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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Mulgan’

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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