I must be acclimatising to this opera lark because I thought the actual singing – the tenor (Enea Scala, fight fans) especially – was particularly good at the theatre on Wednesday, and looking at reviews of earlier performances only … um … confirmed this. For someone who has spent well over half his life defending the legitimacy of Bob Dylan’s vocal chords, acknowledgment of the beauty and value of the trained voice – as opposed to, basically, taking the piss – was never going to come easy, but I feel I have made some sort of breakthrough. Not that I’m making any claims for some kind of superiority, mind, and there was still an element of the caterwaul from the soprano, though I hasten to add ’twas not her fault that that was what was required of her by the composer, in this instance, one Gaetano (what a great name!) Donizetti. Nor will any further advances in my appreciation of the opera take anything away from the rich humour offered by Mark Twain‘s Wagnerian opera going experiences in Germany in A tramp abroad (try here or, a different piece, here, but leave it till later, eh?).
Anyway, it was a Glyndebourne on Tour production of Don Pasquale and it was great. Apparently the director, Mariame Clement, had mucked about with the plot a bit, which had caused umbrage with some critics, but I’m not complaining. What had seemed a bit trite and neat about the happy ending when I’d mugged up on the plot beforehand – absolutely essential, even with surtitles suspended on a screen above the stage – took a darker turn, opera buffa given a crueller twist which was not so comic for a certain someone.
The thing about the Glyndebourne company is that it’s great theatre even without the singing. Ingenious sets – here a revolving interconnecting and interestingly decorated three roomed affair in Acts 1 & 2, reduced to a room and a spectacularly lit outdoor sunset for the conclusion – and tremendous stage business and invention as the action progresses. A couple of small examples – a picture doubles as a convenient cupboard to get rid of redundant prop, the picture is flipped by one of the characters as the mood changes in the room. Visually the all white costumed chorus suddenly emerging, all eighteenth century fin de siecle curls, was a stunning theatrical coup (though I’m not sure it’s in the score) . As I say, the singing was tremendous and there was a glorious rapid fire duet with bass Don P (Jonathan Veira) and baritone Malatesta (Andrei Bondarenko) that left the audience awed and rapturous. The orchestra was great too, making tenor Ernesto’s love song to the simple accompaniment of two strummed guitars near the end even finer. A brilliant evening.
Entertainment of a different ilk the previous night at November’s Scribal Gathering. Featured poet was the Bard of Stony Stratford, Ian Freemantle, who delivered his very own energetically relaxed brand of infectious rhymes and rhythmed reflections on life and the people’s history, standout being a mini-epic incorporating impressive Lancashire clog dancing accompaniment from his Stony Stepper partner. Lyrical fun in many ways. Also on display, another arrow to The Antipoets‘ artistic bow, the nine piece The Odd Eccentric with some quirky original songs (what else?) – the usual plus two girl chorus, trumpet and sax; shame you couldn’t hear the words. The beauty of the supportively conducted open mic sessions is there are often surprises in store. Alan Blakemore‘s passionate and dramatic take on Remembrance Day was eloquent. The acoustic Freddie Mercury/Queen tribute melody, complete with bridging poetry section was … brave.