Monday, 3 August 2009

Iolanthe (Charles Court Opera)

An excellent production! Like last night's show, this Iolanthe had no chorus. And again, it worked quite well. Rather than a full orchestra, this used cut-down orchestrations, using roughly half the number of players to achieve nearly as good a result. It almost never sounded "thin", although there were some slight balance issues, mainly with the brass section dominating the single flute.

The opening was most effective. Curtain went up on a stage with a number of semi-transparent flats (filled with an inorganic jelly... wait, wrong opera), behind which the fairies were concealed. The lighting kept them invisible. As the lights came up, we could see them - perfectly stationery, with a precise yawn at the appropriate points in the music.

Instead of three leads and a nearly-mute chorus, we had four named fairies (Celia (Lydia Jenkins), Leila (Rosie Strobel), Fleta (Charlotte Wooll-Rivers), and one named Lettie (Sarah Sharkey)) who all shared the dialogue. In spite of being, presumably, a couple of centuries old, they all behaved as though they were about eight years old - is that one of the advantages of being immortal, that they never grow up? But these fairies have some real power behind them, as we find out when they face off against the Lord Chancellor (Giles Davies) and the Peers (the two leads (Sebastian Valentine (Mountararat) and David Menezes (Tolloller)) and three nameless chorus members (Robin Bailey, Michael Webborn, and Matt Kellett)) - the peers are lutes in their hands, they play on them whatever tune they wish.

The Fairy Queen (Jill Pert) is a loved and loving mother to all the fairies, and of all of them most shows her age (with white hair reaching past her waist). Her daughter and tutor Iolanthe (Anne-Marie Cullum) seems to have been permanently stained by the green water at the bottom of her stream-home, but it hasn't harmed her voice at all (Anne-Marie has just entertained us in the cabaret, with a song of her own composition). Strephon (John Savournin) and Phyllis (Georgia Ginsberg) made a lovely couple, and also reacted superbly to what was going on elsewhere on the stage (most notably during the Act I Finale). Private Willis (Martin Lamb) was so entirely motionless that when he spoke, the fairies were taken completely aback.

All worked with extreme precision. The five peers (with flowing coffers) made their entrance without the usual fanfare and splash of colorful robes, but with such perfection of movement that it was just as impressive. The Act I Finale showcased everyone's ability to maintain stasis and reaction, and characterisations were clear and accurately maintained. Phyllis seemed to spend a lot of time looking to us, the audience, instead of the person she was speaking to, but apart from that, it was a completely believable show. The insane chaos of "Young Strephon is the kind of lout" totally worked; the softer, sadder moments worked too.

I admire the CCO people for performing twice in one day, and the cabaret afterwards as well, and presumably rehearsing in the morning. A full-on day's work and a great day of entertainment for us.

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