Thursday, 29 December 2011

Kinder wann? — Kids when?

„Ich will nicht irgendwo angekommen sein, bevor mein Kind auf der Welt ist, ich will es mitnehmen.“
Patrick Bauer
in „Jetzt ein Baby?“ (Neon, Januar-Ausgabe 2012)

‘I do not want to have arrived somewhere before my child is born, I want to take it with me.’
Patrick Bauer
in ‘A Baby Now?’ (Neon, January edition 2012)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Reviews of Opera Comique

A thorough, negative one — and a superficial, positive one.
From the author, Nagle Jackson, and from the audience (some 900 people in total watched the 9 performances), we got excellent feedback. And we loved performing it.

Let’s start with the good one, from Wort:

Bizet's battle for high art brought to life

The BGT gave a visually stunning performance of Nagle Jackson's Opera Comique at the Abbaye de Neumünster on Wednesday.

As part of a second run, following a successful staging in Mersch last month, the multi-cultural cast easily settled into their new surroundings.

And though they had every reason to be nervous, given that the work's playwright had made a special trip from Paris to watch the performance, it did not show.

The play struck off with a strong opener from Phoebe Smith, playing the buxom and occasionally principled usher. Her strong presence and perfect comic timing ensured the audience was primed for the many laughs which awaited in the script. And, as the play unfolded, we were not disappointed. Jackson's script, penned more than 20 years ago after reading a biography on Bizet, is packed with double-entendres, gags and farce, which still draw the laughs.

The beauty of the script also lies in its timelessness. The BGT performance and, in particular Joachim Cour's knitted-browed interpretation of Bizet, brought out the composer's frustrations with popular music over authentic and original music, echoing a common complaint by contemporary artists.

The point was not overly laboured by the BGT cast, however, and the raunchy shenanigans they portrayed onstage gave rise to enough laughs to ensure audiences did not feel they were being given a lesson in high art appreciation.

Lindsay Wegleitner's Viviane de la Corniche was a mesmerising sight, both for her stunning bustle dress and her chrysalis-like transformation from silent wall flower to verbose man-eater. Watching her declare her undying love and flitting from one man to another, she gave a believable performance of a rebellious teenage coming to terms with her own attractiveness.

On the subject of costumes, Viviane's dress was not the only creation to wow audiences. Costume designer Deborah Cocking pulled off a coup with her four lovingly recreated dresses, described in detail in the programme along with handy language and contextual references, crucial even for a native English speaker like me.

Finally, mention must be given for Karl Pierce's set. Despite Bizet's advice in the script to “Abandon all hope when people start talking about the architecture during the second act”, credit for the set is perfectly merited. The simple but beautifully decorated corridor leading to the Opera Comique boxes, painted with faux marble effect, accompanied by exquisite panel mouldings added another touch of authenticity to what was a visually impressive performance.

The other one, from 352 Luxmag:

Reviewer, Graham Cleverley, likes the pacing and the leads but feels the play itself was a poor choice of inspiration

‘Backstage’ is the word that comes to mind, but it doesn’t exactly describe the story of Nagle Jackson’s Opéra Comique, the BGT production at the Abbaye de Neumünster this week, in which the action takes place in a lounge behind the boxes at the eponymous Opéra Comique theatre in Paris, thus representing the much rarer category of ‘’front of house’ stories.

The location is therefore Paris, the time the rambunctious world première of Bizet’s Carmen, which needs no introduction, the ambiance the haut-bourgeois world of the early Third Republic. All of this is zeroed in on splendidly both by Karl Pierce’s perfect ‘any-day-now-and-we’ll-have-Art-Deco’ and Deborah Cocking’s meticulous costumes, about which a little later.

In this setting we meet two families, a wifeless Paul Vigneron and his son Hector, and an apparently settled married couple, the de la Corniches with their daughter Viviane, who have planned to meet accidentally in order to pair off the children. We also meet the composer himself, anxious that the audience might, with their lack of taste, actually like his work, with a friend, another composer, Ernest Guiraud (at least one assumes so, though the programme said ‘Giraud’). In a subplot a café singer, hardly ambiguously if bilingually, known as La Tartine, arrives seeking to seduce yet another composer, Charles Gounod, into writing an opera for her. And finally we have Odile, more or less the narrator and the dragon that guards the entrance to the boxes,

Quite obviously we are not just in Paris but in the world of the theatre boulevardier; adultery and other immoralities will be breaking out very soon. Unfortunately in so doing on this performance it seems that maybe the theatre boulevardier should be left to the French.

Comedy needs surprise to be funny (as, inversely, Hitchcock pointed out that suspense depended on knowing what is going to happen, and not wanting it to, not in not knowing). And here, once you’ve read the programme, what are you sure is going to happen? Adultery is going to happen. La Tartine is going to have her way with Gounod, which leaves no-one for Vigneron to be adulterous with except Mme and Mlle de la Corniche: that it transpires with both of them is hardly a surprise given the situation.

M. de la Corniche has no outlet for any such impulse, but no apparent impulse in the first place. Odile is out of the question, partly because smart servants don’t get involved. And of course, the intelligent servant will fatten her wallet from her superiors in the time-honoured manner of such servants throughout the history of the theatre. With the scene set and the characters introduced, the piece takes on a rather clockwork feel.

In terms of performance rather than content, Phoebe Smith as Odile adds another success to Thoroughly Modern Millie, Showstoppers and Calamity Jane, this time without singing but with an accent last heard of from Mrs Slocombe (and not dissimilar tastes in opera). She gave her jokes plenty of time to ferment, signalled them sufficiently without hamming, and varied pitch and pace. Essentially it was a faultless performance.

Moreover she looked like she had just walked out from behind the bar in the Manet painting – but wasn’t (genuine question) the bustle somewhat in advance of reality compared to the other women’s?

Also impressive was familiar BGT figure Ariane Spicq as La Tartine, in particular because she injected a genuinely French fillip into the characterisation without losing intelligibility. Joachim Cour as Bizet, Patrick Schomaker as Guiraud, and Pierre-Yves Lanneau-Saint-Leger as Gounod (again familiar from recent BGT productions) also presented us with a little more esprit gaulois in their satirical depictions of the composers, especially Bizet’s disdain for the audience, Gounod’s readiness for sin despite devoting himself at the time to church music.. Unfortunately Pierre-Yves suffered somewhat from becoming unintelligible when excited, and satirising Gounod’s conscience demanded a rather more rarefied audience than was at hand.

Which leaves the families, among whom Bjarn Clasen was his usual reliable self as M. Vigneron. Unusually, Stephen Anderson was not as reliable as usual as M. de la Corniche: for once his Americanism was a handicap, but he did also have a very weak part. 1875 was nearly the height of the duelling tradition in France, especially among the aspirants to minor nobility. Confronted with the adultery of his wife with Vigneron, an 1870s de la Corniche (or de la Anything) would have said ‘you will hear from my seconds…' not ‘you will hear from my attorneys…’ In fact it might have been funnier too, adding a Don Quixote touch to the way de la Corniche was played.

June Lowery playing Mme de la Corniche had a considerable part well speckled with wordplay and jokes, but while you could hear everyone of them, on the whole they passed by without leaving much of a ripple, lacking pointing and being produced with little variation in dynamics, pace or pitch – unusually for her.

Of the two children, Robin Edds as Hector has least to do, except appear stupid and obsessed with women’s’ clothes – or, rather, imaginarily removing them, so that he falls into a awkward staring pose every time a woman appears in view. He managed the awkward poses well, but the joke wears thin. Lindsay Wegleitner as Viviane has two running jokes, one her readiness to fall into bed, or any handy equivalent, with anyone old enough and the other an inability to stop laughing, paralleling her mother’s inability to stop crying for something like half an act, for no reason readily apparent to the audience. Mind you she laughs well.

Generally speaking all the running jokes that substitute for characterisation keep running after they have had their lap of honour, which is the fault of the play. Other jokes in the script fail to register with the audience, which is the fault of the players, and eventually of the director. Otherwise though the direction is successful, in that movement is logical, properly paced, and serves well to keep the focus shifting with the changes from one subplot to another.

But the main fault I suspect lies in choosing the play in the first place.

But, as I said, we had fun. And so had (the vast majority of) the audiences.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Half A Genius

I’m half a genius
Or a half genius
Not sure
Maybe I’m no genius
At all
‘Cause it’s one of these
That on Earth is
If you’re not unquestionably
A genius
You’re not a genius
At all
Except of course those
About whom people discuss
Whether they are genius
Or just plain mad
But I’m not mad
So maybe I’m just plain

© Bjørn Clasen