongest when she is accompanied by the female chorus in movement and song, along with the (mostly) live musical accompaniment; this production is filled with numbers that'll make your hair stand on end, with its sheer force, and beautiful melodies and harmonies. However, a lot of this production, perhaps 70% or so, is formed of the traditional Korean style of storytelling called pansori. Pansori is usually a solo vocalist with a drummer or minimal instrumentation delivering the story through, what in western classical music, we would consider to be recitative. Indeed, this production has two credited composers, Ahn Sook-sun as the pansori composer, and Jung Jae-il as the production's composer and musical director. Both must be congratulated for their synergy as artists, and for producing a fantastic new score. To hear traditional, authentic, Korean music performed by such accomplished musicians in one of London's premier venues is a victory for diverse programming! [caption id=attachment_11814 align=alignnone width=878] Photo courtesy of National Theatre of Korea[/caption] There is a question, perhaps, as to whether or not two uninterrupted hours of complex music in an unfamiliar style is too much for a western audience without an interval. There seemed to be a natural break in the drama before the entrance of Helen (played by Kim Jung-soo) which would have suited a short interval, but as this is a production that defies the convention of western theatre, perhaps an interval would have been a tad gratuitous. For me, there were parts of this production that didn't work, which, whilst they didn't detract from the strength of the performances, did weaken the impact of the production as a whole. Of course, the whole point of Greek drama is that the action takes place off-stage, but the near total absence of action presented on stage meant that the pace of the performance felt very slow. Bae Sam-sik's libretto was well written in places, paying great homage to the Euripides' original, focussing on the impact of war after the battle, but the speed at which very few actual events unfolded over the course of two hours, meant that the large and powerful group performances provided a well needed distraction from, what is essentially, a series of scenes consisting of anguish and torment. Another issue was with the numbers performed by Helen, who alongside being played by a man, for no apparent reason beyond Ong Keng Sen's desire to 'gender bend' his productions, was also the musical accompaniment of the number which departed from the beautiful Korean instrumentation to, what appeared to be, a pre-recorded piano track. The piece is also touted as a queer opera, and whilst it might have gender-swapped characters and strong female leads, I wouldn't label it as queer opera any time soon. [caption id=attachment_11813 align=aligncenter width=800] The company at curtain call, 2nd June 2018, Queen Elizabeth Hall[/caption] And that is why I'm so conflicted. It was almost like watching a performance of Avant-Garde music, for example, Meredith Monk, where the power and intention of the performance is delivered by a means that isn't meant to be comfortable for the audience. Music aside, this production is a visual feast, with a stunning minimalistic set courtesy of Myung Hee Cho intertwined with imaginative video design by Austin Switser, whose work alongside Scott Zielinski's lighting design, delivered an atmospheric and impactful set. Producing theatre in a concert hall is never easy, but the team at Queen Elizabeth Hall have done it brilliantly. The cast have done superbly, LIFT Festival should be delighted at opening their 2018 season with such a phenomenal set of performances, and my criticism is purely subjective. There were many on their feet at the end of tonight's performance, and my rating is indicative, I hope, not of mediocrity, but of a show that has me conflicted. Trojan Women is part of LIFT Festival 2018. For more information for events at the South Bank Centre and Queen Elizabeth Hall, click here and for information on current shows at LIFT Festival 2018, go here. (Thomas was provided a press ticket to review the show.) Thomas Joy is a theatre-lover and musician. Follow him on now Twitter: @TWJ0y [related_posts_by_tax]
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Creation (Pictures For Dorian) – Purcell Room (2018)Written by Thomas Joy [fourstar] Gob Squad's Creation (Pictures for Dorian) is one of those strange theatrical experiences, in which you walk into the auditorium not quite sure what to expect, you leave not quite knowing what you've seen, but you know that you love what you saw. This production isn't traditional theatre, it's equal parts performance art, actual art, poetry, improvisation, and it is utterly, utterly mad. But, above all else, it's a brilliant, touching portrait on the beginning, middle, and end, that each of us experience. The piece starts as a charming and witty opening duologue between Gob Squad's Sean Patten and Sarah Thom, quickly capturing and engaging the audience in the nature of trinity, from breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They then present the concept of art as a trinity: the work, the artist, and the viewer. Bastian Trost completes the trio from Gob Squad, introducing the guest performers to demonstrate how the viewer often project themselves onto the artwork, thus becoming the artwork, artist, and viewer simultaneously. This discussion evolves away from art into the nature of human life, from youth, through middle-age and into old-age, with three young guest performers (averaging the age of 21) and three older guest performers (with an average age in their late 70s) sandwiching the Gob Squad company who sit in the middle with an average age of 49. [caption id=attachment_11825 align=aligncenter width=800] Gob Squad's Creation (Pictures for Dorian). Photo © Jade-Mainade.[/caption] As the piece develops, it becomes both a celebration of, and lament on, 'the middle', being deprived of both youth and wisdom, but also having the benefits of hindsight and optimism. The company work with their guest performers to explore both youthfulness and old age, and this is where this production came into its own. To witness the performers baring their souls, digging deep into their past and future, was superb, the tableaus were crushingly personal, totally encapsulating, but at the same time bizarrely objective, as we as an audience were invited to add our own introspection to the experiences of the performers. This production is a stunning deconstruction of the very concept of 'self performance', using video and sound to add a brilliant modernity to distinctly, classically, aesthetic visuals. A single camera focussed on the decay of a floral arrangement that withered over the course of the performance, perhaps not the subtlest of metaphors, but beautifully illustrative nonetheless. This show is, at times, totally gratuitous. What was interesting was how acutely self-aware the company are; the performers, particularly Sarah Thom while performing in a powerful section in which she was completely nude, acknowledge that some of these elements were 'tropes'. [caption id=attachment_11824 align=aligncenter width=717] Gob Squad's Creation (Pictures for Dorian). Photo © Jade-Mainade.[/caption] In true Oscar Wilde fashion, there were florals, posing, references to Greek classicism in the 'artistry', and yet it remained deftly naturalistic, and with a show so in danger of tipping into pretentiousness, the company have struck a great balance. The guest performers were most definitely a highlight of the evening, with one sequence seeing Bastian Trost sitting amongst three two-way mirrors, talking with his future and past self in the shape of two of the guest performers. Their interaction was both beautiful and heart-breaking as they discussed regret and what they wouldn't take with them into the future. On the subject of Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray though, I do feel as though this was almost an afterthought, a frame of reference, a point of context from which Gob Squad could take the audience through this journey, adding in an Avant-Garde edge that I'm not sure was actually necessary to accomplish what they did. That said, the visuals were beautiful and cleverly utilised, with credit going to Lena Mody for her set realisation, Chris Umney's lighting design, Michael Chalcraft's video design, and the delightfully bohemian costumes from Ingken Benesch. When combined with Sebastian Bark and Jeff McGrory's sound design, this is a remarkably accomplished production. This company have toured for 25 years, and I hope they continue to do so. Productions like this aren't going to be for everyone, but for those with an open mind and a contemplative imagination, I would recommend their productions whole-heartedly. It's not theatre as you know it, but it is beautifully theatrical all the same. Creation (Pictures For Dorian) is part of LIFT Festival 2018. The next showings are tonight and tomorrow (June 6 & June 7 at 7.45 pm). For more information for events at the South Bank Centre and Purcell Room, click here and for information on current shows at LIFT Festival 2018, go here. (Thomas was provided a press ticket to review the show.) Thomas Joy is a theatre-lover and musician. Follow him on now Twitter: @TWJ0y [related_posts_by_tax]
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Conquest, The Bunker Theatre (2018)[fourstar] Is there enough theatre about sexual assault, women rights and sex education? Given recent #Metoo and #Timesup campaigns, there has been a rising awareness of what has been happening behind closed doors, and slowly more people are opening up about their traumatic experiences. Pearshaped Theatre’s production of the world’s first revenge cupcake company, Conquest, now showing at The Bunker Theatre, is a winning combination. Its writer, Katie Caden speaks candidly about what is often a difficult subject to talk about for many. In Jess Daniels's production, we watch Colette Eaton and Lucy Walker-Evans perform as Jo and Alice, and multiple characters, in what seems to be a female coalition against male sexual predators. Yet, there’s a deeper meaning to Conquest other than its baking business. These tampon-filled cupcakes are a political statement against the subjugation of sexually assaulted women, vulnerable and unable to speak up. The dialogue is fresh and straight from your everyday adventure at the pharmacy. Speaking from a woman’s perspective there’s a lot of information, and misinformation, we are taught by teachers, school peers, mothers, and TV shows. Eaton and Walker-Evans cleverly weave through these confusing anecdotes and deconstruct them. Who said a single sperm was strong or a female egg was passive and weak? (BULLOCKS!) When did we think it was okay to say nothing when someone was doing something uncomfortable to us? One thing to learn from Eaton and Walker-Evans excellent performance is the lack of conversation about sexual assault and what to do once it has happened to us, or anyone. [caption id=attachment_11833 align=aligncenter width=800] Colette Eaton and Lucy Walker-Evans in Conquest. Production photo from a successful run at VAULT Festival 2018. Photo by Ali Wright.[/caption] Conquest is a witty play that moves from various scenes to keep the conversation interesting and original. One moment, Jo and Alice are talking to the audience, the next they are attempting Mission Impossible, and in another tense scene, they're throwing cupcakes at members of parliament. No matter how old we get, we all need an education on sex, consensual sex and how to use our language to discuss it with others. Speaking as someone who went to a convent in an all-girl Catholic school, I have some odd memories of sex education taught at school. In one class, our teacher (they were mostly nuns) told us we all had to put a condom on a banana. As we watched each other do it, one by one, we began to laugh at each other and how bizarre the situation was. Now, looking back in hindsight, I am thankful that my school enforced this type of education on us, 12-year-old girls. Yet, not every girl or woman will be privy to that type of lesson. Let’s stop the taboo on talking about sexual assault and sex in general, and keep discussing it as if we had bumped into a friend at our local Boots store. Conquest continues at The Bunker Theatre until 9 June. Tickets available online here. (I was provided a press ticket to review the show.) [Header image: Colette Eaton and Lucy Walker-Evans in Conquest. Production photo from a successful run at VAULT Festival 2018. Photo by Ali Wright. [related_posts_by_tax]
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English National Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty (2018)[fourstar] 2018 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Marius Petipa, ballet's greatest choreographer. Ever since the 19th-century, choreographers have been inspired by his work: his formal patterns, corps de ballet and pas de deux. For classical ballets that have been performed hundreds of times, the stakes are high for new, quality-made productions. Today's choreographers have to think of innovative ways to retain Petipa's classical techniques whilst, somehow, reinvent them. On the other hand, conductors and orchestras have to perform Tchaikovsky's intricate score dramatically and poignantly, just as the composer would have wanted. For the English National Ballet's (ENB) 2018 opening of Kenneth MacMillan's The Sleeping Beauty, many of its lead performers managed to sweep the audience off their feet. (Indeed, I was one of them.) [caption id=attachment_11876 align=aligncenter width=800] Shiori Kase as Lilac Fairy and Joseph Caley as Prince Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by © Laurent Liotardo.[/caption] Last night, the London Coliseum's stage bloomed with Peter Farmer's enchanting and sparkling set designs. Lighting arrangments by Neil Austin also played an important part, touching on the battle between good and evil - light versus darkness. Nicholas Georgiadis's costume designs added the relishes and frills of a faraway past, staying traditionally loyal to the romance story of Prince Désiré and Princess Aurora. [caption id=attachment_11871 align=aligncenter width=800] Daniel McCormick as The Bluebird and Rina Kanehara as Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by © Laurent Liotardo.[/caption] Even though Alina Cojocaru needed a couple of seconds to keep her balance, particularly during 'The Rose Adagio', she gave a thoroughly sweet and refreshingly spirited performance as our sleeping beauty. Her outstanding talents were never undermined, here, and she seemed impressively comfortable in Aurora's challenging role. For a first in the run, casting Cojocaru was a smart move. [caption id=attachment_11873 align=aligncenter width=800] English National Ballet cast in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by © Laurent Liotardo.[/caption] ENB's enormously talented cast was remarkable too; a few names are worth mentioning. James Streeter's Carabosse was theatrically thrilling and villainous, just like a character cut out of a horror movie. Shiori Kase's pure performance of the Lilac Fairy was a joy to watch; she was the ideal portrayal of Carabosse's opposite. Other notably stunning performers included Daniel Kraus and Connie Vowles as Puss in Boots and the White Cat. Daniel McCormick and Rina Kanehara as the Bluebird and Princess Florine deserved all the praise they received last night too. And supporting the Lilac Fairy were Aurora's friends such as Adela Ramirez, Katja Khaniukova, Jung ah Choi, Senri Kou and Anjuli Hudson. Not forgetting Joseph Caley as Prince Désiré. [caption id=attachment_11874 align=aligncenter width=800] James Streeter as Carabosse in English National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by © Laurent Liotardo.[/caption] The English National Ballet Philharmonic, under the baton of Gavin Sutherland, embraced Tchaikovsky's music wonderfully. I felt they performed the softer and gentler music of the Lilac Fairy and Princess Aurora better than Carabosse's music. I felt the powerful overture was loud and abrupt, which, understandably, is symbolic of Tchaikovsky's evil forces within the tale. However, it would have been nice to sail into The Sleeping Beauty a touch lighter. Nonetheless, the ENB didn't fail to ignite the magic and romance of Petipa's dreamy ballet. [caption id=attachment_11872 align=aligncenter width=800] English National Ballet cast in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by © Laurent Liotardo.[/caption] English National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty is showing at The London Coliseum until 26 June. Tickets available online here. (I was provided a press ticket to review the show.) [Header image: Alina Cojocaru as Princess Aurora in English National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty. © Laurent Liotardo.]   [related_posts_by_tax]
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Opera Holland Park Young Artists: La traviata (2018)[fivestar] I had the privilege of seeing Hampstead Garden Operas' 1960s production of La traviata (my review here), yet I missed out on English National Opera's alternative production that received mixed reactions from the critics. I was quite keen to see their version of Violetta lost in The Day of the Dead-style graveyard, having strange encounters with the licker man. Last month, Opera Holland Park opened their 2018 season also with La traviata, yet their production went back to the classic and elegant 19th century, where the story had begun. There is not one controversial aspect about it, which does the production a huge favor in my humble opinion. [caption id=attachment_11906 align=aligncenter width=800] La traviata - Opera Holland Park Young Artists. Photo provided by OHP Marketing (Opera Holland Park).[/caption] Alexandre Dumas fils's novel, La Dame aux camelias has been paramount to Verdi's composing of the opera which influenced contemporary films, including Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Shortly after the opera's premiere at the Le Felice, Venice, on March 6th, 1853, Verdi dubbed the story as 'a subject for our time'. He was referring to the era's prevailing disease, namely tuberculosis. No antidote was found until the 1940s. Director Rodula Gaitanou raises this point further by opening the opera with what can only be described as heavy breathing. Behind a white veil, we can see Violetta gesturing her hands on her chest taking slow, deep breaths. Only after a few seconds of this audio recording do we begin to hear Verdi's score. I attended the Opera Holland Park Young artists' performance on June 11 and can say with confidence that they shined, and gave a beguiling and spectacular show. Cordelia Chisholm's versatile ballroom set designs with gold trimmings and attractive Victorian costumes demonstrate how equally rewarding setting up a traditionally 19th-century opera can be. [caption id=attachment_11909 align=aligncenter width=800] Stephen Aviss as Alfredo and Aidan Edwards as Germont. Opera Holland Park Young Artists. Photo provided by OHP Marketing (Opera Holland Park).[/caption] Alison Langer is quite the star soprano. Her voice sounded round, consistent and beautiful. Her performance of 'Sempre libera' was spirited, elegant and seemed effortless. A true marvel to see on stage. Stephen Aviss's own Alfredo was warmly performed with superb acting as Violetta's romantic and bitterly confused lover. While the smooth-voiced baritone Aidan Edwards sang with a great stage presence as Alfredo's father, Germont. Edwards played Germont as a genuinely and emotionally aware authority figure without having to show pithy sentimentality, which worked compatibly on stage as well. The chorus singers of the OHP Young artists also deserve their due for recreating thrilling and entertaining scenes for The Picador, matador and gypsy dances. This includes skillful soloists Alys Roberts, Mike Bradly, James Corrigan, Felix Kemp, Aaron O'Hare, Robert Jenkins, Ian Massa-Harris and Alistair Sutherland. [caption id=attachment_11908 align=aligncenter width=800] Alison Langer as Violetta. Opera Holland Park Young Artists. Photo provided by OHP Marketing (Opera Holland Park).[/caption] Watching conductor Harry Sever perform with the City of London Sinfonia was a complete game-changer. Their execution of Verdi's sensitive music captured every detailed emotion our heroine. Violetta felt. The merits of their performances was observed almost immediately, from the moment the overture began. Also worth pointing out are the brass musicians. Even though they were spread across both sides of the pit, which sounded a bit different, this didn't distort the musical experience for those familiar with La traviata. [caption id=attachment_11911 align=aligncenter width=800] Opera Holland Park Young Artists with Director of OHP, James Clutton. Photo by Mary Grace Nguyen/Trendfem.com[/caption] One can learn many things from Opera Holland Park's production. Mainly that stripping an opera of novelty and sensationalism and bringing it back to the text doesn't necessarily render a production boring or unoriginal. In fact, when executed well it can do wonders and, indeed, please a crowd and more. [caption id=attachment_11912 align=aligncenter width=800] Opera Holland Park Young Artists with Director of OHP, James Clutton. Photo by Mary Grace Nguyen/Trendfem.com[/caption] La traviata is now showing at Opera Holland Park until 23 June. Tickets available online here. (I was provided a press ticket to review the show.) [Header image: Stephen Aviss as Alfredo and Alison Langer as Violetta. Opera Holland Park Young Artists. Photo provided by OHP Marketing (Opera Holland Park). ] Everyone is getting hot and bothered tonight for #LaTraviata. @operahollandpk. Toi, Toi, Toi! ♥️ #OHPYoungArtists #Excite pic.twitter.com/o1Vflx2IsY — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) June 11, 2018 [related_posts_by_tax]
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My Name is Lucy Barton, Bridge Theatre (2018)[fivestar] I cannot even begin to tell you how uplifting it was to see three-time Academy Award nominee Laura Linney at the Bridge Theatre delivering Elizabeth Strout’s book, My Name is Lucy Barton, which was aptly adapted for the stage by Rona Munro. Tickets sold out fast for Linney and so far the Bridge Theatre has been receiving great reviews ever since its pioneering production, Julius Caesar (read my review here) was staged. I didn’t stop myself from booking a seat for the production after it, Nightfall (my review here) written by Barney Norris with cast actor, Ophelia Lovibond. And here I am again regaling my positive feelings for the Bridge Theatre. [caption id=attachment_11925 align=aligncenter width=800] Laura Linney as Lucy-Barton. Photo by Manuel Harlan.[/caption] Munro's adaptation is close to Lucy Barton's own voice speaking from a first person narrative, and Strout admits in an email exchange with Munro that she once envisioned Linney ‘behind the podium’ reciting the words she had written for Lucy Barton’s character. Some people may have concerns about Linney taking up the entire, rather large, stage of the Bridge, yet Linney is a provider. Walking around the stage, she possesses it like she knows the space, owning those crisp, sentimental and personal lines written by Strout. Linney’s close connection, ease, and efficiency with the text seemed to make the stage appear smaller, which is a good sign. Richard Eyre’s production is clean, slick and contemporary. The stage is but a low down chair, hospital bed and a bed table beside it. Designer Bob Crowley keeps it simple, so more emphasis can be addressed through Linney in her comfortable attire, her cozy lilac blue cotton (could be it be cashmere?) cardigan. Video designer, Luke Halls and associate video designer, Zakk Hein display beautiful imagery of Manhattan with distilled photographs of the Chrysler Building onto Lucy Barton’s hospital window. It swiftly focuses on open green fields of soybeans and corn whenever Linney takes us through Lucy Barton’s scene-to-scene storytelling of her past, growing up impoverished in Amgash, Illinois with two siblings and her domestically abusive parents. [caption id=attachment_11926 align=aligncenter width=800] Laura Linney as Lucy-Barton. Photo by Manuel Harlan.[/caption] Without giving the plot away, which is definitely worth seeing if you can get a day return ticket, Lucy Barton's character shares her detailed and inescapable experience of being locked up in a truck while her siblings went to school during her childhood, how she fled Illinois to be free from her uncompromising and neglectful parents and pursued her dreams - becoming a successful writer in New York. The play evolves over nine weeks in a hospital in a space of 90 minutes (no interval) which includes a visitation from her rather indifferent mother. Linney pours a highly pitched middle America accent whenever she depicts Lucy's stubborn and cold-toned mother. Linney weaves between Lucy's vulnerable character and Lucy's mother like it's second nature. Here is an example of wonderful writing relayed by an expert performance artist. Any opportunity to see Laura Linney live should be embraced fast. And if you can't see Linney, then at least take the time to read one, or all, of Strout's books. I'm currently reading Anything Is Possible (2018) and I've having difficulty putting it down. My Name is Lucy Barton is now showing at the Bridge Theatre until 23 June. Tickets available online here. (I purchased a ticket to review the show.) Watching Laura Linney in #MyNameIsLucyBarton has opened my eyes to a new writer, Elizabeth Strout I'd never heard of before. Now I adore her. Strout is one to look out for. Linney's performing was superb & touching. @_bridgetheatre tickets are sold out online. Check for returns! pic.twitter.com/J2pcxMWYGp — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) June 16, 2018 [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A with Jean-Paul Gasparian, Classical Pianist (2018)French pianist, Jean-Paul Gasparian studied at the Paris Conservatoire before finishing his performance diploma at the Royal College of Music in London. When he was 18, he participated in the Verbier Academy, and ever since he has performed with orchestras across Europe including France, Serbia, Montenegro, and Germany. In August 2017, he made his solo recital debut and released a debut album featuring Rachmaninoff Etudes, Scriabin, and Prokofiev. Here, Gasparian discusses his relationship with the 'Russian School' and the 'French tradition' of classical music, and the key influences behind his new album. When did you realise becoming a classical music performer was your calling? Actually, I never had to make a real choice concerning my future as a classical music performer, I never really hesitated about playing the piano. I started very early - around 5 or 6 years old. My parents are both pianists themselves. So my development as a pianist was quite natural. I have a great chance to have the opportunity to live from your passion. You are about to complete your studies at the Royal College of Music. How did your studies inspire you to release a debut album? I've just completed my Artist Diploma at the RCM, with Professor Vanessa Latarche. It was a fantastic experience. The Royal College of Music is an institution that cares a lot about the professional development of its students and helps them to enter in the musical world. I also had very interesting lessons with my teacher who deepened my own interpretations in different styles, from Mozart sonatas to French music, through Beethoven Concertos and romantic repertoire. The choice of the composers for my debut album does definitely reveal something about my musical formation and background, I think. One hand, my studies at the Paris National Conservatoire with great musicians from the 'French tradition' like Jacques Rouvier or Michel Beroff. On the other hand, I also received the tradition of the 'Russian School' of piano playing, through my parents first (my mother for example studied in Moscow at the Gnessin Institute, my father came from Armenia). The international masterclasses I had a chance to participate in with extraordinary musicians like Elisso Virsaladze or Tatiana Zelikman were also incredibly valuable. Both musicians worked with me on the Rachmaninov, Scriabin, and Prokofiev for the album, helping me find new horizons in this repertoire. You performed works by Brahms, Debussy and Chopin at the Amaryllis Concert Hall in June. Are they your favourite composers, or are you inspired by other composers? It is true that Chopin is one of the composers that I play the most, and with whom I have a sort of permanent relationship. I almost always have Chopin works in my concert programs. And I am planning to dedicate my second CD to Chopin, with the 4 Ballades, among other pieces. I believe that Chopin's pianism is a pillar of my technique, which I am familiar with since my early years, and on the basis of which I then explored the other romantic composers such as Schumann, Liszt and the Russian music. Playing Chopin requires many things from a pianist that are fundamental to my relationship with the keyboard: flexibility of the hand and the arm; the ability to make the piano sound like a human voice; the sense of legato and melodic lines; the clarity and brilliance of playing; the transparency of the harmonies; and of course, the spontaneity of the rubato. Debussy is also a composer that I love and have played a lot, even more than Ravel probably. My own sensibility and the fact that I worked with so many fantastic French musicians helps explain what feels like a very close connection I have with French music. Brahms is a special case. I actually adore his music but didn't play a lot of his piano works... for the moment! I have a strong passion for his four symphonies, for the concertos, the chamber music repertoire and, of course, the piano solo pieces. And I will put new works by Brahms in my upcoming programmes. You have performed with orchestras across Europe in France, Serbia, Montenegro, and Germany. Do you have fond memories of performing in any interesting or strange venues? Yes, I have a lot of wonderful memories! Performing for the first time with the orchestra in Belgrade's Kolarac Hall in 2015, playing Rachmaninov's 2nd Concerto was a great moment - it's where my mother was born and so lots of friends and relatives were in the audience. A special atmosphere. At the beginning of this year, I replaced for pianist Christian Zacharias in Chemnitz, Germany in a performance of Mozart's C minor Concerto, under Leopold Hager and the Robert-Schumann Philharmonie. It was very last minute replacement - I only had one night to prepare a work I had played some years ago. A real challenge, but at the same time a very exciting experience. Your debut album features music composed by Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Prokofiev. What is the main driver behind your debut album? First is my link to Russian music in general. It is also true that in my early years, through my parent's CD collection, I discovered a lot of repertoire with the great Russian musicians from the past, pianists like Richter, Gilels, Sofronitsky, conductors like Mravinsky of Rozhdestvensky. So the symphonic repertoire of Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich, the piano works of Rachmaninov, Scriabin or Prokofiev are part of my musical universe from the beginning. And when I decided to dedicate my first CD to Russian music, I also wanted to reflect at least one dimension of my own personality and musical path. There was also the idea of presenting three composers that faced a single aesthetical and historical moment: World War One. There was a dialectical tension between the end of the old world and the violent beginning of a new one. I wanted to present that in relation to Rachmaninov's melancholic lyricism, the elegiac atmosphere with Prokofiev's percussive modernism, and Scriabin's early style. Have you ever experienced any challenges on your journey to becoming a recognised musician? I experience the challenge every day. There are always moments of success and more difficult moments during a career. But the most important thing that will bring a musician to recognition by the audience, by his colleagues and the professional world, is the inner passion and discipline need to invest in the necessary every day work. That's vital to go further and deeper in quality, singularity and sensibility. I must never be self-satisfied with what I do. On the contrary, have strong convictions about musical interpretation and find the solutions to achieve it. Doing that everyday is the most difficult challenge but also the most important. And, it never ends. If you could give any advice to an aspiring classical pianist, what would it be? I could give a lot of advice! First, it is important to develop your own knowledge, taste, and desire for music by listening to a lot to the great repertoire (not only the piano of course but the symphonies, chamber music, operas), also by going to the concerts and seeing the great pianists of our time. Next, you need to have a strong motivation and be really well organised in order to practice the everyday work. You need to look for the best possible mastery and quality of playing. Finally, the most important this is to develop your own style, interpretation, and vision of the works that you are playing. You need to create your own musical ideas, by finding your own singular way, and the means to express what is your most profound conviction about the composer's work. Jean-Paul Gasparian's debut album of Rachmaninov, Profokiev, and Scriabin is available via Spotify, iTunes and Amazon. Find out more about Gasparian and his upcoming concerts on his website, here. [related_posts_by_tax]
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Don Giovanni: ROH (2018[fivestar] Confession time… I’ve seen Kasper Holten’s Royal Opera House (ROH) production of Don Giovanni before, but it wasn’t live at the opera house. In 2014, it was broadcast live to UK cinemas. I recall how fascinating the production was. Creative video designs and light installations lit up the stage while the set, itself, was plain white and, pretty much, empty. All became three dimensional when you saw Es Devlin’s all-white Escher-style mansion with its many endless stairs and rotating platforms. One could only guess that Holten had set his opera in a non-specific time or era. It's a mix between the modern, with the Don's fur jacket, and the Romantic period of Mozart’s (18th century) time through Anja Vang Kragh’s distinctively rich costumes. [caption id=attachment_12019 align=aligncenter width=640] Chen Reiss and Mariusz Kwiecien. Photo by Bill Cooper.[/caption] Seeing all of this digital art and technological brilliance through high definition Dolby surround sound was quite an immersive experience. Back then, some critics noted how unique Holten’s ending was while others simply didn’t agree with it and argued how misaligned it was with Mozart's opera. They'd say, the Commendatore is meant to take the Don down to the depths of hell, yet Holten doesn't take the Don away. Instead, he rid the Don of all his worldly pleasures and leaves him with nothing — he becomes a vulnerable man staring into the empty abyss. Is there a grand afterthought the ex-opera director had in mind for us, the audience? If so, I'm not sure many got it. Moving forward four years later, Mariusz Kwiecien has returned to the ROH to reprise his role as the lustful and immoral Don. For those unfamiliar with Don Giovanni, all you need to know is that the Don loves all types of women: old, young, fat and thin, poor and rich. He is willing to kill in order to fulfil his thirst of women. The audience can depend on his manservant, Leporello to explain the intricacies of Giovanni's game: his number of conquests (and area codes) through the aria, ‘Madamina, il catalogo e questo’. Mozart used the same music for his overture and Luke Halls’s meticulous video designs illustrate the Don’s insatiable desire for women all over Europe. On this occasion, the deed is sung exquisitely by bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo while his caricature of Leporello is justifiably weedy, comic and silly. Kwiecien embraces the role of the lecherous tyrant and doesn’t fall short of bravado. The handsome Polish baritone certainly has a flair and charm on the electric stage. Kwiecien and D’Arcangelo effortlessly and succinctly demonstrate their characters’ discernable polarity to one another: one is the tortured while the other is the torturer. [caption id=attachment_12021 align=aligncenter width=640] Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni. Photo by Bill Cooper[/caption] That said, the Don’s torturer is the ghost of the man he murdered, the Commendatore. He is the father of the women (Donna Anna) he allegedly raped, or in Kasper’s production the fiancée who fell for the charms of the Don. Celebrating 40 years with the ROH is Sir Willard W. White who took no prisoners with his frightening and ghostly depiction of a vengeful father. It was the final act, many had anticipated and were looking forward to the most, that White made an impactful and terrifying scene as he sung the famous aria, ‘Don Giovanni! A cenar teco m'invitasti.’ Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s voice was stirring and first-rate on the first night. In fact, she was a stellar match for the role of Donna Anna, which isn’t an easy voice to sing. Her character is confusing too: she’s infatuated with the Don, yet remorseful over the death of her father. Hrachuhi Bassenz played Donna Elvira (Mozart's jilted lover) with energy and zeal. Her voice was lush and consistently strong throughout the evening. Pavol Breslik performed as a likable Don Ottavio and his touching performance of 'Il Mio Tesoro' got him a large round of the applause from the auditorium. The simple, naive and curious Zerlina was performed by Chen Reiss, which was sweet enough, yet her rendition of ‘Batti, batti o bel Masetto’ was reined back a little and not as seductive as other performances I've seen. Anatoli Sivko, on the other hand, downplayed, the role of Masetto (Zerlina’s husband), but was sufficient as casting goes. Speaking generally, Masetto's character isn't popular as far as the story is concerned, after all. Last but not least, the conductor Marc Minkowski and the ROH orchestra deserve the highest reward for executing Mozart’s music meticulously and with aplomb. Without them, Mozart doesn't exist. Yet, his spirit was unquestionably present on the night I saw this production. (Yes, for three entire hours!) May his spirit live on! [caption id=attachment_12020 align=aligncenter width=640] (Not in order) Mariusz Kwiecien, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Rachel Willis Sorensen, Pavol Breslik, Hrachuhi Bassenz, Chen Reiss, Anatoli Sivko: Photo by Bill Cooper[/caption] Don Giovanni is now showing at the Royal Opera House until 17 July. Tickets available online here. (I purchased my ticket to review the opera.) (Header image: Hrachuhi Bassenz and Mariusz Kwiecien. Photo by Bill Cooper.) #ROHDonGiovanni #ROHGiovanni is long, yet this was an exceptional performance. Definitely keeping Rachel Willis-Sørensen & Hrachuhi Bassenz on my radar having seen them perform tremendously tonight. Hands down, D'Arcangelo & Kwiecien's servant/Don act is the best I've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/xVmnjeXVhh — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) June 29, 2018 Ha! And in this opera, this is how it ended - the Don almost got taken down to hell via stage curtain. That said, Mariusz Kwiecien gave an epic performance tonight! 👏👏 #ROHDonGiovanni @RoyalOperaHouse pic.twitter.com/UHfi3GFMts — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) June 29, 2018 [related_posts_by_tax]
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The Turn of the Screw – ENO & Regent’s Park Open Air theatre (2018)[fivestar] Attending the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre for the first time last night, I had a sense that the outdoor, natural setting would make it difficult for other productions of Britten's opera to compete. This is a collaborative project with the English National Opera (ENO), in hope of introducing dedicated members and regular attendees of the Open Air theatre to opera. And in many ways it succeeds. [caption id=attachment_11971 align=aligncenter width=533] Rhian Lois as the governess. Credit: Johan Persson.[/caption] Henry James’s 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw inspired the young British composer, Benjamin Britten. In 1954, he was commissioned by the Venice Biennale to adapt the haunting tale into an opera with the writer, Myfanwy Piper. The Turn of the Screw had its premiere at the Teatro La Fenice and was the first opera to be filmed for British independent television. It is known as one of the most performed English language operas in the world. Director, Timothy Sheader sets the gloomy and ominous tone of Britten’s chamber opera in Soutra Gilmour’s chilling set designs. Right in front of the audience, an old-aged piano is stationed in the middle of a patch of grass. The Bly grand country house, the home of our orphaned children abandoned by their uncle, Miles and Flora, is an opaque glass house for the main characters to slide in and out of. Perception is a strong theme in James's story and often the characters’ silhouettes can be seen, but you can't see their faces. Is someone really there? Is it a ghost, or a figment of your imagination? Gilmour also provides a wooden path towards an invisible lake, isolating them from the rest of the world. [caption id=attachment_11972 align=aligncenter width=800] Sholto McMillan and Ellie Bradbury as Miles and Flora. Credit: Johan Persson.[/caption] James’s story describes the events of a governess charged with the care of two children, but the ending doesn’t go the same way as Julie Andrews’s gleeful musical story. Instead, things go bump in the night. The audience is left to second-guess who the villains are and interpret an ending that is open to speculation. In fact, since 1898, the debate has continued on whether the dead master valet (Peter Quint) and past governess (Miss Jessel) are actual ghosts tormenting the children or mere projections of the current governess’s mind. The opera captures the spooky and supernatural undertones through Britten’s piercingly sensitive and evocative music. This is astonishingly performed by the 13 musicians of the ENO as well as ENO’s Mackerras Fellow, Toby Purser as the orchestra's conductor. The social unease and eerie echoes are demonstrated through an array of interesting instruments, including the celesta, tubular bells and strange songs inspired by Balinese gamelan music. [caption id=attachment_11970 align=aligncenter width=532] Rachael Lloyd as Miss Jessel. Credit: Johan Persson.[/caption] Two groups share the character roles. On the night I attended, I was thoroughly stimulated and moved by all performances. Sholto McMillan and Ellie Bradbury were active, engaged and energetic as the young children. They sang with softness and tenderness, illustrating Miles and Flora's exposed vulnerability to the evil spirits. They echoed the behaviours of William Morgan’s Peter Quint and Rachael Lloyd’s Miss Jessel effortlessly. Rhian Lois is a tour de force on stage with a beautiful opera voice. Her heroic performance as the loving governess took the audience on a journey through the unexplained country home, which made the audience believe Miss Jessel and Peter Quint were not imaginary figures in her mind. Sarah Pring gave an admirable and strong performance as the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. She also showed a genuinely worried and concerned guardian of the children. And William Morgan and Rachael Lloyd’s unsettling presence as the evil forces were captivating and convincing. Both sang with sorrow and intensity. [caption id=attachment_11969 align=aligncenter width=800] Sholto McMillan and Ellie Bradbury as Miles and Flora. At the end right, Rhian Lois as the governess. Credit: Johan Persson.[/caption] Once the first half ended at the Regent's Park, the sun disappeared, the moon slowly rose up high and the summer breeze approached the most important part of the opera. The night became cooler and so did the opera, accompanied by the spirits of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. The Open Air theatre’s production of The Turn of the Screw gathers suspense as the evening goes on. An opera production of this unworldly nature is ideal for the summer nights to come. [caption id=attachment_11974 align=aligncenter width=800] Sholto McMillan as Miles and William Morgan as Peter Quint. Credit: Johan Persson.[/caption] The Turn of the Screw is now showing at Regent's Park Open Air theatre until 30 June. Tickets available online here. (I was provided a press ticket to review the opera.)   An ideal space for a haunting, yet captivating opera. The natural setting and English summer breeze brought Bly country house to life. Gorgeous & touching performances by @E_N_O orchestra, @rhianlois #SarahPring @wjsm @MezzoRachael & @ElganLlyr #TheTurnoftheScrew @OpenAirTheatre pic.twitter.com/uK0F4yLIW0 — Trendfem.com🌸🎶 (@MaryGNguyen) June 26, 2018 [related_posts_by_tax]
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Q & A with Kate Fabray, Director and Actor (2018)Kate Fabray is director and lead actor of her new show (No) Leaves On My Precious Self, showing at the Drayton Arms on 12 August. It takes the audience into the world of an emerging actor, sharing the challenges they face on their way to making their performing arts' passion into a career. Here Kate tells us about the motivations behind (No) Leaves On My Precious Self, her experience of the theatre industry so far, and how more people are slowly become fed up of maintaining an certain image on social media. When did you realise acting and directing was your calling? When I got a place at a stage school at age of 10. It was so much fun to be there, and brought me a lot of joy. I figured out I totally did not mind doing it for the rest of my life! Which one do you prefer? Directing or acting? Acting. Directing was never an ambition of mine, more of a skill (if you can call it a skill) I figured out was useful to learn and try. For this production, out of interest, did you have auditions for the lead act, or did you feel you might be the best person to encapsulate the narrative of (No) Leaves On My Precious Self? To be honest I started putting up this production because I was desperate to do some theatre, and was struggling to get cast. So I decided to take the matter into my own hands, and see what can come out of it. I was doing it for myself, so auditioning someone for the part never crossed my mind. That said, obviously I could have found someone who would do it better than me, it is very possible, but it has never been the aim. What was the inspiration behind (No) Leaves On My Precious Self? I just had to find a topic I was able to write a 45-minute long script about. Also, I thought this production was a good opportunity to show as much of myself as possible, and 'life of an actor' subject felt like a right direction. Close to home enough, and uncomplicated for a one-woman show. I also could see how I could incorporate all the singing and dancing into it, without overcomplicating the script, or making it too random. [caption id=attachment_12543 align=aligncenter width=768] Kate Fabray in her show, (No) Leaves On My Precious Self (2018).[/caption] How did you decide the name/title of the show from? I wanted something catchy and attention-grabbing, but if you watch the show, the title actually makes perfect sense. It sounds very weird without the context, but this is exactly what I talk about in the show - having or not having some leaves on one's self! Trust me it makes perfect sense once you watch it haha!  The show looks at the mind and life of an emerging actor. Do you feel that there isn't enough literature and information on the the day to day life of an actor, or the acting industry as a whole? There definitely is enough. But if you look at anything around you, arts or not arts related, so many things are in excess. Do we really need another coffee shop chain? Another beauty magazine, or a make-up brand? Another 'Charlie's Angels' or 'Tomb Rider' remake? Another spiritual leader telling us how to live? Do we even need another actor in me, when there are already so many? A 'yes' would be an unlikely answer. But I do not think it's how it should be looked at. Everyone has their own way of thinking, their own artistic vision, and their own take on a subject. Just because this subject is well-explored, does not mean that my take on it would not bring something fresh or new, or would not be looked at from a completely different angle. After all, my experience might differ dramatically from someone else's, therefore our shows might look/ feel completely different, even being on the same subject. Or let's think about the most trivial subject, love. No one thinks, oh there are enough songs about love, no need to write any more. There is enough books about it, and articles, and talks and everything, let's stop questioning anything about it anymore, there is enough material to refer to in a moment of doubt. That would sound blatantly absurd. So as much as I feel there is enough information on actors and acting industry in general, I don't think there is any harm in touching the subject. Do you think that the focus of looks, beauty and appearance has become more important because of social media? Yes, definitely. But I think it's starting to slowly decline, and is on its way down. From what I see around, it feels like people start getting fed up with this need to maintain certain something on social media, as well as with this massive gap between how people are on, let's say, Instagram, and in real life. We all know someone who looks nothing like on their Instagram in real life. I see more and more of my mates taking Instagram and social media in general breaks. So, again, I feel by now this issue has blown up to a completely absurd proportion, peaked some time ago, and now slowly reversing. Ironically, it feels like people start craving something real and something true for a change. Have you performed at the Drayton Arms theatre before? If so, which production? I have by now, as my first (No) Leaves On My Precious Self show was on July 1st. But not before that. However, I have been a big admirer of Drayton Arms for some time now, and it has always been my first choice for the venue. I was over the moon when they took my production! [caption id=attachment_12542 align=aligncenter width=768] Kate Fabray in her show, (No) Leaves On My Precious Self (2018).[/caption] How has the Drayton Arms' space helped in bringing your production to life? First of all, I can't thank Audrey Thayer, programming director of the theatre, enough. I am so grateful she booked my show in, gave me this chance, and has been absolutely wonderful all the way through. I have never produced a show before, and literally learnt as I went. She bared with me, explaining and helping with everything along the way. It was not the space itself that helped a lot, I intentionally created a very simple production that did not require any props or complicated technical arrangements, and could be easily performed in any space. It was all other factors put together, that let me be in a right head space that allowed working on the show. A great programming director, great atmosphere at the theatre and the fact that I booked my first choice theatre brought me a lot of comfort and made me feel much more confident than I was in the beginning - all that helped a lot in bringing production to life. Do you feel your play can relate to other industries outside of theatre? Definitely. After finishing the script, I purposely asked ten people not related to acting or any form of arts to read it. None of them had this issue. Whatever job you do, self-confidence and self-worth play a vital part. Being comfortable enough to stand your ground, or be okay not being liked by someone or not getting on with someone is something everyone faces at some point. And how you deal with it is only down to your relationship with yourself. So I really don't think you have to be a performer to be able to relate. How do you want the audience to feel when they see (No) Leaves On My Precious Self? That was my first question to myself when I started putting the script together. I know exactly how I want them to feel, I just don't really know how to put it into words! You know this feeling of lightness and calmness you sometimes get after finishing a good book or a good film, and you suddenly stop worrying and just want to get on with things! Like you suddenly think, 'I can do it, and everything will be okay, and I am okay and all is good, life is great!'. Don't know if I've explained it clear enough but basically that's the feeling! As a theatre-maker, what would you say is the most gratifying part of what you do? Breaking your own barriers and overcoming fears. It is very liberating thing that changes you a lot. And I've experienced it more than ever before with this production. Because I have written the whole thing myself, directed it too, and it's only me in the show, I am the only one responsible for every single aspect of it. I did not expect how different it would feel from being cast by someone else. I honestly have never been so scared or unsure before. And here is something almost anyone in arts can relate to - while writing and rehearsing the show, sometimes I really could not tell whether what I was doing was amazing, or simply a piece of sh*t. Concentrating on the process and filtering out all doubts and fears is a massive mental job. Because before anything else, first of all I have to relax both mentally and physically, and put myself into right head space. So at the end of the day, it's between you and you. Doing the first (No) Leaves On My Precious Self show was a very liberating experience in a sense that I had to overcome absolutely new type of nerves I never knew existed. It is a very, very amazing feeling of breaking down your own limits and barriers that exist nowhere but in your head. I don't even care anymore how others like my show - now that I majorly overcame fear and all insecurities, I am just so happy to be able to do the show that that is all that matters. And on a lighter and a slightly cheesy note, just doing what you love is very gratifying. So every aspect of theatre-making is! (No) Leaves On My Precious Self is showing at the Drayton Arms on Sunday 12 August, 5 pm. Go to the the Drayton Arms website to purchases tickets now here. [related_posts_by_tax]
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