Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre.
Opera, especially in the provinces, is a rare treat. Itís even a rare treat in London with prices what they are. So we can count ourselves lucky that we are due for another visit by English Touring Opera. I first saw them here exactly a year ago when they were outstanding.
The reason opera can be so expensive is because they usually have lavish sets, lavish costumes, large orchestra and a cast of thousands. But ETO manage to present opera with cut-down lavish while in no way appearing to be doing things on the cheap. Their sets, lighting and costumes are superb and the singing outstanding. And itís not as though they avoid the ambition pieces. The only place they seem to visibly save money is by not having a large chorus. What they do seems on a par with any of the major opera house; itís just scaled down and condensed rather than compromised. Their orchestra, although about half the size of those playing at the major opera houses, still manages to deliver a full and rich sound.
They did Figaro and Don Pasquale last year and this year are presenting Fantastic Mr. Fox based on the Roald Dahl story, the Puccini double bill Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi plus La Clemenza di Tito by Mozart. I donít know Mr. Fox by Tobias Picker so that will be a first for me. However, the Puccini trilogy, or Il Trittico to give it its correct name, is one of my favourites, but ETO are only doing two thirds of it, leaving out Suor Angelica.
Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi are both very down-to-earth operas lacking the historical, dramatic splendour of Tosca or the tear-jerking romantic tragedy of Butterfly or Boheme. Il Tabarro is the story of murder and infidelity set on the barges of the Seine in Paris and Gianni is a comic opera about a Florentine family fighting over a will. Although originally set in the thirteenth century it is nearly always done in modern setting and costumes. Both have some of Pucciniís best songs. My only criticism of them is that, being one act operas, they are too short.
Il Clemenza di Tito was Mozartís last opera although The Magic Flute was actually completed after it. Set in ancient Rome it is often considered Mozartís most magnificent opera.
English Touring Opera, formerly known as Opera 80, has been touring the UK for thirty years. James Conway took over the running of the company in 2002 and since then his work†has†enhanced the companyís reputation for producing quality opera, developed the range of repertoire and attracted some wonderful artists.
Under his leadership the company has presented, at its regular venues, first performances of masterpieces from the 17th to the 21st century, as well as critically acclaimed productions of the traditional repertoire. The company has been able to work with established artists like Anne Mason and Yvonne Howard alongside exciting new talents like Amanda Echalaz and Luciano Botelho.
English Touring Opera presents one of the few opportunities for seeing quality opera outside of London, donít miss it.
I must confess I have never seen an ice show but certainly feel tempted to go and see the Russian Ice Stars version of Peter Pan which graces the Everyman stage at the end of March.
Apart from a lot of skating (and flying, I guess) we are promised a few unique touches. There will be a penny farthing bicycle ridden across the stage at the opening of the show. Tricky at the best of time, on ice it sounds an unwise and foolhardy undertaking.
As you gaze in amazement at the wonder and spectacle of it all, spare a thought for the poor stage management of the Everyman who, after the skaters have gone, are left to break up and dispose of sixteen tons of ice. It all has to be smashed up with sledge hammers and left to melt outside the stage door - for weeks.
What youíve seen or what youíve missed.
I raved on a bit last month about Propeller and after weeks of anticipation they did not disappoint. Itís amazing that they can be so consistent. Out of the four or five plays Iíve seen them do it is difficult to find fault at all. The level of presentation acting and, above all, imagination is sometimes breathtaking. The only criticism of The Comedy of Errors would be in the writing, sorry Bill. The play opens with a long and, letís be frank, boring plot-laying speech. Errors is not done that often but gives a rare opportunity a broad farce which the young men from Newbury exploited to the full.
Richard III is not known for its comedy but Propeller managed to find more than a few laughs in it despite the production owing more to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Laurence Olivier. One of the most outstanding features of the production was the portrayal of the little princes. They were presented as puppets handled, ironically, by the two actors who would eventually play their music-hall, double-act murderers.
Apparently, film director Franco Zefferelli who was a close friend of the diva said, when meeting Stephanie Beacham, ĎYou are Maria Callasí. The best way of describing Ms. Beachamís portrayal of Maria Callas in Masterclass would be tour de force. She is on stage continuously Ė itís rather like a single hander with support from others.
It was an amazing performance by a woman who has had four yearís use from her bus pass. Whether she was convincing as Callas is another matter. Personally I didnít see the great singer in her. Maybe that was just me. Nevertheless, it was an outstanding feat by an actress who, on the strength of this performance, could probably be described as underrated.
There was some pleasant relief from the divaing when the young singers set themselves up to be knocked down. I enjoyed Christopher Jacobsonís song from Boheme but the two girl singers, Robyn North and Pamela Hay, were a little out of their depth even with an ersatz Callas.
Maria Callasí end was a sad one. After a relatively short career when she could probably be described as the most famous woman in the world alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Callas had a very hard time when she could no longer sing. The masterclasses, a lucrative source of revenue, on which the play is based took place at the Julliard School in New York in 1971 and 1972.
News from the Everymanís Alternative Space
Some interesting and varied shows in the Studio in April. The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs by Simone Benmussa is presented by Jenny Wren Productions and is the true story of ..... well, Albert Nobbs. But Albert is not all he appears to be in fact he is not a he at all. Working as a waiter in a Dublin hotel he is harbouring a secret. This is a tragic story of a lost identity and of missed opportunities.
Continuing on the theme of cross-dressing, renowned pantomime dame Douglas Mounce appears in Twinkle Little Star the story of a.....well, a pantomime dame. Douglas plays renowned pantomime dame
Harold Thorpe as he prepares for an appearance as Widow Twanky in his seedy sub-stage dressing room.
The last professional show at the Everyman before it closes for major restoration is Final Daze, an irreverent revue which, sadly, modesty forbids me from praising too highly. Its actors number four including the lovely Wendy Abrahams, last seen as Dandini in Cinderella.