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Posts Tagged ‘Die Walkure’

I didn’t bother with a ‘Best of’ last year as my theatre-going, apart from a handful of open air shows, came to a standstill after just over two months. 2021 started as badly as 2020 had ended, but I managed to see something like 65 shows in the last half of the year, so it seems worth restoring the tradition.

There were nine new plays worthy of consideration as Best New Play. These include Indecent at the Menier, Deciphering at the New Diorama, Camp Siegfried at the Old Vic and Best of Enemies at the Young Vic. Something that wasn’t strictly speaking a play but was a combination of taste, smell and music, and very theatrical, was Balsam at the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival. Out of town, in the Reading Abbey ruins, The Last Abbot impressed. Three major contenders emerged. The first was Grenfell: Value Engineering at the Tabernacle, continuing the tradition of staging inquiries, verbatim but edited, very powerfully. The remaining two had puppetry and imaginative theatricality in common. Both Life of Pi, transferring to Wyndham’s from Sheffield Theatres, and The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage at The Bridge were adaptations of books, but were thrilling on stage, and both had star performances from Hiran Abeysekera and newcomer Samuel Creasey respectively – I couldn’t choose between them.

The leanest category was New Musical, where there were only a few to choose from. I liked Moulin Rouge for the spectacle, but it was really just spectacle, and I enjoyed Back to the Future too, but it was the sense of tongue-in-cheek fun of What’s New Pussycat? at Birmingham Rep and the sheer energy of Get Up Stand Up at the Lyric Theatre, with a towering performance by Arinze Kene as Bob Marley, that elevated these jukebox musicals above the other two.

More to pick from with play revivals, including excellent productions of Under Milk Wood and East is East at the NT, The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Lyric Hammersmith and two Beckett miniatures – Footfalls & Rockaby – at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre. GDIF’s Belgian visitors staged Blue Remembered Hills brilliantly on wasteland in Thamesmead, and Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter had a great new production at the Watermill near Newbury, but it was Yeal Farber’s Macbeth at the Almeida, as exciting as Shakespeare gets, that shone brightest, along with Hampstead’s revival of Alan Plater’s Peggy For You, with a stunning performance from Tamsin Greig, which ended my theatre-going year.

The musical revivals category was strong too, probably because we needed a dose of fun more than anything else (well, except vaccines!). I revisited productions of Come from Away and Singin’ in the Rain, though they don’t really count as revivals, likewise Hairspray which was a replica of the original, but I enjoyed all three immensely. Regents Park Open Air Theatre brought Carousel to Britain, in more ways than one, and the Mill at Sonning continued its musical roll with an excellent Top Hat. It was South Pacific at Chichester and Anything Goes at the Barbican that wowed most, though, the former bringing a more modern sensibility to an old story and the latter giving us Brits an opportunity to see what Broadway has been getting that we’ve been missing in Sutton Foster. If only we could detain her permanently.

In other theatrical and musical forms…..there were dance gems from New Adventures with Midnight Bell at Sadler’s Wells and the Royal Ballet’s Dante Project at Covent Garden, and a beautiful concert performance of Howard Goodall musical of Love Story at Cadogan Hall. There were lots of classical music highlights, but it was the world premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage’s Up for Grabs at the Barbican, accompanying footage of his beloved Arsenal, that packed the hall with football fans and proved to be a refreshing and surreal experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world (and I’m not a football fan, let alone an Arsenal one!). Somewhat ironically, most of my opera-going revolved around Grimeborn and Glyndebourne and it was a scaled down but thrilling Die Walkure at Hackney Empire as part of the former that proved to be the highlight.

Let’s hope its a full year of culture in 2022.

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This festival has become essential for opera lovers who don’t like the elitism of the one its name parodies, and the many like it, though it didn’t get off to a good start when the number of seats for single households for Die Walkure at Hackney Empire were virtually non-existent. However, they did appear to listen to feedback and released more, so it was all systems go, and this opener proved to be a real treat, equalling if not exceeding 2019’s Das Rheingold. The orchestra of just 18 and the 9 singers filled this big theatre and provided a thrilling start to the 2021 festival. As good as, or better than, any opera house is likely to deliver.

Things went downhill after this, though not because of the operas or the talented musicians and singers, when it moved to its usual home of the Arcola Theatre, not inside but to its new Outside space, a fine venue for many things, except opera, which struggled to compete with the traffic noise and street revellers, some creating intentional disruption, presumably because it was opera (ironic given its the antidote to Glyndeborne et al).

The first of three visits there was to see Handel’s Alcina, gorgeous music with a bonkers story. I didn’t care for the modern production, though I accept that whatever the staging it’s likely to come out daft. The five-piece Ensemble OrQuesta sounded lovely, with the lead violin of Edmund Taylor particularly stunning, and it was beautifully sung by a cast of seven, but oh to be inside.

Back for a short opera called Hopes & Fears created from two Debussy pieces – the cantata La Demoiselle Elue and the ‘lyric scene’ L’Enfant Prodigue. The new libretto told the story of two women living with cancer and their relationships with their partner / family. I struggled to understand all of the libretto and much of the recorded voices and I failed to engage with it emotionally, but again the singing was wonderful and I loved the orchestration for piano, cello and flute. The intrusion of the outside world wasn’t quite as bad, but this time the hard wooden seats had me fidgeting!

Finally an unlikely double-bill of Gluck’s Orfeo Ed Euridice and a rare Mascagni miniature, Zanetto, and this time I took a cushion! Even though they were stylistically very different, their respective stories made them good companions. It proved to be the highlight of the three at the Arcola, with two singers – Emma Roberts & Lizzie Holmes – playing the leads in both with singing so good it took your breathe away. A shout out too to MD Lesley-Anne Sammons on electric piano and bass player Lucy Mulgan, glammed up and gamely playing both scores with great gusto, and the designs of Bettina John, which had a lovely Brazilian street theatre aesthetic. Even the noise outside seemed to tone itself down.

Hopefully we’ll be back inside next year, maybe with the ring cycle continuing with Siegfried. I do hope so.

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